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Social justice
9 August 2013

Heresy of the week: Let’s abolish the summer holidays

Matthew Yglesias does not like school summer holidays. In fact, writing for Slate, he comes across like a warm-weather Ebenezer Scrooge:

What a killjoy! And yet he makes a powerful case. It seems that the summer break is seriously bad news: 

To make matters worse, the impact of educational outcomes is cumulative:

One could argue that the problem is not so much the summer break itself, but the materially and intellectually impoverished home environments of the worst-affected children:

Still, the counter-argument is that reforming the school year would be a surer way of helping these children than trying to improve their home lives (not that these approaches are mutually exclusive). Yglesias also has a riposte to those who say that shorter holidays would cost too much:

A longer school year would be a relatively cheap way of boosting the life chances of the most vulnerable children. After all, no additional buildings would be required – they already exist. Nor would additional staff be required – just the additional hours from the teachers we’ve already got. Moreover, any reduction in educational failure would result in long-term savings to the public purse.

There’d be a further benefit, which is not mentioned in Yglesias’s article. A school year punctuated by shorter, more evenly spaced holidays would mean that instead of grouping pupils by yearly intakes, they could be more easily grouped by half-yearly or even quarterly intakes. This would eliminate the significant disadvantage faced by the youngest pupils in each class. As any nursery or primary school teacher knows, small age gaps can make a big difference in the ability of children to keep up with their classmates.

Summer babies born to the poorest households therefore go through school at a double disadvantage. We should at least think about improving their chances.


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