Proposed changes to school terms

Proposal affecting school visits

Recently, the department for education announced plans to allow all schools in England to set their own dates for the school term. The move will be seen as part of plans to ease state control over many aspects of education, and perhaps to lessen the gap between the new breed of Academy Schools, and more traditional State Schools. As the proposal is backed by both colours of government, it is more likely than not to become reality. This will be a big change with a range of implications. Let’s look at the main questions this proposal will raise, and in particular, how it will affect educational visits.

Potential Problems

The ground rule is that children must be in school for at least 190 days a year. But the new proposal means that how those days are split during the academic year will be at the discretion of each individual school. The first and perhaps most important issue is the disparity that will arise. If you allow every school to set its own dates, it follows that even if the majority decide it is wise to keep the status quo, by sticking to the current dates, many will not, and a wide variation of dates will follow. This matters for the majority of parents who have more than one child and it matters for a variety of reasons:

Imagine the family live near the English / Welsh border. The youngest may be at a Primary School in Wales, but the Secondary School that their elder sibling goes to, may be in England. Other than common sense, there is nothing stopping those two school from running their summer holiday dates concurrently, meaning parents have to take time off work or find child care for twelve weeks, rather than six. Of course this is unlikely for the majority of us, but there is now nothing stopping it from happening.

Locally, we have an example of how allowing schools to set term dates does not always work as smoothly as it could. Historically, Shropshire and Telford schools always worked together to synchronise half term holidays. But politics changed and the bluer than blue Shropshire Council, and the redder than red Telford and Wrekin Borough Council stopped their schools playing nicely together and it was the parents who suffered.

The main benefit being touted is that by reducing the concentration of children out of school during the middle of the summer, holiday companies will reduce their high season prices. Of all the statements, this one has to be taken with the biggest pinch of salt. If families only wish to holiday during late July and August, then this is the only time holiday companies can justify high prices. Change the dates to increase demand for holidays in June, July and September, and perhaps the period of time in which a premium can be charged will increase too?

How educational visits will be affected

Will the prices that schools have to find to cover admission fees, entrance charges, and coach operators also remain constant, or will different schools finishing for the summer on different weeks lead offer a better deal for parents?

Any changes to the terms will affect how the curriculum is structured. This may alter when the local field trip is required, which is turn could give teachers more flexibility in choosing dates for their trips.

If the proposal results in a more even spread of trips throughout the year, pupils should also benefit from an improved experience as they will not be competing with other school for access to facilities. Obviously the larger venues will be able to accommodate multiple schools, but clearly if your class has sole use of a venue, the overall experience will improve.

In some ways the new development could also be seen as good news for school group venues themselves, who should enjoy a more even spread of visitors throughout the year. Removing the severity of the peaks and troughs caused by schools all being closed at the same time, evens out cash flow.

The proposals are probably a few years from becoming reality, and we all know how quickly such policies can change. It will certainly raise a few questions for group operators and it will be interesting to see how they think they may be affected. If you are a group venue, how do you read the proposed changes? How will it affect your yearly operation? Or if you are a teacher, do you think this is a good idea? We would love to hear from you. Have your say on the school trips forum.

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