Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

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elasto
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Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby elasto » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:27 am UTC

Apparently the cost of taking your family on holiday can more than double during school holidays compared to term times. So some parents in the UK take their children out of school for a week to get a more affordable holiday, resulting in the government taking the families to court. Is this solely a UK phenomenon? Do other countries handle this better?

Now, I realise that schools have to synch up for exams: It's valuable for all children across the country in a given year to take the same exam paper, which means they have to take it on the same date, which should obviously be at the end of a term.

But why can't the half-term time vary much more than it does?

For example, let's suppose a term is 12 weeks long, with an exam in week 11. Why can't one school have breaks weeks 4 and 8, and another weeks 3 and 7, and another 5 and 9? Why can't yet another school start in week 0 and have an extra week off in the middle?

Yes, if a family has more than one child, and they go to different schools, there's potentially an issue if the holidays no longer line up. But small families are the norm nowadays, and people tend to send their children to the same school where possible. And, unless you are taking your children on half-a-dozen holidays a year, there's very likely to be some time during the year that matches up.

And, also, my premise that all children take the same exam paper is incorrect - in the UK at least. There are competing examination boards, and they could stagger their dates by a week or so, allowing the schools to stagger their terms by the same amounts. (Though they couldn't stagger by very much for older children who might be taking a dozen exams)

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And then there's the issue of school hours. Flexible school and working hours would make far more efficient use of our roads and public transport systems, as well as saving a lot of commuting time meaning higher happiness and productivity.

Ok so you couldn't have one school starting at 6am and another at 10am - not without the parents having a similar level of flexibility in working hours. But a small window seems workable. Would the impact really be that terrible on small firms if they were forced to allow people to arrive at prearranged but none-the-less marginally staggered times in the mornings..?

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Thread inspired by this news story:

BBC wrote:A "common sense approach" should be applied to parents in England taking children out of school for holidays, the Local Government Association says.

Strict new rules on term-time holidays - including fines - were introduced two years ago to crack down on absence. But the LGA says the system is unworkable and is calling for change.

The call follows a case last week in which a father avoided prosecution for refusing to pay a fine for taking his child out of school for a holiday.

Guidelines brought in by the Department for Education (DfE) in September 2013 require head teachers to take a harder line on requests for absence. Previously, heads were able to grant 10 days' leave in "exceptional circumstances", meaning that many schools could allow up to two weeks of term-time holidays a year, but the stricter rules mean a holiday cannot be classed as an exceptional circumstance.

If an absence is not authorised, parents who take their children out of school during term time are reported to their local authorities who are obliged by government to fine a parent £60 per child - this rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days. In extreme circumstances, those that fail to pay can face prosecution with a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

The LGA says head teachers should be allowed to give reasonable consideration to term-time leave requests and is calling on the Department for Education (DfE) for a change in the rules.

The future of holiday fines was called into question last week, when a father won a court battle after refusing to pay a £120 fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school to go to Disney World, Florida. The case against Jon Platt, 44, was thrown out at the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court after he argued the law required parents to ensure their children attended school "regularly", and did not put restrictions on taking them on holidays in term time.

The LGA says families often struggle with the high cost of holidays out of term time. It says a family of four heading to the Canary Islands this half term would pay about £2,000 more than if taking the same holiday the week before or week after half term, rising from £2,484 before half term, to £4,800 during and dropping to £2,523 after.

Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "It is clear that the current system does not always favour families, especially those that are struggling to meet the demands of modern life or have unconventional work commitments: "There has to be a sensible solution whereby every family has the option to spend time together when they choose to, without fear of prosecution from education authorities. The current rules tie families to set holiday periods. They make no allowances for what a family would class as a special occasion or takes into account a parent's work life."

Mr Perry said blanket bans were not working and fines were being successfully challenged in the courts under human rights laws: "It is time for this situation to be reassessed to ensure we are not wasting time and money by enforcing what is considered by many to be a punitive and unfair system. While councils fully support the DfE's stance on every child being in school every day, there are occasions when parental requests should be given individual consideration and a common sense approach applied."

But a spokesman for the DfE said: "It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child's education: "Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is significantly less likely to achieve good GCSE grades, having a lasting effect on their life chances."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There will be times when children have to miss school because of problems such as illness and family emergencies. Schools are very sympathetic in these cases and will help children catch up with work. However, term time holidays are not a valid reason to miss school."

A Freedom of Information request to councils by the Press Association found - across the 98 councils that responded - 86,010 fines had been issued in 2014-15 for pupil absence, either because of holiday or truancy.
This is up from 62,204 the year before and 32,512 in 2012-13.


Personally I agree with the DfE's position: I think even a week off during term time can be quite detrimental to education - with a potential for the kid to have a gap in his knowledge that never gets filled - or the equally unreasonable solution of the teachers having to give the kid special attention to catch up. Hence my proposal.

link

johnny_7713
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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby johnny_7713 » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:47 am UTC

In the Netherlands we have 3 zones with staggered holidays, except for the Christmas holidays. Shorter 'mid-term' holidays don't overlap, the (six week) summer holidays partially overlap. AFAIK this system was originally introduced to spread the load on the Dutch roads, as the most popular form of holiday is driving down to France. There are sometimes issues if older siblings attend high school in one zone, while younger siblings are at elementary school in another, but other than that it works.
Of course holidays don't really get much cheaper, as the expensive season is just extended accordingly.

leady
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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby leady » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:54 am UTC

There are too many barriers to change to a more sensible school both in law and in teachers and their unions, ditto the 3:30pm finish time (which is also nuts)

But lets be honest that holiday off to Mallorca with the family is a luxury and its not educational, so suck it up is also a valid answer :)

elasto
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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby elasto » Wed Oct 21, 2015 9:42 am UTC

leady wrote:But lets be honest that holiday off to Mallorca with the family is a luxury and its not educational, so suck it up is also a valid answer :)

Well, if anyone's going to 'suck it up', it's the schools.

I mean, take the given example: A holiday the week before or after the mid-term break costs $4k; During mid-term break $7.5k. How exactly is a $100 fine meant to change the equation here..? When the guy refused to pay the fine and had his day in court (and won), he was obviously doing it on principle.

The other way to play it is just to call your kid in sick.

So let's just ignore the easy solution of just ignoring the rules and taking the kids out of school during term time anyway, and ask why the system can't be made as win-win for all concerned. Sounds like the Netherlands has made a decent start.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby leady » Wed Oct 21, 2015 10:17 am UTC

Easy for who is always the question

Rescheduling school is hard for the people that need to do it, to them saying "let the schools and the parents work it out" is far easier

elasto
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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby elasto » Wed Oct 21, 2015 11:39 am UTC

"Let the schools and the parents work it out" seems to be precisely what is being disallowed here.

For example, I went to a private school which had a six-day school week with much longer holidays in between terms - thereby solving the issue in an entirely different way.

If UK public schools are all ending up with the same dates, the uniformity must be being imposed upon them. Which brings us back to why?

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Oct 21, 2015 12:01 pm UTC

elasto wrote:If UK public schools are all ending up with the same dates, the uniformity must be being imposed upon them. Which brings us back to why?
Ask them. However consider the number of students who attend and the conditions that all parents must deal with. I would assume schools and parents both would want certainty. Not everyone can fly to the Canary Islands. However parents need to know in advance when children will attend so that they can arrange child care and so on.
elasto wrote:Apparently the cost of taking your family on holiday can more than double during school holidays compared to term times. So some parents in the UK take their children out of school for a week to get a more affordable holiday, resulting in the government taking the families to court. Is this solely a UK phenomenon? Do other countries handle this better?
In the US it would probably be okay if you could get them excused from classes. If not then he/she would be called truant and mom and dad would get to go to court, with the possibility of jail time.
Any parent, guardian, or custodian who fails to comply with the requirements may face fines of $100 for the first offense and $250 for the second offense and may be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for each subsequent offense. Charges of educational neglect and/or unlawful transaction with a minor may also be filed.
Of course your child will miss whatever course material is offered while your on holiday. And of course in the US parts of June, July and August are summer vacation. Our agrarian hangover. I find it hard to feel the pain of a family who pulls their child out of school to go to the Canary Islands. Or Disney World. Seems to me that these parents seem to feel a certain degree of entitlement. On a more practical note, at least in Kentucky local communities are at least partially funded based on the number of days attended. Here in Kentucky we might let you sell it as an educational opportunity. If you are interested here is a link.

elasto
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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby elasto » Wed Oct 21, 2015 12:11 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:Ask them.

Why can't I ask you? It's only an intellectual curiosity for me as my children school in China - and one of the main reasons I was happy to live here was the vast superiority of the schooling system.

However consider the number of students who attend and the conditions that all parents must deal with. I would assume schools and parents both would want certainty.

Sure, but how does the Netherlands zoning system, to take the only example mentioned thus far, not provide certainty? I'm not talking about every term being decided by rolling dice or something. Most likely once a school picks or is assigned dates they never change from year to year.

In the US it would probably be okay if you could get them excused from classes. If not then he/she would be called truant and mom and dad would get to go to court, with the possibility of jail time.

That's what's happening here. But if there's a no-pain way for everyone (and not just the rich) to have nice holidays without missing school, just wondering why it's not being done. Just inertia? Or is there actually good arguments against it? And if so, why is it those arguments don't hit private schools but only public ones?

leady
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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby leady » Wed Oct 21, 2015 12:29 pm UTC

elasto wrote:"Let the schools and the parents work it out" seems to be precisely what is being disallowed here.

For example, I went to a private school which had a six-day school week with much longer holidays in between terms - thereby solving the issue in an entirely different way.

If UK public schools are all ending up with the same dates, the uniformity must be being imposed upon them. Which brings us back to why?


The date uniformity is there because the large group of people that aren't going on holiday have multiple children potentially over different schools and hence parental leave generally is easier.

It is the schools that impose the penalties, parents that do this are a right pain the arse to them generally and several kids losing a week drags entire classes back and risks exam results, hence school performance and head teacher salaries (who therefore incentivises against it)

All attempts to redo the school year to something approaching sense has always been scuppered by NUT, teachers like their 16 weeks off and long summers (I can't blame them really, that is an awesome weeze after 12 years of guaranteed increments to 40k basic in your mid 30s)

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby Chen » Wed Oct 21, 2015 1:49 pm UTC

Our different levels of schooling here generally have that kind of staggered time off. Elementary school has week 8 off, high school week 9, CEGEP week 10 etc. It's still a pain for parents who have kids at different school levels. And vacation prices tend to be high during ALL those weeks so that doesn't really solve anything with regards to that.

We always took our family vacations in the summer. Yes you weren't getting away from the cold or anything, but it was still nice to be out somewhere else. And that meant never having to miss school on the account of going on vacation since both me and my sister had the vast majority of the summer in overlapping holidays even though we were at different school levels.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby elasto » Wed Oct 21, 2015 2:43 pm UTC

Chen wrote:Our different levels of schooling here generally have that kind of staggered time off. Elementary school has week 8 off, high school week 9, CEGEP week 10 etc. It's still a pain for parents who have kids at different school levels. And vacation prices tend to be high during ALL those weeks so that doesn't really solve anything with regards to that.

We always took our family vacations in the summer. Yes you weren't getting away from the cold or anything, but it was still nice to be out somewhere else. And that meant never having to miss school on the account of going on vacation since both me and my sister had the vast majority of the summer in overlapping holidays even though we were at different school levels.

Yeah, I guess specifically half-term holidays are a luxury.

At my school our holidays were crazy long due to the six-day school week. Xmas was about a month and summer was basically three months. Drove my parents crazy I imagine. But would allow a long period to search for the cheapest holiday deals over.

My kids' schooling is slightly insane from a Western point of view. They have basically a 60hr school week: Mon-Thu 8am to 4:30pm, then 5pm-7:30pm is 'homework' - also done at school; Friday is 'only' 7am to 5:30pm. But then Sun is also a few hours. And this is at 6 years old... So intense...

As part of that they get two meals a day prepared from fresh ingredients (nothing preprocessed), tons of exercise, and even a period set aside at midday for them to nap. And the whole thing only costs us $150/mo.

Most importantly, education and discipline is valued by teachers, parents and kids alike. My kid is one of the 'cool kids' for being at the top of her class academically. To get the same kind of demanding education - and, more importantly, attitude towards education - in the UK I'd have to pay many tens of thousands a year...

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Oct 21, 2015 3:03 pm UTC

elasto wrote:Most importantly, education and discipline is valued by teachers, parents and kids alike. My kid is one of the 'cool kids' for being at the top of her class academically. To get the same kind of demanding education - and, more importantly, attitude towards education - in the UK I'd have to pay many tens of thousands a year...
And thus why you don't understand a situation where if you didn't have laws mandating attendance that some children wouldn't attend at all. And that parents would pull their children out of school at will for their(the parents) convenience.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby icanus » Wed Oct 21, 2015 3:08 pm UTC

leady wrote:ditto the 3:30pm finish time (which is also nuts)

What's the alternative? An 11am start (which is just as hard for parents to deal with) or an extra 2-hours a day (I assume that means doing away with any kind of planning or marking of pupils work - teachers already typically work 8am-6pm to do the PPA for 9-3:30 classroom time, and no-one seems to be offering to to put in money for more teachers - assuming you could find any, with NQTs having nearly a 50% attrition rate in the first year).
leady wrote:All attempts to redo the school year to something approaching sense has always been scuppered by NUT, teachers like their 16 weeks off and long summers (I can't blame them really, that is an awesome weeze after 12 years of guaranteed increments to 40k basic in your mid 30s)

Maximum pay-grade for classroom teachers is £37k, and increments are far from guaranteed. As far as the"16 weeks off", it's actually 12 - the school year is 40 weeks - and teachers work a 48 hour week averaged across the year.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby Zamfir » Wed Oct 21, 2015 3:31 pm UTC

The dutch system has binding dates for the summer holiday, and non-binding adviced dates for other holidays. Many shools don't follow the adviced dates exactly.

In the last years, the pressure is increasing to move towards more binding dates, not less. The non-binding schedule is usually seen as a leftover from the days of non-working mothers.

Parents with kids on multiple schools are one group in favour of binding dates. So are teachers who work at multiple schools (and might have kids on yet other schools). But also employers, who far prefer to have a reliable schedule on a website that they can plan in long in advance.

And perhaps surprisingly, the tourism sector mildly prefers binding schedules as well - it leads to peak periods combined with underutilization in other weeks, but at least it's predictable peak pressure. Most facilities are sized for the summer and christmas anyway. They can cope with peak weeks in the rest of the year, as long as they can plan in extra workers for those weeks.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby Mambrino » Thu Oct 22, 2015 1:51 am UTC

Here some the mid-term holiday weeks (one around October and other February -ish) have traditionally been staggered regionally. In the northern part of country schools must have them at different time than in the south, and so on. (And each county has some leeway if they held the said holidays full one week long or shorter; while the number of school days and vacation periods and some dates are fixed nationally, this way they can adjust some other holidays.)

The headmaster has quite much freedom in granting additional holidays to each individual student at parents' request (if they deem it reasonable, which is almost always), though pupil is then expected to do some independent study, especially during long vacations. Of course, in reality how much they would study varied ... what I remember of my own school days, usually everybody would manage some kind of a geography presentation (or like) about where they went, but things like doing math homework on their own was easier to some than others. (And in my personal opinion it was unfair.)

Court cases are unheard of for such pre-arranged vacations.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby icanus » Thu Oct 22, 2015 4:09 am UTC

Mambrino wrote:The headmaster has quite much freedom in granting additional holidays to each individual student at parents' request (if they deem it reasonable, which is almost always), though pupil is then expected to do some independent study, especially during long vacations.

Until recently that was the case here in the UK, but much stricter guidelines have been brought in leaving headteachers much less discretion over allowable absences.

The government is also pushing local authorities to pursue fines and court action, which has led to some truly stupid decisions like this - I believe they've since dropped that particular case, but the fact it was pursued in the first place is insane.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby morriswalters » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:40 am UTC

icanus wrote:Until recently that was the case here in the UK, but much stricter guidelines have been brought in leaving headteachers much less discretion over allowable absences.
Do you think the stricter guidelines were a response to some kind of behavior?

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby icanus » Thu Oct 22, 2015 12:21 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
icanus wrote:Until recently that was the case here in the UK, but much stricter guidelines have been brought in leaving headteachers much less discretion over allowable absences.
Do you think the stricter guidelines were a response to some kind of behavior?

Not really - it's a cack-handed attempt to seem tough on truancy combined with a general trend toward reducing any sort of autonomy or decision making power for state schools. Given the current tory government's ideological animus toward education, it looks suspiciously like them concocting another to accuse schools of "failing" at so they can force them to convert to academies.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby Derek » Fri Oct 23, 2015 9:38 pm UTC

Parents aren't allowed to take their children out of school for vacation in the UK? Damn, that's pretty strict. My parents took me out of school for vacation several times when I was in school, it was nothing extraordinary. Obviously you're gonna miss some days, and I would have homework I would have to take with me and complete and possibly make up tests when I got back, but this was easy enough to arrange. Obviously you can't have kids skipping all of their classes, but taking a week or so off for vacation once a year is not a problem.

As for staggered schedules, it cuts both ways. With staggered schedules it can be impossible for a family to take vacation without someone missing school if the kids are in different schools. This was a problem in my school district, and they eventually unified all the schedules to fix it, but it remained a problem between the public and private schools, with some parents who had kids at both trying to get the private schools to sync their schedules with the public schools.

This only happened at the school district (usually count where I lived) level though, since having kids in schools in different counties is extraordinarily rare*. Across districts there was no attempt to synchronize schedules. It sounds like some of you are talking about having school schedules unified nation wide, which does sound pretty crazy. I can't imagine having an entire country all trying to take vacation in the same week, and synchronization on that level seems kind of pointless.


* I did attend public schools across counties at one point, which required special permission from both county school districts, but so did my sister so we were still in the same system.

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Re: Why don't schools stagger dates and hours more?

Postby chridd » Wed Oct 28, 2015 3:14 am UTC

elasto wrote:Now, I realise that schools have to synch up for exams: It's valuable for all children across the country in a given year to take the same exam paper, which means they have to take it on the same date, which should obviously be at the end of a term.
(I'm in the US) None of the standardized exams that I took (statewide standardized tests, and the SAT (not required, but expected by most colleges/universities)) were ever at the end of a term. (Ordinary final exams were generally at the end of the term, but those weren't standardized.)

Yes, if a family has more than one child, and they go to different schools, there's potentially an issue if the holidays no longer line up. But small families are the norm nowadays, and people tend to send their children to the same school where possible. And, unless you are taking your children on half-a-dozen holidays a year, there's very likely to be some time during the year that matches up.
It's an issue if you want to take a vacation with extended family (e.g., visiting relatives living in a different area).
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