Local authority leaders are developing proposals to revamp the centuries- old school year, familiar to generations of schoolchildren. East Sussex, Essex and Newham councils are canvassing parents and education workers on proposals for a five-term year, and similar plans are being considered across London.
Under the proposals, the traditional Christmas, spring and summer terms would be scrapped and replaced with five equal-length terms. Half-term holidays would be abolished and the current six-week summer break would be cut to four weeks. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, told the annual conference in Eastbourne that staff might react by simply turning up for their traditional three-term year, if the reforms went ahead.
"The last perk of the teaching profession is the long summer holiday and they had better keep it," he said. "Teachers need it and the kids need it as much. It's absolute nonsense to think that children will forget things during the summer. If they cannot remember for five weeks, what is education worth?
"It is only happening locally because they realise that if they came up-front with a straightforward proposal to shorten teachers' holidays, they would be faced with revolt." Critics of the traditional year argue that it is based largely on the needs of harvest-time, and say children lose out because of the lengthy annual gap in their schooling. Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, said there was no evidence that a long summer break benefited either pupils or their teachers.
He said: "The idea that you need six weeks of summer holiday to recover is interesting when you compare it with every other job in the country. There is no evidence they need a long summer holiday - if holidays were more spread out, teachers would have less stress. We have to consider what is best for the children."
Delegates unanimously backed a motion calling on teachers to oppose any change to the school year. They also attacked any move to extend the length of the working year. The conference was told changes to holiday patterns would play havoc with families' plans and require a wholesale rethink of teaching.
Ian Draper, of the union's national executive, said: "Much of the work we do in schools is devised around a three-term year or six half-term blocks. This is going to drive a coach and horses through it."