SCHOOL’S out (almost) for summer - but does it need to be out for six whole weeks?

I had a couple of friends at university who went into teaching mainly, they admitted, because of the holidays. But even for teachers, the long summer break can wear a bit thin. “It’s not as good as it sounds. After three weeks it just gets boring,” a teacher friend said recently when I pointed out that I get less annual leave over a whole year than she gets in the summer.

For children too, the summer break can drag on a bit. While I think occasional boredom is healthy for youngsters, a whole six weeks off school does seem like a long stretch.

Barnsley Council carried out a consultation on the long summer break with schools, parents, other interested parties and Trade Union/Teacher Associations and while a narrow majority of parents were in favour of change, there was less support within schools. It was decided to continue the current traditional summer break for the academic year 2018/2019.

I know a headteacher in the Midlands whose school has four weeks off in summer, with the other two weeks holiday spread out across the year. It’s a system that works well, she says, with a notably positive effect on education.

Would shrinking the summer break mean children do better in school? It is well documented that literacy levels traditionally drop over the long summer holiday, particularly among children who don’t read much or at all out of the classroom.

This week sees the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge, aimed at encouraging children to read during the school holiday. Last year more than 4,200 children took part in the scheme, with nearly half completing it. Research shows that the challenge - for each child to read six books of their choice, in return for a medal and certificate - develops children’s enjoyment of reading, often reaching beyond school years, boosts their reading range and confidence, and helps prevent the summer literacy dip.

It could be argued that if the summer holiday was shorter, there wouldn’t be such a risk of pupils falling behind. Weeks away from school could lead to children forgetting what they have learned and losing motivation. And, for parents, arranging childcare over six weeks can be tricky.

On the other side of the coin, there is something meanspirited about the prospect of tampering with the six-week holiday. Who doesn’t remember that feeling of unbridled joy when the school year finally came to an end and the long summer break was stretched out ahead (even if you were crying boredom within a week)?

Children get tired out towards the end of term, and need a decent rest over summer. They need time to re-charge their batteries before the new academic year begins. Also, shortening the holiday would mean an upheaval of routine - and routine is important for children.

For those of us who don’t work in academia, six weeks isn’t a long time. I’ve gone six months without taking any holiday. I’m not convinced that teachers need such a long break, but for children the six-week holiday is a staple of the British summer.

Maybe the question of whether to shorten it should be down to a pupil-only referendum.

* I MAY be in a minority here - but how excruciating is BBC1's Pitch Battle? Admittedly, I only watched about five minutes of the show, which sees choirs battling it out for a £50,000 prize, but that was long enough. Two 'choirs' sneered at each other, gyrating through naff dance routines, clutching microphones - it looked like something two little girls had practised in their bedroom. Surely choral singing should be less about smug 'sing-offs' and more about harmony, a sense of togetherness and voice projection; something that appears to be a dying skill.

* HOW lovely that two sisters who were evacuated to Oxenhope during the Second World War have returned to the village, almost 80 years after moving there as children.

This week the T&A reported that Edna and Audrey Mackay, now 87 and 82, returned to Oxenhope on a steam train, and visited the house where they lived. They saw their mother only once during the war, but for two city girls, the village was a rural haven. "We just went with the flow," says Edna, recalling their arrival on a train full of evacuees. Folk were made of stronger stuff back then...

* IT’S a general rule of journalism that you don’t get starstruck when interviewing celebrities. I’ve managed to adhere to that, even when I found myself sitting awkwardly in a dressing-room with Paul Michael Glaser, and couldn’t quite believe I was face-to-face with Starsky.

But ‘off duty’ I’m a shameless star-spotter. On holiday in Cornwall last week I visited Port Isaac, the pretty fishing village where TV’s Doc Martin is filmed. Spotting a scene being shot, I joined a group of onlookers gawping at Mrs Tishell, the show’s lovestruck pharmacist, in her trademark neck brace. I didn’t take much notice of the other actress - and by the time I realised it was Sigourney Weaver (yes, really) they’d wrapped the scene. So much for my razor-sharp star-spotting...