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School holiday dates could be in a for a big shake-up if Conservatives take control of County Hall in May’s Isle of Wight Council elections.

The Conservatives are promising to consult about a change from 3 terms to 4 terms a year in what, they say, could be a win for parents, a win for teachers, a win for school attendance and a win for Island businesses.

Speaking today, Cllr Chris Whitehouse (Newport West Ward), who leads on Education for the Conservatives on the Isle of Wight Council, pledged an early consultation with schools and parents to look at whether changes to holiday dates would provide more freedom for parents to avoid the very high charges levied by travel companies during peak periods.

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Cllr Whitehouse says:

“The Island is primarily a tourism, leisure and agricultural economy; and much of that employment is comparatively low paid and seasonal. In the main Easter and Summer holidays, many parents have no choice other than to work full time to maximise family incomes and to keep key businesses going. It makes sense to consider whether a shorter Summer holiday, with a different pattern of breaks, would allow parents to benefit from cheaper holidays at times when mainland schools are not on holiday.”

The change could also boost education outcomes, argues Cllr Whitehouse, saying:

“A shift from 3 terms to 4 would also allow a more even spread of the curriculum over the year with further benefits in education outcomes. It is also widely accepted that many children do actually regress in their attainment over the course of the long summer holiday.”

Other areas of the country that have consulted on similar proposals found that with children in schools in different local education authority areas, parents had concerns about different holiday dates for each of their children. But, says councillor Whitehouse, this is not the same on the Island, adding:

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“Already, many of our schools, being academies or voluntary aided schools, can set their own holiday dates regardless of the local education authority, but what they might want to do, after consultation, is see all our schools shift to a different pattern. This has been suggested by many parents, employers, teachers and school governors, but we would have to have a wide and deep consensus before any change would be practical. Island teachers in particular might benefit by taking cheaper holidays when mainland schools have term time.”

Jon Platt, who is currently being prosecuted by the Isle of Wight Council for taking his child out of school for a family break without authorisation, has said:

“It must make good sense to ask parents, teachers and head-teachers what works best for them. If all the Island schools shifted term dates together, that would create greater flexibility and really help those parents who struggle most to make ends meet. It wouldn’t solve the problems with which I had to contend in my own case because those problems were rather different, but asking parents what they think is best has got to be the right way forward.”

Cllr Dave Stewart, Leader of the Conservative Group on the Isle of Wight Council says:

“Island Conservatives want a genuine conversation with Island residents. We are not going to dictate what should happen or mount pretend consultation exercises. We will genuinely ask parents and headteachers what they think would work best, and then try to deliver it. That’s our pledge should we be elected in May to take over the Isle of Wight Council from the current dysfunctional ‘Independent’ Administration.”

Island MP, Andrew Turner, has endorsed the proposed consultation saying:

“Parents on the Island often struggle to meet the needs of their families whilst employed in seasonal and sometimes low-paid jobs. It’s only commonsense to ask whether organising our term dates differently could be an all round gain, helping parents and teachers access cheaper holidays, boosting school attendance and ensuring that seasonal businesses aren’t struggling to find staff. I commend the approach Cllr Whitehouse is proposing to take.”

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