Summer holidays in the UK are usually around six weeks long and, because they mark the end of the school year, they’re considered to be the best time for pupils to move schools. This is something which has been noted by those who work in education marketing.
The origins of the summer holiday have been lost to us, and many people now argue that a six week summer holiday is outdated and causes problems for parents, teachers and children.
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Why do we have summer holidays?
One of the most predominant theories as to why there is such a long holiday during the summer months is because of the agricultural nature of the UK in the past. This meant that many children were expected to be helping out on farms during the harvest to ensure that all crops were brought in. This meant that when compulsory education was brought in by the Victorians, they fitted the holidays around when children were most needed at home.
One of the problems with this theory is that by the time compulsory education was made into law in the UK, the Industrial Revolution had already happened. One of the consequences of this was that there were more people living in cities than in rural areas, so fewer children would be involved in the harvest.
Additionally, many crops are not harvested in August, but in September, when children would have been in schools. This means that they would have been unable to help with the harvest. This casts more doubt onto the theory that the summer holidays beginning in July and ending at the start of September were so children could help with the harvest.
Given that more pupils lived in cities than the countryside, it might be that long summer holidays were established to ensure that pupils in cities could escape to the countryside when cities were at their warmest. This would have ensured pupils weren’t in school when they would struggle with concentration the most, which would have been when the heat from the summer sun and the pollution from the cities’ factories would have made cities almost unbearably hot.
Although the UK doesn’t have the same tradition, there are some parts of Europe where cities and towns become virtually abandoned over the summer due to the heat. In places like Madrid, many residents spend their time in the mountains or by the coast, where it is cool, during the hot summer months. It is possible that the summer holidays in the UK were created to enable British families an opportunity to escape hot, oppressive cities without affecting their education.
School terms were standardised centuries after the creation of prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge, so it’s possible that the holidays were modelled on those of academic institutions with a similar purpose. Many universities’ summer holidays start at the end of exams, which can be any time in June, to the beginning of the academic year, in mid-to-late September. This means that they often have two or three month holidays in the summer.
If schools were considered or expected to be similar to universities in terms of educating people, it’s possible that their holidays were based on those of the universities to better emulate the more advanced institutions that some students might go to. This seems to be especially true when it comes to private schools, which often have longer holidays than state schools in the UK.
Why do people want to make summer holidays shorter?
Many people have argued in favour of shortening the summer break to help parents who work full-time and to combat summer learning loss. However, some people argue that this would make school more difficult for children and that teachers would struggle even more with finding time to do everything they need to.
Many parents work full-time and struggle to get time off during the summer holidays. This means that they have to either ask for help or pay for childcare to ensure their children are looked after while they’re at work. Not everyone has the family support they need to be able to ask grandparents to look after children throughout the whole summer, and childcare is becoming more and more expensive with government support dropping. Shorter summer holidays would help these parents as they’d spend less time stressing over how their children will spend the summer and they’d be able to save money they would otherwise have spent on childcare or summer schools.
Summer learning loss is an equally big challenge faced by pupils and teachers. Spending six or seven weeks of the school summer holidays with a completely different routine, doing completely different things means that children are often rusty at best when they return to school in the autumn. A shorter summer holiday would help them when they return to school as they would have forgotten less and would be likely to learn more effectively as their routine would not have had as much time to change drastically.
However, children deserve time to be children, and doing so in the summer gives them the chance to spend time with their friends outside of school and relax. School can be difficult and stressful for many children and teenagers, so having a significant amount of time off can give them time to recharge before they start the next academic year. Let’s not forget that the autumn term is already the longest term in the school year.
One other reason to avoid shortening the summer holiday is to help teachers recharge. Many of them need the break to avoid burnout, as they spend much of their spare time during the school terms planning, marking and creating resources for the lessons they give. Many of them also spend some of their time in the summer planning lessons and preparing for the new academic year, so making the school holidays shorter gives them less time to relax after an intense, stressful year.
What about other countries?
Different countries have different length summer holidays. In France, the summer holiday is two months, July and August, while in the USA, it’s often up to three and a half months. Other countries have shorter summer holidays, like South Korea.
Each of these countries’ cultures are very different – in the USA, parents who can afford it often send their children to summer camps and summer schools to avoid summer learning loss, while in South Korea, the shorter summer break could be because of the pressure put on children to perform well at school.
It’s also important to consider that some countries have longer summer breaks than others because of the climate. Many countries in North Africa like Libya and Jordan have three-month-long summer breaks, but they are much hotter than the UK during this period so students and teachers would struggle to concentrate during those months.
Why the summer holidays are as long as they are isn’t quite certain – it might be so that children in rural areas could help with the harvest or so that families in cities could escape the heat or even mimic prestigious universities. Whatever the reason is, summer holidays are a hot topic within the UK at the moment. Some people want them to be shorter to help both children and parents while others want to keep them the same to ensure teachers don’t burn out and kids have a chance to be children. Another thing to remember is that summer holidays vary in length all over the world, for different reasons in every country, whether those are cultural or do with the climate.
Author bio: Rachel Gowland works at digital marketing agency, Tillison Consulting. She’s a passionate gamer and avid reader who loves to travel, using her knowledge of foreign languages to connect with people around the world.