Summer Holidays

The only thing I really looked forward to at school were the summer holidays. I admit that being brought up in a remote village was an advantage because all my friends were on the doorstep. As long as the eleven children at our school and I were back for meals, our parents didn’t worry about us – the surrounding downland, copses, barns and tracks were our playground. We were happy all through those languorous July and August days. I know I was lucky and looking back on it I think it had a lot to do with being outside and having the freedom to explore. So I’m siding with the 99 percent of today’s school children who don’t want their six week long summer holidays to be shortened. I’m also pressing for government subsidized summer camps for urban children.

 summer holidaysMargaret Hodge (chair of the Commons Education Select Committee) is all for shorter summer holidays and says children forget what they’ve learned over the long break. “Daft” is how she describes the present school calendar. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary,  joined in by saying that shorter holidays are ‘good’ for children. “The traditional long summer holiday is a relic of the 19th century and must be consigned to history,” he said. Admittedly rural children were needed to help with the harvest back then, but that is no reason to scrap the six week break: it suits our seasons and our children. Gove warned that Britain is not keeping up with other countries and that our education system needs to reflect “the very modern global race that the UK is in”. I don’t think the majority of children realise they are in a global race and actually I don’t think I do either. I believe that what Hodge and Gove are proposing is an erosion of childhood.

I understand that the long summer break doesn’t suit working parents because they have to pay for more childcare, but some of the arguments against it are depressing. The parents of two children at Dixon’s Academy in Bradford, which operates a five term system, cannot praise it too highly. They all went to the Canary Islands in February and are off to Greece in October. “It’s costing us the same for both holidays as it is for one in the summer.” So it works out cheaper for those parents who believe that to have a proper holiday you have to go abroad; I don’t think that’s a good enough defence. Having just been told by Gove that our school system needs to be more like China’s, it seems that Britain is good for nothing any more – not even holidays.

I think that’s wrong. Apart from wanting to keep the present school calendar I would also like to stand up for spending summer holidays in Britain. When I think of the hell of waiting interminably in airport lounges I am filled with gloom. This island nation has so much to offer – from the wooded cliffs of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight to the emptiness of the low lying dunes around Skegness, from the mountain backed beaches of North Wales to the great shoulders of chalk downland above the Sussex coast. The fashion for acquiring a tan was only conceived in the 1920s in the South of France and cheap package air travel made it possible for the man in the street to fly to extreme heat around 40 years later. People forget that Tynemouth, Tenby, Saltburn by the Sea, Eastbourne and Scarborough for instance, are some of the finest resorts in the world. We invented the seaside resort after all. On a warm summer’s day when the band is playing, eating fresh crab on Cromer pier or fish and chips in the Magpie Café at Whitby is as good as it gets.

Image: Flickr CC /  Will Richards

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