I do wonder sometimes, if the long summer break, the One Big Perk, isn’t one of the reasons why people give teachers stick when they meet them at social occasions (that, and the way they suddenly remember all the teachers who ever told them off or made them feel silly over something or other).  They always mention it, that and the 9 til 3 thing.  No matter how hard we try we just can’t seem to persuade the general public that actually, teachers work really long hours.

The contrast between term time and holiday time is also one of the reasons, I am quietly convinced, that many people give up on the job after about five years.  It’s a bit like the way I once heard airline piloting described: hours and hours of sitting around doing very little punctuated by minutes of intense activity and stress – only the other way round.  It’s all very well if you are partnered up with a teacher and you can go off for the entire summer, live at the beach or a month and pretend that you are one of the gentry, so rich that you don’t need to work, but it doesn’t exactly promote a balanced work/life balance.  The constant see-saw between pressure and nothing is stressful in itself.

I’m not saying that children should be in school for any longer (if you don’t count my idea to make the school day longer, but with longer breaks contained within) – they are only children after all, and there is only so much learning and sitting at school desks, staring out of the window and longing to be as free as the birds that a child can reasonably be expected to do – but really, when you think about it, do we have to structure the school year this way?

Children can struggle with the long summer break – and especially those, like Sam, who have special needs, or who live in chaotic or unhappy homes – six weeks is a long time, and long enough to do some prodigious forgetting.  And while I’m at it, does it have to be in August?  I’m sitting here, watching the rain come down and thinking of July, when it was sunny, and too hot to teach, and everyone was grumpy because they had to be in school when really all they wanted to do was loll around doing nothing very much and that was just the grownups.

And we all struggle with the Autumn term.  I know the summer one goes a bit bonkers, what with sports days and end of year shows and assemblies and reports and exams, but that is nothing compared to the darkening marathon towards Christmas.  We start in September, all mellow and gentle mornings, and we end up, carols coughed out in the semi-gloom of the winter solstice, with about three days, taking away all the enforced visiting and merrymaking we have to do, just to spread the germs around a little bit more, to recover ourselves and get on with the next bit.

The thing is, though, that we can’t have schools trying it out, just as an experiment, like.  Schools are made up of families, and coordinating INSET days, from a parental perspective, is bad enough.  In my house, if you include my erstwhile school, we have four institutions to placate (including one parent who can’t just take a day off when she needs to).  If we’re going to make a change, we all have to do it together.


(Actually, if it were me, I would have July off, two weeks in October and three – at least – at Christmas.  Give us all a bit of time to decompress, get a bit of balance and restore good health.)

11 thoughts on “Decompression

  1. I’m torn about this one. I totally understand what you’re saying, but I struggle to accept that we should make this change, especially when I see the attitude to the summer on the continent, and compare how they do it here (in Portugal), to how we do it in the UK. It is such a sacred family time here, a time when emigrants arrive from their homes all over Europe, to spend as much of a full month together as they can, in an extended family group. I don’t know whether it’s something to do with different working patterns, or just the weather, really, but it is truly a magical experience to spend the whole month of August relaxing and going to festas/the beach. I wonder if we could look at this in a different way, and ask why it is that we are so wedded to our work in the UK that we can’t give adults a proper break, as well as children? Our school summer holidays are already shorter than many countries in Europe, for instance here they break up at the end of June and don’t go back until mid September. I suspect maybe the lack of extended families in the UK could be part of the problem?

    1. Ah, now that is interesting. I always wonder if the long summer breaks in Southern European countries have something to do with the weather.

      I agree that we take work far too seriously in this country – we work too long hours etc etc, and I also agree that children (and teachers) need a good long break from each other. I just wonder at how it is structured. Family time, for us, seems to be focussed on the winter – again, in deference to the weather.

      Interesting 🤔

      What do you think about the five term idea?

      1. I can see the appeal of shorter terms and breaks that are more spread out, but I think we are so wedded to the historical structure of our school year as it currently is, that you’d struggle to get everyone to do it simultaneously.

  2. I’d love all our terms to be the same length, with better spaced holidays. I don’t have a family and find six weeks off far too long

      1. I’ve been away, I’ve seen family and teacher friends but money is not infinite and now I’m ready to go back to work and get back into routines !

  3. Thinking out loud here! Longer ,well balanced breaks would work? 2 weeks at half terms …3 at Christmas & finish for full 6 weeks in summer (last full 2 weeks of July / whole of August)Look at the colleges of FE and private schools – they don’t appear to suffer too much…

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