Teachers warn of strike to defend three-term year

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The Independent Online

A teachers' union is threatening to strike if local authorities impose changes to the traditional three-term school year.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said yesterday the union would consider national industrial action to oppose any attempt to cut teachers' long summer holiday and impose a five-term year.

Delegates at the union's annual conference in Llandudno, North Wales, unanimously backed calls to resist changes to the school year, currently being investigated by local government leaders.

Education officials in Oxfordshire are preparing to consult parents on a change to the school year next month. Ballots of parents in Croydon and East Sussex voted against a change last year. But union leaders are concerned about a wider move towards a five-term year. A six-month commission of inquiry into the issue set up by the Local Government Association is due to issue its report later this year.

Proposals developed by local authorities would create five equal terms, each separated by a two-week break. The current six-week summer holiday would be cut to four weeks. Advocates of the change claim children would be less likely to forget during the summer what they had learnt and argue more evenly spaced school holidays would cut stress.

But Mr de Gruchy said: "If they try to force it through we will take action. We will consider anything up to and including strike action ... There's no significant research at all which has shown how a change in the school year has improved results. The real reason for a change would be to help look after kids ... it would be change for change's sake."

Paul Mundt, a member of the union's national executive, said: "We all know we need an extended break at the end of the school year to de-stress, wind down and look forward to getting away and get out of school so we can survive."

He told delegates the costs of reforming the school year would be huge. He said: "There will be problems moving the two weeks in the summer to the winter and there would be problems with the examination system. All our curriculum planning is geared to a three-term year. It would be a colossal undertaking to reform all those curriculum documents."

Jules Donaldson, a delegate from Sandwell, said: "How many colleagues have I heard say, 'I really need these six weeks'? It takes me two weeks to wind down so I can have a holiday. If we do not have that sort of time off the stress and the problems we have heard about all week would be worse."

Richard Hinton, from Staffordshire, said: "We have had the wonderful prospect of parents pushing their ideas forward to amend our working conditions, which I find deplorable. It is like a disease spreading through the urban parts of the country."