Christmas holidays and schools
Sir, – The idea was floated some time back that, in the current circumstances, schools should close for the Christmas holidays on Friday, December 18th, rather than continue to the scheduled end of term the following Tuesday at lunchtime. The proposal received short shrift and was dismissed by the Minister and, subsequently, by a spokesman for the Department of Education and Skills.
It seems to me that perhaps a rushed decision was not what was needed. Aside from anything else, the current school calendar was determined before the Covid outbreak, so the circumstances have changed radically.
It is important, also, to bear in mind that the standardised school calendar at post-primary level is largely determined by the timing of the Leaving Certificate examinations which, itself, is a response to the requirements of the higher education sector. The educational needs of second-level students are not a major consideration. There cannot be many principals who would argue that working for a day and a half in Christmas week is optimum use of teacher and student time in schools.
The reality is quite different. The attention of many young people at that stage of the year is focused elsewhere. More to the point, my experience as a school principal was that school attendance usually dropped off to a significant extent in Christmas week.
Indeed, in view of the understandable concerns parents have regarding the possibility of their children catching an infection, I suspect student absenteeism will be a far more in evidence this Christmas week than normal.
While I have no expertise in public health matters, it seems obvious to me that the closure of schools earlier than intended would inevitably have a positive impact on community transmission and also make life easier for families in their efforts to have as normal a Christmas as possible.
I recognise that, on the other hand, the early closure would discommode some families.
Would the gains from a public health point of view outweigh the disruption that an earlier-than-planned closure would cause for some families? I believe that the educational loss by early closure this year would be negligible, if it exists at all, and so should not be a major consideration in reaching a decision. – Yours, etc,