ESF drops proposed switch to four terms

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 June, 2009, 12:00am

Parents and teachers have reacted with delight after the English Schools Foundation's governing board threw out proposals to switch to a four-term school year.

The board decided not to change the calendar for ESF schools to a four-term year at a meeting on Tuesday after an online consultation with parents on the issue was extended by two weeks to May 15.

Chief executive Heather Du Quesnay wrote in a letter to parents yesterday: 'The board considered the full range of views collected at its meeting on June 16. It came to the consensus that there was no overwhelming case for change.'

The consultation launched on April 1 asked parents to choose between two options for switching to a four-term year - Model C and Model B - with an extra two-week holiday in October and a shorter, earlier summer break.

Model C would have cut the summer holiday from seven or eight weeks to five, with the autumn term beginning three weeks earlier on August 1 and an extra week off at Christmas in addition to the October holiday. Model B provided a six-week summer holiday with the autumn term starting in the second week of August but no extra leave at Christmas. A third option, Model A, retained the existing school year.

ESF communications head Peter Craughwell said: 'We kept the consultation open until May 15, and by the end of that period, the vast majority of respondents expressed a preference for the status quo.'

The board had not been bound by the results of the exercise, and had based its decision as much on parents' comments as on the number of supporters for options A, B and C.

'I don't have the numbers to hand and I can't get them tonight,' he said. 'The board acknowledged there was a range of concerns expressed about the current calendar arrangements. But they also noted that many parents felt the challenges posed by the new options potentially outweighed them. Therefore, they felt there was not sufficient impetus for change.

'This was a really valuable exercise. The consultation was thorough and we heard a range of viewpoints which we were able to assess. We heard some viewpoints that we simply weren't aware of.'

Ana Wei, vice-chairwoman of South Island School parent-teacher association, said: 'I am glad that they have dropped this proposal. We debated this issue on our PTA and most people wanted to keep the school terms as they are. People felt the four-term year would reduce the amount of teaching time for students when, if anything, they needed more support for the new IB programme.'

Erik Floyd, the father of two children at Island School, said: 'The proposal never made any sense and there was never any clear explanation as to why it was necessary. And the consultation wasn't very well organised. It was hard to find the consultation document and there was no standardised survey form to fill in.

'The fact that several thousands of people sent in comments despite the lack of a standardised form is impressive and shows the depth of feeling. I am delighted they have listened to parents at the end of the day and thrown out this unworkable plan.'

Sue Page, chairwoman of the ESF teachers' union APTESFS, said: 'We held a ballot of our members on whether to switch to a four-term year and there was a significant majority in favour of retaining the status quo.

'There was no stakeholder group within the ESF that voted in favour of a change to a four-term year and we are glad that common sense prevailed. ESF students already return to school very early in August for the conditions and climate of Hong Kong - earlier than the other international IB schools.'