My long-term plan for happy holidays!
“HHUUHUURH,” yawns James, like a muffled vuvuzela. It’s half-term, I tell him. After a week to recharge the batteries he should be as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as the autumnal squirrels. Five days isn’t enough to rectify the damage done to the energy-banks by six or seven weeks in the classroom, he insists. It’s true that learning does rather drain him, as it does many children. In the fortnight leading up to a school holiday he’s wiped out and in need of free-range time. I don’t remember being quite so affected as a child. I ask my mother: were we that tired and grumpy towards the end of term? “Darling, you and the girls were scratchy and lazy all the time. You didn’t need any special excuses.” Still, it got me thinking. Everything’s being reformed these days, so why should the school calendar be a sacred cow? It operates as it does “because we’ve always done it this way”. And, of course, “this way” might not be the best way.
I stumble across an article explaining how some academy schools have torn up the rule book and rebuilt the structure of the year with the zeal of a property developer tearing down a once-proud Victorian monolith that‘s now draughty, leaky and unfit for purpose. One in Manchester has five terms. A school down Southend way sidesteps the movable feast of Easter by having fortnight-long holidays in March and May, and ignoring where Easter falls. One in Leeds has seven terms and short summer hols. I quite like that: long enough to feel like a real break, but not so flabby that the kids get bored or forget great chunks of knowledge. The downside of such organisational anarchy created by the academies’ freedom to choose is that parents might have children at two or more schools with different holiday dates. There must be time for families to share experiences and enjoy each other’s company. Otherwise, what’s the point of life?
My Grand Scheme – drawn up late at night on the back of a Cornflakes packet, so apologies if it’s stark, raving bonkers – is for a pattern of four weeks on and one off, along with a month off in summer and two weeks at Christmas. Teachers and pupils should perform best in concentrated bursts, punctuated by a week in which to draw breath. I suggested it for the office, too. “If we got four solid weeks of effort out of you, that would be a miracle,” came back the stinging reply. “What do you think this is? A holiday camp?” Still, the chief didn’t actually rule out a month-long summer closedown. There’s still hope.
(Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 15, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so . . . baffling)