Review of school summer holidays is ‘long overdue’, headteacher and parents say

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Plans which could see a major shake-up of term timetables that would allow families to book cheaper holidays have been tentatively welcomed by parents and teachers alike.

Last week The News reported that education leaders across Portsmouth could hold talks into a revamp of school holidays.

It follows in the wake of Brighton and Hove City Council’s move to explore whether it could break up the six-week summer break and schedule a week off earlier in the year so that parents could avoid premium prices when booking to go away.

Paul Walton is the associate headteacher of Northern Parade Junior School, in Doyle Avenue, Hilsea.

He is keen to see a change in school holidays although admitted this would come with its own challenges.

‘A review of school holidays is long overdue,’ he said.

‘My understanding is that the city’s schools used to empty in August to help with the harvest.

‘If you did a survey now of how many children would help with the summer harvests, you would be lucky to see one, if at all.

‘So a review is well overdue.’

He continued, adding: ‘I think that if there is going to be change, it would need to be right across the board.

‘I don’t think that saying Brighton is doing it, or Portsmouth, Birmingham and London are doing it would make much of a difference. It would have to be right across the country.’

Mr Walton said that, even if plans were agreed, be it on a national level or just on a local one, families might not benefit as much as they think from it.

He said that holiday prices increased during the current school holiday time, as well as the ‘shoulder weeks’ before and after it.

He feared that by changing the holiday dates, the travel industry could simply extend this ‘shoulder period’ of raised prices to include the new holiday dates.

‘My worry would be that the travel industry could see it as a bit of an earner,’ he said.

‘They could just extend raised prices to more weeks of the year which would defeat the object.’

He added: ‘Flexibility is a good idea and well worth looking at but I would like to see what the plans are before committing to it.’

As previously reported in The News, Portsmouth Tory education boss Neill Young said he would be willing to get round the table and debate the potential change, so long as headteachers were in favour of the move.

However, he said that implementing such a radical change would be tough.

Explaining his stance on the action, Cllr Young said that a number of parents have children who go to different schools – to academies, state schools and independent schools.

He said the challenge would be making sure all these schools ‘married up’.

‘Unless all of the schools across the city changed their term times, it would be counter-productive for the parents,’ said Cllr Young.

Reacting to the potential shake-up, parents from the city have said they would welcome a change in how school holidays were arranged.

Maria Marsh, 24, of Wymering, is one of the parents who suffers financially when summer comes.

She has three children whose grandparents live in Cyprus.

She explained that if she were to fly to see the relatives in August, the flights alone could cost her and her family more than £1,500, while if she were to do it a month later, it would be a fraction of this – just £300.

‘It’s just ridiculous,’ she said.

‘If I took them out of school I would get a fine.

‘To be honest, I would much rather they slap a £60 fine on me than pay an extra grand to go on a holiday in the summer. It’s mad.’

Cara Jerams, of Cosham, would also welcome a move to shorten the summer, not just for the potential of cheaper holidays but for the impact it could have on childcare costs.

The 45-year-old said: ‘My child care costs double in the summer holidays. It makes it really hard to afford it. So cutting down the summer break would be a good idea.’

Mother-of-two Michelle Simmons said she would welcome the change but added: ‘I would rather have it all at once so I can get it over and done with.

‘It’s easier for me to work out where the children will be if the holidays were all at one time.’

Amanda Martin, is the National Union of Teachers (NUT) representative for Portsmouth.

She said a lot of teachers had families too and also suffered from the hike in holiday prices.

‘Many teachers just don’t go on holiday because it is so expensive,’ she claimed.

She felt that any more to change the holidays could not be done just by Portsmouth City Council as a lone authority – it had to work in tandem with other neighbouring authorities and councils.

Without doing this, parents could be left in a situation where one child, going to one school within the Portsmouth area has different holiday dates to the sibling at a school under the jurisdiction of Hampshire County Council.