School terms (and holidays) are for the benefit of pupils

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The shape of the school year could be about to change, following the report of an independent commission.

The shape of the school year could be about to change, following the report of an independent commission.

The key proposal is not so much the "six-term year", which is achieved simply by dividing the existing three terms in half at half-term breaks. What matters is the plan to move the date of public examinations from June to April and May. This would have three benefits. It would enable A-level students to gain places at universities on actual grades rather than teachers' predictions. It would be fairer to the thousands who suffer from hay fever in the summer. And pupils would sit exams when the weather dictates that they might as well be cooped up indoors.

If public exams are to be held in April, however, that means the timing of the preceding holiday cannot be determined by doing something very complicated with the dates of full moons. The desire of religious schools to preserve a holiday around the movable date of a Christian commemoration should be ignored. Under the rules laid down by Pope Gregory XIII in 1583, Easter Sunday can fall on any date between 22 March and 25 April. That is fine for setting the date of a bank holiday ­ on Good Friday (the other one, on Easter Monday, ought to be moved to when it is sunny). But it does not need to be a full-dress school holiday.

Beyond this, however, the dates of school terms ought to be decided by schools themselves. Many will not be keen, we suspect, to bring the start of the school year forward into August. Chris Price's commission generously recommends that the summer holiday should "still" be a long one, at five or six weeks ­ apparently in order to preserve one of the perks for hard-pressed teachers. That is fair, but the interests of another group are just as important ­ those of children themselves. They have ­ or ought to have ­ an inalienable human right to enjoy their childhood, and for many of them a full eight weeks off in the summer is central to that.

When the Government, which has so far been studiously neutral, responds, it should go for the radical option. The dates of school terms should not simply be decided by schools, but by the people for whose benefit these institutions exist: the pupils.

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