But what if the lengthy summer holiday ceased to exist? Hilary Wilce spells out the advantages.
Quite soon schools will be closing down for the holidays. Some boarding schools will be quickly opening up again to reap useful income from hosting residential music schools or tennis camps or foreign language courses. Others will be hosting day holiday clubs and activity camps, but far too many school buildings up and down the country will stay shuttered and locked until September.
Meanwhile, social splits will widen. Some lucky children will enjoy a busy summer of friends, activities and holidays, but many more will spend weeks in their bedrooms staring at a screen, or will roam the streets with friends trying to fill up the days. In the summer, a surprising number of school-age children in the UK are less well fed than they are during their term times of breakfast clubs and school lunches. A great many, lacking stimulation, forget much of what they learned in the previous school year and start in September having dropped up to five weeks behind in both knowledge and learning skills.
At the same time, parents will spend their summers juggling holiday leave, paying out for holiday programmes of dance, football or archery classes that they can often ill afford, or turning to long-suffering grandparents to help out with childcare.
None of this adds up, so it would make excellent sense to keep schools open over the summer and offer free holiday programmes of sports, creative and community activities to all children who want to join in.
Of course it would cost money. Quite a lot of money. Organisers and helpers would have to be employed, there’d be significant management costs, and equipment and food would need to be provided. But set that against all the other costs that the summer holidays give rise to – more mental and physical health problems among children, more street violence, growing obesity, family struggles, workplace stress, and widening inequality – and the balance sheet would tip strongly in the direction of using our well-equipped and expensive school facilities to the maximum. Plus, of course, a national, and hopefully high-quality holiday scheme, would be able to offer much more consistency of care, and a much more balanced programme, than the postcode lottery of holiday provision than we have now.
What this would take, though, would be a profound revolution in thinking.
My own family had a personal crash course in this when we moved to America and our children joined the local elementary school. Almost immediately, they were casually cycling up to school in the evenings and at weekends to pick up forgotten homework, look things up in the library, or play on the sports field or in the playground. To us, it seemed extraordinary. To our suburban American neighbours it was completely normal. It was the children’s school, it was open, there were adults about – why shouldn’t pupils use it as their own?
So why can’t that happen here? Why can’t schools be safe havens and exciting learning spaces in the summer, just as they are in term-time? There are lots of practical and financial reasons why not. But with the desire to do right by all our children, and the will to make it happen, those could be countered.
Or we could have something completely different and scrap the long summer holiday altogether. Children are no longer needed to help with the harvest, which is why the holiday was created in the first place. Modern life hurtles along without pause through the months of July and August, and it could well suit almost everyone to have more school terms and shorter holidays. For me, this would be the ultimate sensible solution, and would solve the great summer holiday problem at a stroke.
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