Would a four-week summer school holiday work?

The report suggests there will be benefits for teachers, children, and parents. Credit: PA

By Lily Ford, ITV News Multimedia Producer

A new report is set to recommend a four-week school summer holiday across England for the benefit of teachers, pupils, and parents.

The proposal, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and authored by three university academics, is part of a wider suggestion to completely reform the school calendar.

The full report is set to be published after Easter, centred around the gaps in learning that are going to emerge for the Covid-19 generation.

Its lead author, Professor Lee Elliot Major of the University of Exeter, spoke to ITV News about the key pieces of advice his report is recommending schools and the government take forward - including moving a week from the summer break to the autumn.

But would it work? And what would be the downsides?

The proposal

Professor Major suggests that the school calendar has been stuck in in place since "Victorian times", and that research shows spreading holidays across the year might improve the working lives of teachers by making term lengths more equal.

It would involve shortening the summer holiday and introducing a two-week autumn half-term, following a similar proposal made by the Welsh government for the academic year of 2025-2026.

Professor Major said the study found children do lose learning over such a long break. Credit: PA

As well as this, staff training days could be compacted into one week instead of spread across the year.

"What we're doing is looking at the prospects of the Covid generation - what can happen to all these young children who were affected by Covid," Professor Major, who produced the report alongside Professor Stephen Machin and Mr Andrew Eyles from the London School of Economics, explained to ITV News.

"Essentially, we're saying there's gonna be a challenge over the next decade for these kids.

"So what we were trying to do, given that the government was saying to us, 'Look, we don't have any money. So if you've got any ideas, things that don't cost that much...'

"When we looked at the evidence, we felt that there was some good compelling arguments."

How would it benefit teachers, parents, and children, respectively?

A lot of the conclusions are also based around prioritising the wellbeing of the country's teachers.

Professor Major said that they found the autumn term proved "really fatiguing" for staff and pupils, and adding an extra week would help "for educational reasons".

Another option is to have another week added to the half-term in February.

Professor Major said that many look at the summer holidays as "idyllic" with "rose-tinted glasses" on, but studies suggest that children lose learning over such an extended period.

"Often children get bored during those six weeks, and also, wellbeing is a concern," he said.

"I do a lot of work around safeguarding. And if (as a teacher), you've got a child that you're keeping an eye on, and they've gone for six weeks, it really plays on your mind."

Finally, Professor Major said that steep childcare costs and holiday costs has made the six weeks "a real challenge" for many parents.

But a shorter school holiday could prove to be a resolution to soaring prices.

Professor Major said that soaring holiday costs could come down if there was a staggered system. Credit: PA

"We just believe that if you evened out some of those breaks across the year, it's just a bit more manageable for those parents," he said.

"Maybe we could have different regions staggering this summer break so that holiday costs might come down. We have these horrendously big hikes in holidays during that six weeks.

"I think those that are resistant to it are often the very few people that are rich enough to be able to afford a six week holiday - that's not many people."

What do teachers and parents think?

A recent poll by the Teacher Tapp app found teachers were divided over whether the summer holidays should be shortened and by how much.

While 33% backed keeping the summer break at six weeks, 35% wanted it shortened to five weeks and 29% preferred cutting it to four.

A statement from teachers' union NASUWT said the proposal to shorten summer holidays are "nothing new" and that the education system requires "substantially more investment in services for children and families".

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

"The crisis in our education system requires substantially more investment in services for children and families, not another policy predicated on placing further demands on schools that are over-stretched, under-funded and at breaking point.

“These proposals to shorten the school summer holidays are nothing new.

"Depressingly, what is also not new is the lack of credible evidence demonstrating that such changes would improve educational standards."

The new research for this project focused on the gaps in learning that will emerge for the Covid generation, but the wider recommendations for the school calendar is based on a review of existing evidence.

Parentkind, a national charity that aims to bridge the gap between parents and schools, supported Professor Major's claim that those who struggle over the six-week break are much more in favour of its reduction.

Frank Young, director of research and policy at Parentkind said: "For parents, six weeks is a long time and managing annual leave and childcare to cover the summer holidays will be a challenge most parents will be familiar with. Many will face the six-week summer break with dread.

A recent poll by the Teacher Tapp app found teachers were divided over whether the summer holidays should be shortened. Credit: PA

"When we spoke to almost 7,000 parents in Wales about Welsh government proposals to reduce the six week summer holiday parents were split in response, with a small majority of parents in support.

"Families who really struggle over the six week summer break were much more enthusiastic about the proposals for a more even school year and shorter summer holiday.

Mr Young added that a solution must be found that works for teachers, parents, and children, and that parents should be consulted on any changes to the school calendar.

What are some of the major criticisms?

Professor Major acknowledges that it's cutting into holiday time, but reiterated the proposal is about rebalancing the holiday rather than reducing it.

He said many people believe that the education system should function as it always has, with some teachers being "stuck in their ways."

"I just think on balance, think about that long-term in the winter.

"When everyone's struggling, everyone's got colds and it's really hard... I just think that extra week in October would be much more beneficial."

He added that it is more likely to be better weather in the weeks during the summer, but drawing comparisons to other countries who have longer or shorter holidays is not a powerful argument as they have completely different education systems.

When could this come into affect?

Professor Major explained that the report will be shared with schools and governments, but also with trusts that have discretion over their summer holidays.

Ultimately, for many schools, it's up to them whether they change their calendar.

"I think you'd have to sort of coordinate it, so you don't have mayhem out there (if the) school down the road (or) another school does a slightly different approach," Professor Major added. You've got to be careful with this.

"I suppose you'd want the government to support it, but a lot of it is down to schools, increasingly, on these issues."

The Department of Education said setting of term times is a matter for individual schools (for academies) or local authorities (for maintained schools), and the government has no plans of changing this.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...