Letter: Children need real holidays too

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The Independent Online
I APPLAUD the sentiments expressed by Michael McMahon in "School's out for the summer - but not for much longer" (11 July). However, I do not share the headline's pessimism. We in East Sussex turned a supposed fait accompli into an overwhelming rejection of the five-term-year proposal by exposing the spurious arguments put forward by proponents of the idea.

The notion, for example, that pupils would somehow "forget less" over a four-week break than they do over six weeks (the "learning loss" argument) was rightly ridiculed as self-evidently absurd. Children can forget things quickly and recall things quickly, on the whole, and those who do need extra tuition can opt for summer learning schemes. It is plain daft to force all pupils to sweat away in hot classrooms for an extra two weeks in the summer when it is not necessary. Also, if this "learning loss" argument were true, German schoolchildren (who have a longer summer break than we do) would not be outperforming their British counterparts.

I also concur with Mr McMahon that children should sometimes be left to be children rather than treated as "learning machines". Learning from life experience can be just as important as purely academic achievement, and the traditional six-week summer break must be kept as an ideal space for this kind of informal, personal and social education to take place.

It is high time "Maggie" Blair and Co stopped lapping up every screwball idea emanating from the US - after all, we are in the EU where the three- term year is the predominant model. I don't think we have much to learn from a society chiefly characterised by greed, self-interest and violence; it is not too fanciful to suggest that America's obsession with educational targets and over-competitiveness was a factor in the recent killings of schoolchildren by their peers.


Hastings, East Sussex