Schools are increasingly starting to look at alternatives to the conventional three-term school year as the long summer holiday is now considered a barrier to effective learning. As such, four and five-term systems are being examined to see if they could deliver better results for teachers, students and parents.
But what are the pros and cons of the three systems, and can it be said that one is more clearly effective than the other two? Some of the positives and negatives are outlined below:
Traditional system with long summer break. Half-term holidays help break up the wearying effect of long school terms.
- A proven system – The current timetable balances concentrated teaching periods with significant time to relax and recharge. Also, teaching during summer is less effective because the heat makes pupils drowsy and distracted.
- Long summer breaks allow plenty of time for children to pursue their own interests, social activities and self-development.
- A ‘medieval system’ – Critics argue that long summer holidays were originally designed so kids could help out with agricultural work, and that the system is a relic of older times. Also argue that the system leaves kids ill-prepared for the year-round rigours of employment.
- Resentment of teachers’ holidays – Some people criticise teachers for their long summer break, damaging their public image. A shorter break would help to alleviate this criticism.
Typically consisting of five eight-week terms, with a two-week break between them and a four-week summer holiday.
- Shorter summer holidays – Four-week holiday relieves pressure on parents who need to make sure their children are looked after over an extended period. Also goes some way to solving the phenomenon of ‘summer learning loss’, where a substantial part of the next school year is taken up relearning things forgotten over the long summer break.
- More flexibility in the school curriculum – More teaching time means that more time can be given over to subjects like art, design, music or computing. These ‘fun’ subjects are a good fit for the summer months when kids are looking to relax, while still ensuring that they are learning useful skills.
- Greater pressure on teachers – Shorter holidays and more teaching time will lead to a testing schedule for teachers. This could decrease the attractiveness of the profession and impact on recruitment.
- Greater pressure on pupils – Long summer holidays offer an important time for kids to recharge, enjoy time with family and explore their own interests. A four-week holiday might not seem like much of a holiday at all.
A compromise between the three and five-term systems, striking a balance between term and holiday length.
- Tailored for exams – With more time for exam preparation than three-term systems and longer breaks as a ‘reward’ for completing exams than the five-term system, the system seems tailored towards greater exam performance.
- Combats the problems of both ‘learning loss’ and short holidays which don’t allow enough time for self-development.
- More terms mean that teaching is more frequently interrupted, whereas three-term systems allow the syllabus to be taught with more focus and in greater depth.
- Extending teaching further into the summer could lead to distracted, irritable students who would rather be outside.
Clearly, each system has both benefits and drawbacks which make it difficult to pick a clear winner. However, the compromise approach of the four-term system means it may offer a solution to the problems of the other systems. The five-term system could lead to too much pressure being put on teachers and students, while the long holidays in the three-term system mean that too much revision of old topics needs to be done at the start of the next school year. While the four-term model isn’t perfect, it goes some way to alleviating these other challenges while leaving students better prepared for their examinations.