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Overhaul of school year in Wales paused

04 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Schoolchildren. Image: Jack Abbott, Cowshed

Plans to overhaul the school year have been delayed by the Welsh government, with teaching groups branding it a “waste of time”.

Proposals which would have seen a week taken from the summer holidays and added to the one-week break in October have been postponed by the government in Cardiff Bay.

The changes were expected to come in next year, but will now not be implemented until the next Senedd term.

The move has been welcomed by some teaching groups, who have said that plans “of this magnitude cannot be taken on a whim”.

U-turn

It is the second U-turn by the Welsh government in a month, with plans for a new payment scheme for Welsh farmers – which caused mass protest in the industry – delayed after ministers accepted “changes will be needed”.

Education Secretary Lynne Neagle said that the latest delay is to allow teachers and staff space and time to deliver other reforms, such as a new Welsh curriculum and an overhaul of additional learning needs.

Cabinet Secretary for Education, Lynne Neagle

She said: “My starting point is always the best interests of children and young people.

“This means ensuring reforms are properly planned out and have the time and space to succeed.

“Opinion was hugely divided on this. To ensure we get this right, we need to continue listening to and engaging with schools, teachers, unions as well as children, young people and parents on how best we can implement any changes in the future.”

‘Asking a lot’

She said she was “acutely aware” that the Welsh government was asking a lot of teachers and schools, and time and space was needed.

She added: “In the meantime, our priority will be to maximise the support available to learners during the summer holidays including doing more to target that provision towards the poorest communities through a range of policies and activities including the School Holiday Enrichment Programme and Community Focused Schools.”

Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said: “We are relieved that this decision has been made, although calling it a ‘pause’ sounds like a face-saving exercise as it is surely pointless to go round this loop again.

“As the consultation proved, and as we knew all along, there is no unanimous call from parents or teachers for changes to be made to the school holidays.”

Ms Hughes added it was “disappointing” the issue has been given such a high priority by the Welsh government, branding it an “unwelcome distraction and an enormous waste of time”

Laura Doel, national secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Cymru, welcomed the delay, saying her organisation had opposed the changes from the outset.

She said: “Changes of this magnitude cannot be taken on a whim and need to be supported by really strong evidence that this would benefit pupils, but no such evidence was forthcoming.

“While we dispute the Welsh Government’s perception that responses to the proposals in its consultation were mixed, we are pleased that the profession has been given an assurance that there will be no changes to the school year during this Senedd term.”

‘No benefit’

Ms Doel said changes to holidays should “never have been a priority” and praised Ms Neagle for not pressing ahead “with a reform which would have had no benefit to learners”.

Neil Butler, an official at the teachers union NASUWT, also welcomed the news.

He said: “We want to see the Welsh Government concentrating their efforts on supporting teachers and schools through the reform programme and working to make teaching an attractive profession for high-quality graduates.

“The Reform of the School Year was always a distraction that was not wanted by teachers, the wider education profession and also the tourist and agriculture industries.

“We now need to get to work on the real and pressing issues facing education in Wales.”

The decision follows a mixed response from the biggest Welsh Government education consultation, which generated well over 16,000 responses.

Shaking up the holiday schedule was intended to help improve the education experiences of young people especially the most disadvantaged and align more effectively with how families live and work.

While a narrow majority of responses were in favour of changing school holidays, the findings from the consultation were equivocal and contradictory.


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Mr Williams
Mr Williams
13 days ago

Thankfully, an Education Minister who has listened and not steamrolled ahead regardless. I hope now, this will mean that the culture around education policy will change for the better, and there will be more listening to (and heeding) teachers, school staff, unions, parents and young people.

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