Could summer holidays 2021 be cut for a five-term school year to help kids catch up?

Primary school children back in the classroom as five term school year is being considered
(Image credit: AFP via Getty Images)

A five-term school year has been proposed by the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson as a way to help kids catch up with the school work they missed over the last year in lockdown.

On March 8, all children returned to school as the third lockdown in England is slowly lifting. Aside from the announcement about a possible five-term school year that could cut into the 2021 summer holidays, there are already other changes to the way schools run in place.

These include the mass testing programme that requires students to take a lateral flow test twice a week. Plus, secondary school pupils have to wear face masks in the classroom and around the school in communal areas.

The idea of a five-term school year is another measure to help bring kids back into school and up to date with their education. It was first proposed by Mr Williamson as a way to bolster kids’ learning, following months of homeschooling

How would a five-term school year work?

To fit the two additional terms into the school year, the government are considering shortening school holidays from the standard six-week break and making school days longer. These two measures alone would extend the amount of time children spend in school, allowing them time for two more terms worth of work.

These are just two of the main measures being looked at currently as part of the government's catch up plan for schools. A full announcement on whether the five-term school year will go ahead and how it will work is expected in the coming weeks.

The Education Secretary told Sky News, “We’re looking at holidays, we’re looking at lengthening the school day, we’re looking at a whole range of different measures.” 

Students wearing masks in school, as five term school year is considered

Credit: Getty

When asked about whether this would include shortening the summer holiday, Gavin Williamson told the i paper that a long-term re-structure of the school year was being considered. "I think we should never be nervous about looking at new routes and different ways of doing things.”

He said there had "always been a lively and strong debate around...the distribution of holidays."

"It’s right to have that discussion, look at the evidence and make an assessment as to what are the best options, about how we can really drive children’s attainment in schools, especially children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, so this is why we’ve asked Kevan [Collins, the education recovery tsar]  to look at all options.”

Mr Williamson said that the plan would be announced in due course and introduced over the next 18 months, lasting at least until 2024. It will be entirely evidence based, he said, “We’ve got to look at what is going to have the biggest positive impact on children’s lives.

"That's the approach that we're taking and that's what we're looking at - how we can improve the outcomes for children."

Secondary schools have already been asked to deliver summer schools later this year for incoming Year 7 pupils. One-to-one and small group tutoring schemes are also being expanded as part of the £700million allocated to schools in the Chancellor's budget.

Primary school students with hands raised as schools go back in England, amid talks of a five term school year

Credit: Getty

The government is also reportedly considering “enhancing the support” teachers are given, “supporting them in their professional development, making sure they can be the very best of themselves.” 

However, he didn't make any further comments about whether teachers' pay, which is currently frozen, would be impacted by this.

Although the full plan hasn’t been announced yet, the idea of a five-term year has already garnered a response. 

Notably, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman urged the government to consider the plan carefully. She warned that it could backfire if children, who’ve been in and out of school for the last year, weren’t given enough thought in the decision. 

Secondary school children walking past row of blue lockers as schools go back in the UK

Credit: Getty

“There’s no point adding time here or moving time there if you don’t get a groundswell of support,” she told Sky News. “If children simply don’t turn up for extra time or summer schools, for example, you could end up putting a lot of effort into something that doesn’t achieve the objective. 

“My concern is to make sure that we go with the grain of what parents will embrace to make sure that all children get the very most of their education.” 

However, others have pointed out that this system has already been attempted successfully in many of the 15 former CTC (City Technology College) schools around the country - including those in Bristol, Derby and Nottingham. Instead of having half-terms, the schools created eight-week terms, followed by a two-week break and four-week summer. 

How many school terms in a year in the UK at the moment?

Currently, there are three terms in a school year in the UK: Autumn Term, Spring Term and Summer Term. Each term is split into two, with a half-term in the middle.

The school year begins in the autumn, normally in the first few days of September and ends in the summer after the exam period for those in GCSE, BTEC and A-level years. There are longer holidays for Easter and Christmas in between. 

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a Features Writer for, covering breaking news health stories during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lifestyle and entertainment topics.  She has worked in media since graduating from the University of Warwick in 2019 with a degree in Classical Civilisation and a year spent abroad in Italy. It was here that Grace caught the bug for journalism, after becoming involved in the university’s student newspaper and radio station.