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Plans to shorten school summer holidays pushed back

PLANS to shorten the summer holidays have been shelved due to the pressures on Wales’ schools and significant opposition from trade unions.

Lynne Neagle, Wales’ education secretary, confirmed school year reforms will no longer take place in 2025/26, with the decision deferred until after the next Senedd election.

She said pausing the proposals, which included cutting the summer break to five weeks or possibly four, will give teachers more time and space.

Ms Neagle recognised the pressure on schools implementing a new curriculum and additional learning needs (ALN) system while under financial constraints.

She said: “My starting point is always the best interests of children and young people. This means ensuring reforms are properly planned out and have the time and space to succeed.”

A Welsh Government consultation received more than 16,000 responses and 6,500 people backed a petition against the proposals, which was submitted jointly by education unions.

“Opinion was hugely divided on this,” said Ms Neagle.

“To ensure we get this right, we need to continue listening to and engaging with schools, teachers, unions as well as children, young people and parents.”

Plans for a shorter summer break – which were brought forward under Mark Drakeford, the former first minister – aim to reflect contemporary patterns of family and working life.

In 2023, research on Wales’ school year, which had hardly changed in more than 150 years, suggested long summer breaks disadvantage low-income families and children with ALN.

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Nicola Fitzpatrick, interim Wales secretary for the National Education Union (NEU) Cymru, welcomed the Welsh Government listening to unions’ concerns.

She said: “Members will be pleased that the Welsh Government has seen sense and decided not to change the pattern of the school year.”

Ms Fitzpatrick said the NEU consultation response made clear there was no clear rationale for reform and that any changes needed to be evidenced based.

She warned: “It remains a really difficult time in education and the education workforce have seen significant periods of change, including implementing the new curriculum and significant additional learning needs reform.

“We also have a funding crisis, major workload issues, pupil behaviour and attendance issues, and mental health challenges for both staff and students.

“These should be the cabinet secretary’s main priorities and we look forward to discussing these with her as part of her commitment to listening and working in partnership.”

Tom Giffard, the Conservatives’ shadow education secretary, urged the Welsh Government to ditch the contentious proposals altogether.

He said: “Education is in crisis with soaring absenteeism, a shocking decline in standards, the worst Pisa results in the UK and rising incidences of violence plaguing our schools.

“We have long called for the Labour government to scrap this distraction and get on with tackling the problems they have created in education over the past 25 years.

“Kicking this into the long grass is not good enough.

“Labour cannot ignore every teachers’ union, let alone the tourism and business sectors, who are against the plans, the policy needs to be scrapped completely.”

Heledd Fychan pointed out that consulting on reforming the school year was part of Plaid Cymru’s cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government, which ended recently.

She said: “As we emphasised throughout the consultation period, it’s important that the Welsh Government listened to the views of parents, teachers and learners.”

Calling for action to improve school attendance, attainment and safety, the party’s shadow education secretary warned: “It’s clear that there is a crisis in education in Wales.”

Ms Fychan urged the Welsh Government to put plans in place for the forthcoming summer holidays to support children and families from low-income backgrounds.

“Steps must also be taken to ensure no child goes hungry in the school holidays,” she said.

Caerphilly’s Labour MS, Hefin David, said he “understands the differences of opinion” on the matter – but welcomed the proposed changes being axed.

He said: “As a parent of an eight-year-old and six-year-old, I find that the summer holidays are much easier and cheaper to manage than October and especially Christmas.

“In the summer when the weather is better, there are far more ‘free’ activities available such as parks, splash pads, picnics and public gardens. Free summer activities are plentiful but shut down quickly once the season is over.

“In October with the poor evening light and colder weather, the demands are more often for softplay, trampolining and other indoor activities that charge a fee.”

Dr David highlighted how children are more likely to play outside during the summer months, but stay indoors during the winter.

“It’s quite a challenge to manage this. Personally, life would be more difficult with a two week October holiday- it’s already one of the trickiest to navigate”.

Ms Neagle, who will give a statement on the school year in the Senedd at about 4pm today (June 4), pledged to prioritise support during the school holidays.

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, said: “I am pleased to hear that the Welsh Government has listened to the serious concerns raised over these proposals.

“Changes of such a seismic scale risked adding further pressure onto the shoulders of teachers and schools that are already being weighed down by the long lasting impact of Covid on education.

“Any future reforms must be seriously scrutinised and stress tested so that we know our children are receiving the very best education possible.”

In the weeks since Vaughan Gething became first minister, the Welsh Government has also pushed back controversial farming and council tax reforms until after the May 2026 election.

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