why do schools have 6 weeks holiday

n my own home, Pits just my 12 year-old daughter whoPstill needs consideration during the holidays. (My older two arePuniversity students whose courses run deep into the summer. My 17 year oldPhas just finished A-levels and is busy preparing for a gap year. )
ButPlong gone are the days when children just played out: leavingPmy daughter to wander around a park for hours with her friends isnt ideal. (Anyway, have you seen the weather? Last time I looked, summer lasted around three days. ) However, Ive also learnt as have many of my contemporaries - that childrenPthrive when engaged in organised activities with friends. Which is why, over the years, IvePdrained my wallet on all sorts of activity camps.

The symbiosis is perfect. The childrenPreturn home tired, hungry and enthused. And I can work enjoying all the more the time we do spend together since it is by design and not default. Of course, whenever the subject of cutting school holidays is raised, many teachers and educationalistsPfield the argument that school isn't a babysitting service. I couldnt agree more. School is a place where our childrens minds are stretched and their imaginations are given flight. ButPstandards are at a critically low level Pin January lowest in the developed world for literacy, and second lowest for numeracy.

So surely theresPalso a question of whether children need all that time off too. PPEspecially those from poorer backgrounds who thrive during term but fall behind every summer because theyPdont have the stimulation or structure which school or expensive activity schemes provide. We need only look to America to see that this is already proving to be highly effective. In the US, an increasing number of children are engaging in Year Round Education with school cycles of eight to 10 weeks, followed by three to five weeks holiday after each. Furthermore, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in American schools has demonstrated how a longer day, summer school and Saturday classes can have a positive impact on test results for the most disadvantaged.

In Britain s overcrowded households, or those in which English isn t the mother tongue, a long holiday doesn t mean extended learning with parents. As Frank Field noted in a largely ignored report to the Prime Minister in September 2010, it is poorer children who miss out the most during the summer break, due to a lack of formal reading and writing at home. Steps are being taken to change the status quo here, particularly in autonomous academies and free schools. In Leeds, the David Young Community Academy operates a seven-term year with a shorter summer break, and, in Manchester, the East Manchester Academy has adopted a five-term structure with a four-week summer holiday.

Encouragingly, some local authorities are also embracing the idea. But we could go further, be bolder. Why could we not bring the school timetable in line with the reality of our daily lives, and have it operate all year round, with families booking annual leave? Of course there would have to be rules no go periods, say, in the run-up to exams, and a maximum length of leave but otherwise, parents would be free to choose. For those on low incomes, who have to pay astronomical prices for flights to visit family abroad, wouldn t that be better?

And children would benefit from the continuity of a year-round education. This may seem radical, but in my mind it is logical. As Tony Blair put it, we should reconsider the basic principles of the way we organise public services and try to measure them not against the 'givens but against the contemporary reality, the potential and possibility opened up by change. By applying this mentality to the school day, I believe we can deliver change for the better, for every parent and child. Greg Martin is executive head of Durand Academy in south London. A version of this essay appears in 'The Next Ten Years, published by Reform on Mar 1