What if there were no more school holidays?
The start of a new school term is perhaps not the best time to talk about your next break from teaching (for we all know that holiday time does not necessarily mean you are not still working) , but what if there were no more school holidays? A new school in Leicestershire has done just that; cancelled all school holidays other than a week off at Christmas.
Instead, the school, which was launched last September, is open 51 weeks of the year. This does not mean that staff pupils cannot take time off however. They book their time off as they would in any business or office, with some obvious restrictions such as exam time.
This school is not alone. A survey of 1,600 academies found that a third of respondents were in favour of changing school holidays.
Michael Gove also recently revealed new proposals for an extended school day, where pupils could remain in school between 7.30am and 5.30pm and attend on Saturdays, with an extra two weeks potentially being added to school terms.
"We are all in favour of longer school days, and potentially shorter summer holidays," he explained. "If you [teachers] love your job then there is, I think, absolutely nothing to complain about in making sure you have more of a chance to do it well."
So what would the impact of longer school days and terms be on the health and wellbeing of teachers? We asked the users of the Teacher Support Network website what they thought:
"I ALWAYS work a sixteen hour day in addition to weekends and holidays. I hasten to add that I do not often disclose this to those dear to me, including my husband. His work takes him away and so I often work even longer," said one teacher.
'Mrs Tired' wrote: "I regularly work 10 hours within school - usually throughout my lunchbreak (…) then come home to do a further 3-5 hours. I work most of Sunday and can often be found 'relaxing' on a weekend evening marking books. I also feel that I never get on top of what needs to be done, and get very anxious being "behind".
'The Furious Teacher' said: "I as a fifty year old teacher believe I should have a life. I like to ride horses, walk my dogs and watch TV".
It is not just teachers who have concerns over extra workload.
"As a 15 year old in education already family time is precious and with these new policies, we will be faced with losing out on social activities, family life and also we will lose sleep," one young respondent stated.
"My kids are already up at 6.15am, in breakfast club by 7.30am and are not picked up until gone 5.30pm when I have finished my teaching day. They youngest is just 4 years old and wakes up crying in a morning as she is so tired and doesn't want to go to school," wrote one parent.
I could go on. These responses mirror those of another survey by Teacher Support Network last year where 96 per cent of respondents said their health and wellbeing have been affected by their workload.
There are other concerns too. Nick Gibb said at one teaching conference that "teachers are expected to solve too many of society's problems". Would more time in the classroom then lead to more teachings becoming parent figures to children? How can the safety of children and teachers retuning home after longer school days be ensured, particularly in the winter months? What happens to after school activities?
There clearly needs to be a lot more discussion, but when the Government, teachers, parents, teaching unions, other stakeholders and Teacher Support Network talk, we must not only consider interventions like changing school holidays, but also address teacher workload, the root causes of teacher stress, low wellbeing and related issues such as low teacher retention. Any conversation must also include the press, so that the issue of school holidays is taken seriously and not dismissed as unfounded complaints.