“If we took a holiday, just one day out of time, it would be, it would be so fine.” (It’s just the other 69 days of school holidays that are the problem)
5 January, 2013
I live in a rural community, a small village with no street lights. It’s surrounded by fields which are sowed and ploughed each year, by one of the three farmers who own all the land as far as the eye can see. We watch the fields change throughout the seasons; the tractors ploughing, watching new plants appear in spring wondering what’s coming this year. It changes see, each year the fields are a different colour, I think it’s called crop rotation (but stop me if I’m getting too technical, ok). Some years, we have masses of bright red poppies in golden corn fields, or vivid yellow oil seed rape, another year it’s green stuff that’s a magnet for swans. Then in the late summer the combine harvesters drone all night, bringing in both the harvest and a bout angry monster nightmares for the children.
We go out and watch the combines sometimes, it’s a messy old business, but it’s efficient. Not like the weeks of back breaking labour it must have taken in the good-ole-days. This mechanisation has caused a redundancy amongst in the relationship between farmer and village. We don’t help him with his harvest, he doesn’t sell produce locally, I barely know the three who farm around my village. There is no Cider With Rosie round here. Gone are the days of kids with (hopefully blunt) scythes, gathering the hay into bales, snogging under the horse-drawn cart. And this naturally begs the question; if they’re not off school for the whole summer to bring in the harvest/snogging under the cart; then why exactly are they off school for so long? The only reasons I can think of are;
- Keeping Thomas Cook in business with ridiculously inflated prices during the holidays.
- Stopping women getting decent paid jobs because no-one on a normal wage can afford 70 days of childcare a year.
School’s-out-for-summer once meant that work experience began and the children contributed to the economy. Ok, I’m not really saying you should put your children to work in the fields, or up a chimney, (although if they really want to do it and they’re seem naturally good at it, who am I to tell you to hold them back in life?).
Not all children are ready to drive combine harvesters.
The issue of trying to fit in work around school holidays is one that has failed to be addressed by any political party. The women I’ve spoken to about this, (in my research to find a way to work more than my sporadic self-employment) all seem to rely on a bit of childcare and a lot of family support. But, this is not an option for all of us. I, like many, don’t have family to ask and although I can ask friends, there are only so many times you can expect someone to happily have your three children all day. I’ve been self employed for about 4 years now and with the recession my work has reduced considerably. With my youngest now in school (phew), I could get a part time job, except covering the school holidays. Childcare is a problem, the problem being that the cheapest childcare starts at £3.50 per kid, per hour. I’ve got three of them, so I’m looking at spending £10.50 an hour to go to work. Ok, there are tax credit incentives to help with this, but many single parents really do find that the more hours they work, the worse off they are.
The big issue here is that as an economical entity, can Britain afford to support the massive amount of single parents on benefits? It doesn’t make sense to structure our country’s economy around school holidays for the sake of, well what? Teaching unions? The UK currently has 2 million single parent families, really, shouldn’t we be trying to address their return to work in a more practical way? We often hear talk about part time work for mothers, but the issue is not part time, many of us can manage that on a daily basis. The issue is finding a job with 70 days holiday a year.
School holidays are determined by the Local Education Authority (LEA) for Community and Community Funded schools and set by the school governors for Aided and Foundation schools. Schools are required to teach a minimum 190 days per year, offering 2 sessions a day. There are guidelines on the number of hours of teaching per week (21 to 24) depending on the age of the children. But, interestingly, there is no maximum number of days they are allowed to teach, this is determined by the contracts between the schools and teachers. Overseen by the big daddy, teaching unions.
The new kid on the block of hope with all this is Free Schools. These school are a government initiative to support the setting up of independently managed state schools They are run by charitable organisations and do not have to follow the National Curriculem, there are currently 79 of them open in the UK. Many are faith based schools, such as the Avanti (hindu) school in Harrow, the largest of the free schools in the UK. Many of them are also under-subscribed. Currently, all of the free schools operate conventional holiday term dates. But do these schools spell out some hope for a re-organisation of holidays for the struggling millions of parents trying to make a living? Will they be the forerunners in a re-organisation of school holidays that will enable many single parents to return to workable hours on even a part time basis? Possibly, but there are other things the Free Schools bring to UK education. One of the more worrying aspects is The Department of Education (DoE) allowing them to employ unqualified teachers without an open application procedure. Their website says:
“Free schools do not have to employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status (although certain specialist posts will still require QTS). Instead, Free Schools have the freedom to appoint the people they believe are best equipped to deliver their unique educational vision, for example an experienced instructor or lecturer from a further education institution. Ensuring the highest quality of teaching is paramount to the success of each school.”
Interesting, isn’t it? Free Schools’ teachers operate on the self-belief of their capability in teaching, rather than specific qualifications. I wonder if this system that will in time be a precedent to the other struggling government departments (other than MPs, where it already openly operates). Will we have Free Hospitals, where people who believe they can operate perform surgery on brain tumours? Or, perhaps we’ll have self appointed Free RAF pilots who, having done karaoke to R. Kelly a few too many times, believe they can fly. Sort of like an employment based X-factor, but without tedious auditions.
Another aspect of education they’re allowed to take less literally, is with staff contracts, again the D.o.E website explains:
“One of the additional freedoms enjoyed by Academies and Free Schools is the ability to set their own terms and conditions for staff. The Free School’s Academy Trust will be responsible for employer and employee pension contributions, and for administrative matters relating to pension provision for all staff employed by the Free School.”
If that isn’t a direct hit in the eye against Teaching Unions, then I don’t know what is.
Despite the many short comings of the Free School system, the fact remains that we have arranged our economy around un-workable term dates and this means we perpetuate the benefit-dependent, single parent population. It’s not true that single parents don’t want to work; people who say this have probably never raised children alone – so they have no idea how appealing it sounds to spend all day with adults. Probably, in the same way, staying home with children, sounds really homey and loving (instead of shouty and tantrumy). Few people prefer to raise their children on the poverty line, when additional earned income might offer them so much more.
There are no immediate or easy solutions to this, but it’s interesting that those expensively equipped educational buildings, our state funded schools, sit idle and empty for 175 days per annum, almost half a year. Surely, there must be something we can do with them?