Jane Devine: We don’t need Michael Gove’s plan

Education Secretary Michael Gove. Picture: Getty
Education Secretary Michael Gove. Picture: Getty
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Most us look back on our summer holidays with pleasant feelings of nostalgia. The long warm days (it never rains in these memories); not a care in the world; disappearing off for hours on end; popping home only for food, or to use the loo (when a country pee wasn’t appropriate). Oh, the times we had.

But now Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, is planning to change all that in England and Wales. He’s going to interfere in what most of us would agree was the best bit about school: the holidays.

It seems unfair to our rose-tinted view of the past to interfere with something that we all enjoyed so much. But, as we enter into the longest term of the school year – a whopping 12 weeks in some areas, just before the longest holiday stretch of the year, it does seem a wee bit out of balance.

We don’t need kids to pick fruit any more, or help with the tattie harvest, and domestic chores are not what they used to be. It doesn’t, for example, take a day to do the laundry with a scrubbing board and a mangle. So the current set-up for holidays seems slightly out of kilter with modern demands.

Family life has changed, too, and the six-week stretch, so craved by kids, becomes dreaded by their working parents who are left each year searching for childcare. Grannies are roped in, extortionate “holidays club” places are booked or parents end up taking separate holidays just to cover the void.

Maybe it is time for a change.

Except Michael Gove isn’t looking to change the school calendar for those reasons. No, not only does he want to revert to the Victorian days of sit-in-a-line, learn-by-rote style of education, he also wants longer days and shorter holidays to push up attainment levels and bring England’s education system up to a world-class standard, able to compete with the likes of China.

The evidence, though, is not quite as robust as Gove suggests, with global statistics pointing to the fact that it is not necessarily the case that more time at school gets better results; and that many countries achieve world-beating education with less time in the classroom.

Yet, the Secretary of State is pushing on regardless, taking inspiration from a country that restricts families to just one offspring and happily condones child labour.

So, Mr Gove, before your ideas catch on north of the Border, consider this: we may not be a nation of pre-industrialised farmers any more, but neither are we looking to turn our children into the classroom equivalent of nine to five wage slaves.

We need to address the massive swing for our kids between total exhaustion at the end of a too-long-term and feral behaviour by the end of a too-long-holiday. And, we need more practical term dates to suit modern living, but that cannot be at the expense of letting children be children – like we were.