Should summer school holidays be only four weeks?

National Party list MP Nicola Willis wants summer school holidays shortened from six weeks to five or four weeks. Emily Writes asks if that’s really a good idea.

Like most parents I have days where I think the school holidays are dragging on and on and on. Some days I want to shoot my children into the sun – which is not logistically possible and is possibly a slight overreaction to hearing “BUT MAAAAAAAAHHHUuuuuuMMummm I’m BORED” for the fifteen hundred millionth time. I also have to work all the time, regardless of whether it’s Christmas or a holiday, because I’m self-employed most of the time. So I guess I should be one of those parents who would support shortening the holidays.

But, I’m not. It just doesn’t feel right. I know school holidays are a prick to manage with work, sometimes it feels impossible, sometimes it feels like they’re just watching Peppa Pig non-stop for one of the weeks. There’s no way at all that I can afford holiday programmes; I don’t even consider them because I know they’re impossible. I don’t make enough in a day to cover even one child let alone two.

Still, the answer isn’t sending kids and teachers back to school without a break or time with their whānau. The answer is higher wages and more annual leave and more flexibility in workplaces.

To suggest the fix for the problem of not being able to care for your children during school holidays is to just not have holidays is absurd. That’s like fixing a crack in a window by just smashing the window out. Children need as much time as they can have with their families, but families also need time with their kids.

Any parent who has seen their kid in the last week of school at the end of a year knows just how much children need a break from school. School is hard work for them. It’s exhausting – they are physically and emotionally going all day, five days a week. They’re learning so much – not just class skills, but social skills. They need downtime. They are shattered. And if they’re wrecked, imagine how teachers feel?

Yes, this doesn’t change the fact that many parents simply cannot get the time off work. But they should be able to, and they fact that they can’t is something that should make us all really angry.

That a parent can’t get time off work or afford time off work isn’t the fault of teachers who, if this proposed idea goes ahead, will be the ones punished. We are basically saying teachers shouldn’t get time with their kids because we don’t have the ability to get time off with our kids. How does making life harder for another family make life easier for ours? And even if it does – is that what you want?

The idea that kids will be “behind” if they aren’t at school over the holidays is absurd. It’s as stupid as thinking homework does anything useful other than make kids who can’t read hate reading. Time with your family is learning. Play is learning! It’s important and it’s undervalued. The fixation we have on kids at four starting school and being in school all day until they are adults isn’t particularly helpful for families or kids. But it is helpful for ensuring your workplace never has to have flexibility or pay you enough to have opportunities for your kids outside of school.

Testing is the focus behind the idea of a “summer slide” in your child’s ability to remember how to read or write. It takes no notice of how they learned that a salp is a carbon hero which led to conversations about climate and environment protection. It doesn’t care about how they spent time with their 90 year old great-grand-father hearing stories of his childhood. It doesn’t factor the sleep-ins or fun late nights, the playdates that turned into two best friends hiding under the stairs sharing secrets and writing a book on the wall where parents can’t see it.

Nights spent riding home on bikes, arms in the air pretending you’re in your own coming-of-age movie, late nights reading with a torch under the bed covers, a first kiss in the dark at the movies, a first job and a first pay – school holiday rites of passage shouldn’t be stolen from kids just because we adults live in a capitalist hellscape.

In my frankly uneducated (I didn’t get a degree and barely finished high school) view, children should be encouraged to be lifelong learners and their education should be community based, not just farmed out to teachers to do everything (including make even more sacrifices as requested of them by National MPs). Teachers are already overworked, underpaid, stretched and lacking in resources, and we want them to now do even more to make up for the fact that parents can’t afford to be home with their kids or afford holiday programmes? That’s kind of fucked.

How does that encourage us all to work together to educate children? It’s my job as a parent to educate my child too. My son and I have read more books over the holidays than he has over the entire year at school – without the pressure, his reading his flourished. I consider myself in partnership with his teachers. Do shorter holidays encourage that?

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How is this going to help the teacher shortage? Hey, come join us! The pay is shit, there’s fuck all perks, you have to bring your own shit into school, you’re not just a teacher you’re a counsellor and social worker and parent, and also you no longer get a decent break over summer. Where do I sign up?

School holidays suck when you have no money, believe me I know that. But I can’t push that onto teachers, and I don’t think my kids should spend that much time at school. They need a break as much as I do. I’m not getting a break, but then I’m an adult, and life is a grind until you die. Children need some reprieve from that concept and they should at least have until they’re 17 to prepare for it. Particularly if they’re likely to go into low-wage work like their parents.

There’s no denying school holidays aren’t designed for modern parents – but that’s because being a modern parent is fucking hard and shit a lot of the time because of economic and social factors completely out of your control. That’s not the fault of teachers (in fact they’re already being fucked over) and it’s not helping our kids who are inheriting the mess.

We need workplaces where there is flexibility, school holiday leave, the ability to have your kids in when babysitting falls through or be able to work from home, higher wages so parents can take time off – that is all part of how we fix this. Continually shafting teachers is the wrong answer. This is a lesson that needs to be learned one way or another.


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