Schools' 'moving' Easter break scrapped

SCHOOLS in Essex are to sweep away centuries of academic tradition and scrap the fluctuating Easter holiday.From 2005, a new two-week fixed spring break in April will be introduced to make the spring and summer terms similar in length.

By Sharon Asplin

SCHOOLS in Essex are to sweep away centuries of academic tradition and scrap the fluctuating Easter holiday.

From 2005, a new two-week fixed spring break in April will be introduced to make the spring and summer terms similar in length.

The move, which has the backing of many teachers, will see an end to the moving Easter holiday and the subsequent uneven term lengths.

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Last night, church leaders backed the move after hearing Essex County Council had pledged schools would still be closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday when they fell outside the new break period.

The county council carried out three rounds of consultations with teachers, governors and parents to seek views on whether the current pattern of an autumn, spring and summer term should continue, or whether a fixed spring break, a six-term or five-term year should be introduced.

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Although the results did not show a consensus on any one way forward, there was support for the current three-term year, but with a fixed spring break.

A two-week break in the middle of April will make the spring and summer terms approximately the same length. The permanent change will be introduced in spring 2005. With an early Easter that year, schools would have faced a 16-week summer term – six weeks longer than the spring term.

This year, the late Easter has meant the first section of the summer term lasts only four weeks until the Whitsun holiday, while the following "half" lasts for eight.

Iris Pummell, Essex County Council's cabinet member for children's services and schools, said: "It was always our objective that no radical change would be introduced unless there was widespread support and real educational benefits.

"I hope that this decision will be welcomed by schools and parents as the best option for the foreseeable future."

Howard Williamson, north east area chairman of the Essex Primary School Heads Association, described the decision as "a sensible approach".

"In primary education, we have long argued to make Easter a fixed break because sometimes we are afflicted with very short or very long terms."

Mr Williamson, who is also headteacher at the Cann Hall Primary School in Clacton, added: "I cannot see either that the Church should have any problem if the Easter weekend falls when children are at school because we can celebrate it here.

"This probably wouldn't happen when children are at home – it would be just another day of the holiday."

Jean Quinn, spokeswoman for the Colchester and North East Essex branch of the NUT, also welcomed the move.

She said: "This way there is more control over the year and I'm sure this will be welcomed by most people. Teachers are probably not adverse to change but we were a bit worried if the changes to the terms were not good it would be hard to go back."

She conceded the fixed April break might make it difficult for parents with other children in Suffolk schools, which runs a different system, but stressed even before term times had not always tallied.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Perry, said retaining Good Friday as a central Christian festival and remembrance was the right decision.

"By safeguarding Good Friday as a special day this gives a good opportunity to affirm that this goes to the heart of Christian faith because we are essentially still a nation with strong Christian faith and heritage.

"Secondly, this does mean that all who do want to take part in Good Friday processions or services are able to do so."

Bob Finch, secretary for Churches Together in Central Colchester, also did not think any of his group of churches - three Anglican, one Catholic, the Salvation Army, Baptist, United Reformed, Methodist and Greek Orthodox and Quaker churches – would be too upset by the change, providing Good Friday was still celebrated.

The new arrangements will apply to community and voluntary controlled Essex schools and the county council hopes that foundation and voluntary aided schools will also adopt them.

Suffolk County Council is still broadly in favour of a six-term model but in March its radical plans for a shake-up were sent back to the drawing board after widespread opposition. Term dates for 2004/2005 will now follow a more traditional three-term model.

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