Why have school holidays in wet August?

06 Sep 2008 BBC News Online

Holiday key to school standards?

By Mike Baker
holidaymakers in rain
August proved the wettest for many a long year

So are you one of the smug ones at the school gates or in the staffroom?

As the new school year began in most parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland this week, parents, students and school staff fell into one of two camps.

There were those with webbed feet who had spent their holiday in the UK and those who could remember that the bright light in the sky is something called the sun.

I was in the West Country in August and every tea room and café was filled with families with school-age children, desperately eking out their cream teas and hot chocolates to delay the moment when they had to return to the rain, their muddy campsite and another game of cards.

With the credit crunch biting, there were probably more people taking UK holidays this year. These will have included a large proportion of teachers, who have just received their 2.45% pay rise, just half the current level of inflation.

But none of us should have been too surprised that the school holidays brought rain.


No, this is not just another expression of fatalistic black humour, like always expecting rain on bank holidays.

Just look at the weather charts. August is simply not a good bet for UK holidays.

According to long-term average measurements from the Met Office, London, Plymouth, Manchester and Birmingham all have more sunshine in May, June and July than in August.

These places, which are typical of England, also have less wind in May, June and July than in August.

And as for rain, there is a lot less of it in May, June and July than in August. Indeed, even April - renowned for its showers - has less rain than August in most places.

Indeed the only good news about August is that it has about the same chance of snow as May, June and July.


So why do we persist in releasing pupils for the school holidays in August, when it is relatively cloudy, windy and wet, while cooping them up in exam halls when it is sunny, warm and dry?

There could be great advantages to a school year that started at the beginning of August and ended in mid-June

Of course, at this point you can probably hear the sound of crowing from Scotland where, more sensibly, they start their summer holidays at the end of June and return in mid-August.

Mind you, the Scots should not crow too loudly. They too would have more sunshine on Scottish holidays if they were off in May and June rather than July and the first half of August.

So why do we mainly have school holidays in late July and August rather than in May, June and early July?

The answer, of course, is the harvest. School holidays are in August because that was when the Victorians wanted children in the fields to bring in the wheat.

That was already an out-dated idea as early as 1851, by which time more people were living in England's cities and towns than in the countryside.

So why have we still not changed it now that hardly any child, even those living in the country, goes anywhere near a combine harvester?

Earlier exams

There have been moves in parts of the country towards a five- or six-term school year, bringing slight changes to school holiday dates. But most have not dared to make big inroads into the timing of the summer holidays.

Yet there could be great advantages to a school year that started at the beginning of August and ended in mid-June.

For a start, the exam season could begin earlier, in April or May, avoiding the height of the hay fever season and the problem of making pupils study hardest when the weather is at its best.

It would also make it much easier to move to a "post qualification admissions" system for university entrance, with students able to apply after they know their exam grades rather than relying on predicted grades.

Most of all, though, it would cheer us all up and happier parents, students and teachers would surely mean an improvement in standards.

It could be the magic solution to better school performance that governments are looking for.


User Comments

neil sheppard - 04 Jul 2014

move holidays to June

The met office records show August is the wettest month of the entire year for Liverpool, Manchester and North Wales. I would love to move the Holidays to June/July.

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