Cutting summer holidays short would be terrible for both parents and children

“No way!” This was my children’s reaction when I told them about a recent proposal to overhaul school term times – in particular, shortening the summer holidays to four weeks.

For them, it amounts to a curtailment of their human rights. The long summer holiday is a time when they can unfurl after a year of unending tests. It is a time for languorous days of boredom, family visits and escape to different lands.

The idea to truncate the summer break came in a report from the Nuffield Foundation, the aim being to tackle educational inequalities arising from the pandemic and to address learning loss.

Children are no longer required to work the harvests – the historic reason for the long holiday – but what about the right to roam these extra weeks offer?

A booking bun fight – that’s what a four-week summer means to me. A 2022 report by Mintel found that more than half of us would stay in a rental property in the UK for a holiday due to increases in travel costs and the cost of living. But with everyone trying to shoehorn their holiday into a shorter window, holiday companies would be able to hike their prices even more. Acute indecisiveness and a resistance to thinking too far ahead would not play in my favour here.

It could be that more parents decide to take their children away in the new term time, a fine being more palatable than a holiday price hike.

Then there is the pressure that a contraction of the break would put on popular destinations, effectively shortening their peak season.

“The best solution would be a combination of shortening summer school holidays and staggering them across England, with different regions having a four-week break in the nine weeks of July and August in a planned, co-ordinated manner,” says Malcolm Bell, chair of Visit Cornwall. “This would benefit children’s education, ease stresses on working parents, limit the strain on local communities in tourist hot spots, as well as making holidays more affordable and enjoyable.”

Hot summer day in the city. Little boy is having fun playing in the park fountain. He is running barefeet getting wet and splashing.
Summer holidays are full of long weeks of fun
(Photo: Imgorthand/Getty/E+)

Mr Bell is sceptical that a shorter break can work without such staggering. “It would result in increased congestion, strain national and local transport infrastructure, increase holiday costs and have a negative impact on local communities due to over-tourism.”

The recruitment of summer casual staff, many of whom are students, would also become more difficult. For UK destinations, adding extra weeks to the holiday at other times of the year are unlikely to make a material difference, particularly in winter; there is unlikely to be an exodus to the coast in October.

The UK already has the shortest holidays in Europe. Finland, one of the happiest nations with the best education system in the world, has a summer break of around 10 weeks. When the French education minister proposed reducing France’s summer break from eight to six weeks in 2013, there was an outcry.

The summer holidays are supposed to be a time of recharge. But current proposals seem to be laying the ground for increased costs, overcrowded destinations, a detrimental impact on the tourism economy and, above all, stress.