A headteacher is bidding to keep his pupils in for the summer.

Rod Grant, who leads Clifton Hall, one of Scotland’s most renowned independent schools, wants to revamp the “antiquated” calendar he and his staff have been using, in an effort to boost learning.

His plan, which is set to go out for consultation, would see the year broken down into seven phases, with no holiday period longer than five weeks or shorter than two.

As well as capping the length of a term at seven weeks, the change would bring about the end of the long summer break and create five additional teaching days.

It would also mean Clifton Hall, which is located on the outskirts of Edinburgh, being open every month of the year.

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If agreed, the change would take effect from 2023. Mr Grant said the reform was aimed at creating a more “sustained and human” approach to learning.

“Essentially what we’re proposing to do is take the long summer holiday and split it into two breaks of five and three weeks,” he explained.

“For primary children, you have the benefit of enhanced knowledge retention. A lot of what they have learned gets lost over the long summer holiday.

“For secondary pupils doing SQA qualifications, there’s no point in them coming back for a couple of weeks after the exam period at the start of June and then being off for eight. This proposal means courses can run from mid-July without interruption.

“It also gets rid of the long, 10-week terms that are so punishing. Teachers get a lot of stick about the length of their holidays but I can tell you, they’re on their knees by the time December comes.

“This proposal would mean pupils and teachers aren’t exhausted at the end of term, and can work more productively.”

HeraldScotland: Clifton Hall headteacher Rod Grant.Clifton Hall headteacher Rod Grant.

The plan comes amid a growing debate about how best to support education recovery in the wake of Covid-19.

Earlier this year, Westminster Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested that longer school days, shorter summer holidays and five-term years were all options being considered in a bid to help English children “catch up”.

North of the Border, the Commission on School Reform, an independent group of experts set up by think tank Reform Scotland, asked ministers to establish a “radical programme of catch-up to repair the damage caused to children”.

The group – whose members include Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University – called for eight extra hours of tuition per week for two years, or five hours per week over three years.

Mr Grant stressed he was keen to move the discussion away from plans for “extra-long days” and reduced holidays, adding that the emphasis should instead be on reimagining how things are done.

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He also said he was hopeful that proposals for reform of Clifton Hall’s term structure would become reality.

“An official consultation is going out to parents, pupils and teachers next month but it’s had really good levels of early support so far on Facebook and in straw surveys,” he said.

“It’s tricky to do it unilaterally but I’m not ruling that out as I think the proposal we’ve put together on sessions dates is more sound and more sustainable.

“Our current calendar is very antiquated – it was basically designed to fit with agricultural cycles.”

HeraldScotland: There is a growing debate about how best to support the learning recovery of pupils after lockdown and remote learning.There is a growing debate about how best to support the learning recovery of pupils after lockdown and remote learning.

Mr Grant also suggested there was a possibility his idea could catch on more widely.

“The colleagues I speak to in other independent schools and in local authority schools seem to have an open mind,” he said.

“I would say that, within the local authorities and unions, there’s definitely an element of, ‘let’s look at this’.

“I know there are colleagues in the state sector who are in agreement and I have not spoken to anybody, whether that’s in the state or independent sectors, who’s said it’s a nonsense.

“In fact, when I’ve spoken to teachers, not just in my own school, but more widely, they’ve loved it.” 

Analysis

It's such a simple change – but one that could have a profound impact on education outcomes for pupils in the wake of Covid-19.

Many readers might still remember the countdown to the school summer or Christmas holidays – the air of lassitude that would settle on classrooms, the lack of focus, the sense of treading water.

One classmate of mine nicknamed it the “dead zone” and my own memories are filled with hazy images of the low-budget Hollywood movies that I and fellow pupils were often given to watch as everyone awaited the term’s final bell.

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But add up all of those hours over successive years and you’re talking about a significant chunk of learning time that simply isn’t used.

As he works to ensure Clifton Hall’s recovery from the pandemic, Rod Grant has, quite rightly, decided that his school can’t afford “dead zones”.

His plan to reform calendar dates would lead to shorter terms and more frequent holidays. Crucially, the 10-week teaching marathons that often leave staff and pupils exhausted would be a thing of the past, meaning higher average energy levels and, it is hoped, enhanced learning from the start of term until the very end.

Also consigned to history would be the wastage associated with an extralong summer vacation that causes many, particularly younger children, to lose knowledge and skills they have built up over the previous school year.

If we are to move the Covid recovery debate on from discussions about cramming in more class contact time, such wastage is not an option. The proposals for Clifton Hall offer one possible way forward.