Long summer school break threatened by new inquiry

LOCAL AUTHORITIES are to set up an independent commission to look at the case for a five-term school year as the controversy over the traditional summer holiday increases.

The commission, to be announced by the Local Government Association on Friday, will examine the effect of changes in the school year across the country.

In Scotland, the Government is already consulting on possible changes to school holidays and the school day. In England, ministers say they are neutral but several councils have embarked on similar consultation exercises. Local authorities are divided on the merits of a five-term year.

A consultation in the east London borough of Newham showed that about two-thirds of parents favoured the change, though only two-fifths of teachers were prepared to say goodbye to the long summer holiday. Last week, the 33 London boroughs decided to ask parents, teachers and governors about a five-term year.

But yesterday, East Sussex said that it was likely to abandon a proposal for five terms separated by breaks of at least two weeks. Councillors will meet on Friday to consider a recommendation from Denise Stokoe, the director of education, that they should drop a plan for changes in the school year for all schools from next autumn.

The new commission will examine arguments for and against changes to the school year. Proponents argue that five-term years would help students to retain what they have learnt. Research has shown that pupils' reading tends to deteriorate in summer holidays.

It might also make life easier for teachers. "There is growing evidence that the present school year is stressful for teachers," said Graham Lane, chairman of the Local Government Association's education committee. "In Newham, our research has shown that absenteeism among teachers is worst in March, June and December."

Staffordshire began consulting on the five-term year in April and Essex is holding "informal discussions" before setting up a working party.