Let’s cancel bank holidays and… bank those holidays

Doing away with anachronistic long weekends could revolutionise school terms for the benefit of all

Doing away with anachronistic long weekends could revolutionise school terms for the benefit of all

4 May 2024, 5:00

Who doesn’t like a day off? That is why there are regular campaigns for more bank holidays. What’s not to like, especially if the weather is good? (Although as I write, the forecast for this year’s May Day is rain pretty much everywhere.) 

Bank holidays are, however, increasingly anomalous. For sure, the banks are closed – but who visits a bank these days? The vast majority of shops will be open. Trains and buses will run. Leisure facilities will be open. 

Schools, on the other hand, will close. I think that is unhelpful. In addition to INSET days which tend to fall on a Monday, it means pupils who have science on a Monday miss science multiple times throughout the year. Those who have French miss French, and so on. That is disruptive.

Indeed, when I was an undergraduate my university ignored bank holidays; A Monday in term was a Monday in term. This was much easier than trying to reschedule lectures to make up for missed teaching. 

I would like to see most bank holidays abolished. England and Wales have eight each year, Scotland nine, and Northern Ireland ten. I would keep only Christmas day, Boxing day, and New Year’s day. Most people want these days off. 

If we did that, then for most people we could raise the statutory holiday allowance from four to five weeks a year. If people want to take Good Friday, Easter Monday, two Mondays in May and one in August they could. But if they would rather take a week in September, they could do that instead. 

Teachers, of course, don’t choose when they work. Only the first May bank holiday falls in term; The rest are either in holidays or in the summer half-term. Abolishing bank holidays would not give teachers any more flexibility. But it would give schools an opportunity to sort out term dates. 

Schools would no longer have to vary the length of spring and summer terms according to when Easter falls. You will find me in church every Sunday, but we are now a post-Christian nation. It is absurd that schools have to arrange their terms around my faith, one shared only by a small and shrinking minority. 

We are now a post-Christian nation

This year, spring term is longer than summer term; next year it will be the other way round. We can all agree that changing the length of terms each year is plain silly. The length of the spring and summer terms should be the same each year, and probably the same length as each other. The spring holiday could fall at the same time each year, irrespective of when Easter falls. Teachers would then know what they are supposed to cover each term. 

Similarly, summer half-term would not have to be situated according to the second May bank holiday. It too could be decided sensibly, and these changes would make school terms more rational.

The biggest problem is the autumn term. This term is longest, typically more than three-and-a-half months. That is just too long. This is a particular issue for the youngest children, who are exhausted by Christmas. That is not helpful in getting them to like school, or for the amount that they learn. 

So as well as changing spring and summer term dates, I want to change the autumn term as well. We know that summer holiday learning loss is real – particularly for children from poorer families. Autumn term should begin 4 days earlier. Add in the saved second May bank holiday, and I have a week of extra holiday – enough to follow private schools in having a two-week autumn break. 

Better still, I propose two separate week-long autumn term breaks – one earlier in term, one later. Dividing the long autumn term into three makes sense to me: less exhaustion, less learning loss.

Shorter and more regular terms and no random Mondays off school seems like a better way to run things. Who’s with me?

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One comment

  1. Victoria Jaquiss

    Teaching is exhausting. Being forced to learn stuff of the teachers’ (ie government’s) choosing is exhausting. Education is its purest form is lifelong. Learning new facts or skills can be lifelong. School is where you mix with professionals and peers to discover yourself. When I started teaching in the eighties we had the freedom to allow our students the freedom. Messing about with bank holidays is like taking away treats. We need more not less of them.