- Police: Pensions and over-time
- Doctors: Egregiously high salaries and GP hours
- Firefighters: Time spent asleep and in the gym
- Teachers: Summer holidays. Always the summer holidays.
So it was all too predictable that last week, when Michael Gove announced that he wanted schools to have longer school days and shorter holidays, the unions roared loudly and everyone whipped themselves into a frenzy. A Guardian article on the matter even managed to get five and half thousand facebook shares. But the frenzy is very weird in the context of the loud roars that also arose when in 2011 Gove scrapped the ringfencing of Extended Schools funding – the cash-pot which was entirely for the purpose of enabling schools to stay open to late evening and during holidays. So which way do we want it? Longer school opening hours, or not?
If I’d been in that union office when the headlines hit I’d have been straight on the phones saying: “Brilliant! Now, let’s TALK”….because while Gove’s sentiment plays well to the gallery it also fires up a bunch of difficult questions and he needs to be put on the spot to answer them:
- Should these extra hours be compulsory for children in that school? (and what does that do for parent choice?)
- Must the hours be ‘taught’, or can they be ‘extra-curricular’?
- Can these extra hours be covered by the never-need-to-become-qualified teachers that the government is now happy to have teach in academies and free schools?
- Do the hours have to be delivered in the school building, or could they be offered in partnership with youth clubs, sports centres, and libraries?
Anyone can bang the drum of school holidays with the intention of causing a furore. But that furore only occurs if we all fall for it and run around yelling “but we’re tired in the summer” and “we’re not babysitters”. A far wiser strategy on the part of teachers would be putting the onus on Gove to come up with a proper strategic plan. To ask: Is it a choice? Is it funded? Is ‘babysitting’ sufficient? And if he tries to fudge these questions then he should be reminded that his vagueness suggests he doesn’t actually have the stomach for carrying out such a plan and that such a move makes it look ever more like he was only crying ‘Summer holidays’ purely for the purpose of media attention.
We teach children all day long that questions are vital. We also owe it to them to get as many opportunities opened up for them – including ones that occur after school and during the holidays. Don’t let us fail now in our responsibility to ask the most important questions to push the government on this and make sure it actually happens.