UK: Government to Allow Free Schools to Set Own Calendars

A new government proposal calls for giving the UK’s free schools the same kind of scheduling freedom already enjoyed by academy schools: the ability to set their own term dates, Sean Coughlan of the BBC reports. According to Coughlan, that means more schools around the country could introduce long 6-week summer vacations.

British free schools – similar to American charter schools – already decide the hours of their schools days, but this gives them more leeway to shape their academic calendar to best fit their students’ and community’s needs.

If the change is approved, it will go into effect during the 2015-16 academic year.

Stephen Twigg, the spokesman for Labour’s education ministry, thinks that the change doesn’t go far enough and has already pledged last month to give full scheduling flexibility to all state-funded schools. This indicates that support for individual schools having more power is universal across England’s political spectrum.

The plans put forward in the Deregulation Bill would mean that schools that are not academies would not have to accept the term dates set by local authorities.

A majority of secondary schools are now academies, but most primary schools have not adopted academy status – so this would represent an extra level of flexibility for them.

They would still have to operate within a legal limit of a minimum of 190 school days each year. The Department for Education gave examples of how this might be applied.

In Leeds, the David Young Community Academy has a year of seven shorter terms and holidays that are not longer than four weeks. The Boulevard Academy in Hull is going to cut the summer holiday from six weeks to four weeks.

Although welcoming the change, school principals have already said that this doesn’t mean that schools will exercise the new freedom heedlessly. On the contrary, parents with children in different schools around the area will still expect that their calendars will be more or less synchronized to allow families to plan vacations together.

Brian Lightman, the leader of the princpals’ group, explained that following the calendar set by the local authority makes sense most of the time because doing so eliminates exactly this kind of problem – multiple schools working on different schedules, making parental coordination exceedingly difficult. He expressed concern that no one would step into the breech to provide an organization template for schools to follow if the authorities stopped publishing academic calendars.

“Somebody needs to take the lead locally on deciding term dates and it makes sense for this to be the local authority, even if schools aren’t required by law to follow it,” said Mr Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary, said: “Labour announced this very policy two weeks ago. While I’m glad Michael Gove has finally done something sensible and has picked up on one of our ideas he needs to go much further to reverse his plans which are letting down our children.”