Why Michael Gove Is Right To Shorten School Holidays

14/08/2014 16:49 | Updated 22 May 2015
Why Michael Gove is right to shorten school holidays

It is not often I agree with anything that comes our of Michael Gove's mouth. Actually, I never agree with anything he spouts. Until now.

For the Education Secretary wants to shorten the length of school holidays – and lengthen the time our kids spend in the classroom. Give that man a gold star!

The rationale behind it is that this would improve children's performance and make life easier for working parents. Well, I don't know about the former, but I clap like a performing seal for the latter.

We are a two-parents-working family. We are a two-parents-working-but-can't-afford-childcare family. And what this means is that because I work from home, I am the primary childcarer. A reluctant homeworker.

If I could find a job that paid enough to fund childcare, I'd be out of the door like a shot. But I can't. And so the only way I can earn a crust to pay for life's little luxuries, like the weekly shop, is to work from home. Every weekday, come rain or shine, come Christmas or Easter, come Half Term or Summer Break.

And let me tell you, it is a damn sight easier to work when my three kids are at school. Which seems to be very rarely.

They've only been back at their desks for a week and already it feels like the next holiday is a blink of an eye away. Once they're back after Half Term, the Summer Hols will feel as close as another twitch of the eyelid. Three weeks at Christmas, a week's Half Term, nearly three weeks at Easter, then another Half Term, then Summer.

Please, Mr Gove, make it stop.

How DO working parents cope with the endless demands on their time to both earn a living and take care of their children?

It's OK if you earn enough to pay for a nanny. It's even better if you're a one-income family that can afford to fund a full-time Stay-At-Home-Parent to entertain the sprogs.

But if you're neither of these, then the lengthy school holidays are a logistical nightmare.

The last time I looked, most workers were only allowed four or five weeks holiday a year. But school holidays average around 14 weeks a year. You don't need to have passed GCSE maths to work out that that leaves more than two months when working parents need to find somebody to look after their children.

In our case, that somebody is me – except the function I perform can barely be described as 'looking after'.

What happens during the holidays is this: my wife leaves for work at 8am and I hope and pray that the kids will have a lie-in until about, hmmm, noon, so that I can get on with some work. Instead, they're up at 7.59am to wave their mum off.

For the next three hours, they play out their own versions of Lord of the Flies while I get my head down and crack on with work.

As I hammer away at my keyboard, I try my best to shut out the bangs and screams and wails of 'He did this' and 'She did that' until I finally snap and do what no conscientious parent should do – and order them to go and play on the computer.

This, of course, is what they've been angling for. And so, for a further three hours, they immerse themselves in cyber-space while I try to ignore the guilt that's eating away inside me.

During the second week of Easter, the guilt finally got to me and I decided to do something about it – throw some money at the problem.

I enrolled them on a scheme called Team Camp. It cost a few quid, but they could run around, play and be entertained while I worked to pay for it. This is pretty much what they do at school (with the occasional reading and maths thrown in to justify the curriculum). And they love it.


My children love school. They love school because it's more interesting than watching the back of their dad's head and raiding the fridge for sandwich filling ingredients because I'm too busy to feed them.


They love it because that's where their mates are. They love it because they are constantly stimulated by professionals who understand the workings and needs of a young child's physicality and mentality.

And I love it because it doesn't cost me anything.

For even when I do get to take time off to spend with my children, I might as well just get turned upside down and shaken to spill all my loose change into the coffers of overpaid entertainment.

A trip to Legoland for four? £140 – and that's just the tickets. A trip to London Zoo for four? £80. And that's before you pay for 'refreshments' in the café. A trip to the cinema on a rainy day? £50. And that's before you get mugged for gigantic tubs of Coke and popcorn.

Shorten the school holidays and all this will stop. Parents will look forward to spending time with their kids instead of worrying how to find somebody to pay to spend time with their kids.

And the children will appreciate it more – for instead of having to put up with a tetchy parent who can't wait for the holidays to end, they'd get a mum or dad who looks forward to some proper quality time with them.

In an ideal world (for the working parent), our children would have the same amount of time off school as we do off work.

So why not, Mr Gove, meet us halfway? Shorten school holidays – but extend statutory hols for adults? Mmm, yes, that would work!

Unfortunately, my views don't have much support amongst my school gate peer group.

When I went into this rant this morning at my 11-year-old stepdaughter's school, one of her friend's mums said: "You're such an old misery. I LOVE the school holidays. It means I get to spend more time with Lucy."

"Yes," I thought, but was to scared to say out loud, "but you're a stay-at-home-mum whose husband works in the City and you don't have to earn a bean so I'm not surprised you want your daughter to be off school – she gives you some purpose beyond going to the gym and having a pedicure."

This mum has money, see. She doesn't slave away trying to earn a living in the school holidays: she books holidays. She spends four out of the six weeks abroad. Bliss! Unfortunately, not everyone can have that existence.

But (I presume) Lucy's mum isn't who Mr Gove's proposals are aimed at.

He told a conference in London, organised by the Spectator magazine: "The structure of the school term and the school day was designed at a time when we had an agricultural economy.

"I remember half-term in October when I was at school in Aberdeen was called the tattie holiday – the period when kids would go to the fields to pick potatoes.

"It was also at a time when the majority of mums stayed home. That world no longer exists and we can't afford to have an education system that was essentially set in the 19th century."

Not surprisingly, his proposals have been opposed.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Teachers and pupils already spend longer hours in the classroom than most countries and also have some of the shortest summer holidays.

"Independent schools in England and Wales, which often break for two weeks more during the summer and have longer holidays at other times of the year than their state counterparts, do not apparently feel the need to change and are apparently not suffering from their reduced hours."

And writing in the Telegraph, Laura Perrins, a campaigner for Mothers at Home Matter, said: "This is just one more ploy to keep both parents working long hours. No doubt he is hoping that as all the babies and toddlers will be safely tucked up in their nurseries, next in the firing line are children and teenagers.

"I'm starting to understand what this Government means by 'family friendly'; it means whittling down to nothing what little time families have together.

"How truly miraculous that this silver bullet of longer hours and shorter terms will result in both higher standards and make life easier for working parents.

"Only it is not a silver bullet; it is nonsense, and I hope all parents will see it for what it is; another State stranglehold on the family. Resist."

Laura, it seems to me, is lucky. She's a well-paid former barrister and therefore, I imagine, lucky enough not to have to worry about earning an income during her children's school holidays.

But from our family's perspective, the idea of spending more time with our children is desirable, but laughable.

Last year, my wife worked 50 weeks out of 52, leaving home at 8am and returning from work at 7.30pm.

For us, our children spending more time being stimulated at school, playing with their friends, having a laugh, LEARNING something, would be far more beneficial to them than being babysat by computer games at home while their mother and father strive to earn enough to put food in their bellies.

Make it happen, Mr Gove.

What do you think?

Do you love unkinking in long relaxed summer holidays?

Or do summer holidays mean weeks of boredom for kids and an organisational nightmare for parents?

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