As the long summer break draws to an end I’m thinking about a couple of articles I’ve glanced at despite my resolutions to focus exclusively on fiction.

First, John Connell refers to a colleague’s contention that school will never again be ‘out’.

School will never ever be ‘out’ again given that digital and networking technologies have rendered the walls of the school invisible and are rapidly disrupting the notion of ‘the school day’. And the implications for the definition of school itself are profound. Many will continue to defend the age-old and venerable form of this particular institution, but it is a definition that cannot survive in its current form for very much longer.

Then there was the article flagged up by David Gilmour, School’s still out for summer which discussed the implications of the ‘summer learning loss’ caused by a lengthy absence from school.

With policymakers focusing on staying internationally competitive through improving education, school may be out for a shorter summer in the future.

Now I fall somewhere in the middle of all this.

I have no truck with the assumptions of the latter stance that implies that attendance at school is the only way youngsters learn – and that education is exclusively about becoming economically productive. And I firmly believe and celebrate the fact that digital technologies are ushering in an exciting and creative era of ‘classrooms without walls’.

However, my problem with the long summer holiday and the wider notion that we can do away with formal schooling altogether is this: practice makes permanent. For little ones in particular, regular rehearsal and repetition of basic reading and writing skills are of immense importance in the early acquisition of literacy for example. The summer break is too long even for those children whose families are able and willing to dedicate the whole time to development and exploration. There is evidence that the gap between students from different socio-economic levels is widened over the summer. Children forget stuff and precious time is spent from August to October in revision which could best be spent building on prior knowledge and understanding.

This is in no way to diminish the invaluable experiences that children have in the days when there is no need to turn up at school. I have listened to so many authors, for example, who attribute their creativity and ability to create new worlds to the times when they were ‘busy doing nothing’.

Here’s an example. With the best will in the world I have not done my summer homework and I fear I have slipped backwards in my endeavour to learn Spanish. I am highly motivated – emotionally (my future grandchildren are likely to live in a Spanish speaking country), cognitively (I enjoy the stimulation tremendously even when my brain hurts), socially (great group of fellow students) and financially (I’ve paid a lot for lessons already).

But have I studiously listened to my invaluable podcasts from Coffee Break Spanish? Did I review my learning from last term to embed the knowledge and understanding I accrued? Have I even watched ‘Volver’ with subtitles as I promised myself?

A resounding ‘No’ is the answer.

Why? Because – despite my avowed and heartfelt commitment – I’ve had other things to do. Like sleep, read novels, see friends, go on holiday, move house, nurture relationships.

So, until we are able realistically to ensure that all our children – including the youngest – will have their learning needs met without restrictions of time and place, a shorter summer holiday seems to me to be a sensible option.

But I’ll miss those long lazy weeks!

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