Gavin Williamson considering possibility of ‘five-term year’ as schools in England set to return

Gavin Williamson is examining the possibility of changing the school calendar and introducing a five-term school year as part of government plans to help children to catch-up on missed learning.

Just days before all children in England are due to return to classrooms — the first step in easing the national lockdown — the education secretary said it was “right” to have the discussion about school terms.

His remarks came as the Ofsted chief inspector stressed that “we need to make sure children get their full allocation of schooling” and said many families had been stretched “almost to breaking point” with remote learning.

Speaking to the i newspaper, Mr Williamson said the government “should never be nervous about looking at new routes and different ways of doing things” when asked if the current six-week summer holidays were too long.

“There’s been discussion about five-term years,” the cabinet minister added. “It’s right to have that discussion, look at the evidence and make and assessment as to what are the best options, about how we can really drive children’s attainment in schools, especially children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Mr Williamson reiterated that he had asked Sir Kevan Collins to lead catch-up plans for students and “look at all the options”.

However, child psychologists wrote to Mr Williamson in February, suggesting that young people should be allowed to play with friends over the summer for their mental health, instead of extra lessons.

“This spring and summer should not be filled with extra lessons,” they said. “Children, teachers and parents need time and space to recover from the stress that the past year has placed on them.”

Pressed on whether school days should be longer, or holidays shorter, the Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we need to make sure children get their full allocation of schooling.

“Around the world we see quite a bit of variation in the number of hours of teaching that children get across the school year. What is important is that we make sure that children get the full amount of schooling that we know that they can cope with and benefit from.”

Ms Spielman, who stressed she understood the need for infection control, also said she hoped measures such as rapid coronavirus tests for pupils and the wearing of face coverings in secondary schools would be in place for “as short a time as possible”.

Ahead of the return of children in both primary and secondary schools across England next week, the Independent Sage group, set up to mirror the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), reiterated concerns about the risks of reopening on Covid transmission rates.

According to a poll published by Save the Children, around two in five parents are not confident that schools will remain open for the rest of the academic year, with 56 per cent worried about their child’s mental wellbeing. 

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