When I was growing up I used to think of weeks in colours depending on what I was doing and when. Days were rectangular and months ran right to left through my mind. That was consistent. But the biggest difference was the colours. Oddly, it was all monochromatic, but during term time, weekdays were light grey and weekends were dark grey. Yet during the holidays, weekdays and weekends were as shiny white as Simon Cowell’s gnashers, a stretch of time blank yet vibrant with blinding potential.
No stretch of time was more eye-catching than the summer holidays. As they approached, I could start to see the white coming into view from the right, and the more it emerged into my mind’s eye, the more excited I became.
As I’ve written before, I almost get the same sensation now with the kids’ summer breaks. Their excitement and sense of untapped freedom, opportunity and adventure into the unknown looms large and I pick up those radio waves.
So when I read with a sense of resignation about Gove’s deregulation of local authority control over school holiday timings and duration, it was with a sense of dread and the spectre of looming chaos. While there may appear to be an initial gleam of light in the darkness – the lack of a need of childcare provision over such a long period of time – that is soon unmasked as a false dawn. The potential distribution of the holiday periods to other parts of the year doesn’t solve this, or cut costs, it just shifts the childcare challenge elsewhere, perhaps with more frequency, and more critically outside the time when local childcare providers, organisations and authorities have cover plans in place that in many cases have been running for years, and run at the same times they always have done. It may be costly, but summer childcare is mostly a known quantity, and at least will be dependable.
And in a couple of years time, for me, for three years in a row, the Ls will be at different schools. So what happens if the primary school moves to one term / holiday pattern, and the secondary to another. Well, what happens is there’s no choice but to clone myself, but that’s on a micro level. The macro implications are far greater than duplicating my own DNA.
And all I have covered here are the parenting practicals. I haven’t even tried to write about the concerns raised by those qualified, both in teaching and other areas of child-centred expertise, about the many worrying effects on children’s quality of life and space for learning and developing outside the academic and educational environment. Some are summed up eloquently on this Guardian thread, accessed here.
But to go back to where I started this post, I am also left with one stark thought. When my children reach their advanced 30s I want them to be able to recall a time when there were long periods of rest and adventure and freedom, where for once the only expectation was that there would be no expectations – oh, and that there would be fun. So that’s two ‘only expectations’ – forgive me. The summer holidays broke the routine and the pressure and when I was growing up were a vital ‘on-pause’ period, even in the antediluvian past when I was at school, which was a time when there weren’t the ongoing exam and assessment pressures faced today by ever-younger children. Strikes me that if they lose their summer break it will have even more undesirable implications. I just hope sincerely that those involved in education locally, who will independently be able to establish how their schools structure their year, are able to display more common sense, empathy and understanding of what children need than their national government counterparts, who are sadly and dramatically lacking.