Norfolk headteachers hit out at idea to cut school holidays

Hewett School associate headteacher Rob Anthony. Picture by Adrian Judd.

Hewett School associate headteacher Rob Anthony. Picture by Adrian Judd.

Headteachers in Norfolk have slammed education secretary Michael Gove's proposals to shorten school holidays.

Great Yarmouth Primary Academy official opening ceremony.Headteacher Bill HolledgePicture: James Bas

Great Yarmouth Primary Academy official opening ceremony.Headteacher Bill HolledgePicture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

Teaching unions have been angered by Mr Gove's suggestions that schoolchildren should have shorter holidays and spend more time in the classroom.

Alison Clarke, head teacher at Larkman primary school in Norwich.; Photo: Bill Smith

Alison Clarke, head teacher at Larkman primary school in Norwich.; Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2010

A spokesman from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said yesterday: 'Michael Gove continues to behave as if he is in a sixth form debate rather than a government minister who is responsible for the education of children in this country.'

Mr Gove said the current standard school calendar was out of date and fit for the agricultural economy of the 19th century.

Speaking at a Spectator conference in London, Mr Gove said pupils were at a 'significant handicap' compared to youngsters in East Asian nations who benefited from extra tuition and support from teachers.

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'We've noticed in Hong Kong and Singapore and other East Asian nations that expectations of mathematical knowledge or of scientific knowledge at every stage are more demanding than in this country,' he said. 'In order to reach those levels of achievement a higher level of effort is expected on behalf of students, parents and teachers.

'School days are longer, school holidays are shorter. The expectation is that to succeed – hard work is at the heart of everything.'

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Mr Gove said the government was making changes to teachers' pay, terms and conditions which would mean they could be paid more for taking on extra duties and allow headteachers to organise their staff 'in a way to get more out of young people'.

In Norfolk, hours were controversially extended at Greenacre Primary School before it became Great Yarmouth Primary Academy, with a small amount of parents even taking their children out of the school.

But headteacher Bill Holledge said the longer school hours had been a 'good thing' as it allowed pupils to try extra curricular activities such as horse riding, sailing and cooking.

The school day at the Yarmouth school ends at 3.30pm for pupils in year two and below, 5pm for its year three and four pupils and 6pm for its year five and six pupils, with after-school clubs offered for all ages.

'I think you have got to adapt for your pupils and the local community,' Mr Holledge said. 'What we are doing is absolutely right for our pupils and we are already seeing exam results have doubled and I'm confident that will increase again this year.'

However Rob Anthony, associate headteacher of the Hewett School in Norwich, said: 'This is unhelpful and plays up to the prejudice that teachers have too much holiday,' he said. 'Most people think teachers don't work long hours and have obviously never had a go at the job. Teaching is one of the hardest, but most rewarding, jobs you can do.

'Just because school finishes at 3pm, it doesn't mean teachers do. Most are marking and planning well beyond that.'

Mr Anthony admitted there could be 'some argument' for altering of the school calendar, with a six-term school year and a four-week summer holiday a possibility.

But he added: 'The big problem with Michael Gove is he has lots of ideas and he pushes forward with them before he has had a chance to talk and listen to teachers.'

Alison Clarke, headteacher at Larkman Primary School in Norwich, is extending school hours to 3.30pm from September and is looking to introduce further after-school activities to allow school hours to last until 4.30pm for some students.

Mrs Clarke said: 'My sister lives in Australia and they have longer holidays than we do, so we need to look beyond what works in other countries and review what works in this country.

'These decisions need to be made on academic research, where is the evidence that shortening holidays would work?'

Mr Gove said the changes could be 'family friendly' adding: 'Half term in October, when I was at school in Aberdeen, was called 'tattie holiday' because it was the period when children went into the fields to pick potatoes. It was also fixed on a world where a majority of mums stayed home.

'That world no longer exists and we can't afford to have an education system that essentially its hours were set in the 19th century.'

But Pete Waters, brand manager for Visit Norfolk, said shortening the summer holidays would have a 'detrimental effect' on the tourism industry.

'Who wants to go holiday when it's light at eight in the morning and dark by three-thirty in the afternoon?' Mr Waters said.

'That would only encourage people to go abroad and wouldn't benefit the UK tourism economy, and therefore the exchequer.

'Visit Norfolk and its partners have been working strenuously to promote Norfolk as an all-year-round destination.

'You can still go walking, bird watching and a whole range of other activities, but obviously in summer there is up to 18 hours of daylight for people to go off and enjoy themselves.'

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