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The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is challenging ...
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is challenging

the idea that reorganising the school year into five terms rather than three will necessarily improve educational standards.

In Changing the Pattern of the School Year, ATL argues that changing the pattern of the school year will not, of itself and unconditionally, help pupils learn better. The association argues that

instead of wasting energy tinkering with structures, the time and money would be better spent looking at the quality of teaching and learning, and how learning is assessed and achievements measured, rather than when it happens. Learning will not change if the curriculum and testing stays the same.

Drawing on evidence from the eight city technology colleges operating a non-traditional school year, ATL refutes the claim that there is a clear or obvious link between the pattern of the school year and improved educational achievements: some of the highest-achieving CTCs have a three-term year; one of the lowest-achieving CTCs has a five-term year.

The Association asks if the evidence on summer learning loss (mostly from the United States where the summer vacation can last up to two months) can helpfully be applied to schools in England. It also points out that a five term year would involve pupils doing examinations in their school holidays.

The Association believes changing the school year is an issue for the local community, where the LEA should take the lead. Changes should not be made without widespread consultation with all sectors of the community. ATL's guidance highlights the example of East Sussex, where, after a lengthy and wide-ranging consultation, it has been decided to retain the status quo.

ATL warns against individual schools going it alone and changing their term times without first considering the needs of the local community. Two schools (a primary school in Grimsby and a secondary school in Essex) have already decided to do this, even though it will lead to problems when pupils change to or from schools operating different term times.

Changing the Pattern of the School Year advises LEAs contemplating change to allow time for a full and frank debate, and a proper consultation process. If implemented, issues arising from the changes should be carefully monitored and rigorously reviewed.

Peter Smith, general secretary of ATL, said:

'There seems to be an over-eagerness from some quarters who believe that introducing such ill thought-through schemes will elevate their positioning in the league tables.

'Disruptions in education on such a scale will inevitably put even more pressure on pupils and teachers.

'Raising standards in education stretches well beyond when pupils are taught. It is about what and how children are taught and learn.'

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