HL Deb 27 June 1978 vol 394 cc137-9

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether education authorities can be asked to arrange half-term dates so that, as far as possible, those for various schools coincide, thus reducing inconvenience to families, especially where there are working mothers.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, it would not be correct for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a request of this kind to local authorities. The 1944 Education Act provides for school holidays to be under the control of local education authorities, except where the rules of management or articles of government provide otherwise; such holidays being subject to the provisions of the Schools Regulations 1959. I am sure that education authorities and, where it is their responsibility, the managers and governors of schools, are aware of the inconvenience that may be caused to parents who have children at different schools with overlapping half-term holidays; but there are, of course, other matters which need to be taken into account.


My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask him whether it is a fact that half the young mothers with school children in this country go out to work, and that, because of the non-coincidence of these half-term dates, sometimes they have to be away from work in respect of one child and then away again in respect of another child? Does my noble friend not think that it would be sensible for these half-term dates to coincide? Could my noble friend not arrange for the Minister to send a memorandum to the local education authorities urging that this be considered?


My Lords, although I appreciate the inconvenience to which my noble friend refers, I do not think that to send round a circular would make any difference. I am satisfied that local education authorities take pains to meet the wishes of parents in the arrangements that they make for these school holidays. Many have established committees to advise on school calendars and to consider representations made to them by interested bodies and individuals. All consult widely before deciding on holiday dates, taking account of the wishes of parents and teachers, the needs of pupils—particularly those in the period of run-up to the CSE and GCE examinations—and the impact of national and local trade and business holidays. Unfortunately, the problem produces conflict in that one date may be more convenient than another date for one family as opposed to another family. To send out a circular would not, I think, enable local authorities, which are making an effort, to please more people; although I admit the difficulty.


My Lords, although I accept the existence of the difficulties to which the noble Lord has alluded, is it not the case that difficulties arise between adjacent urban authorities? Perhaps some mild circular—not one of those that we have grown to dread, graven on tablets of stone, but something on scented paper perhaps—showing a common date, would be welcome in certain circumstances.


My Lords, my right honourable friend will certainly read our exchange and take note of it. Her view at the moment is that to send out to local authorities circulars of an exhortative kind, telling them to do things they are already trying to do, can do more harm than good. However, my right honourable friend will certainly note what has been said.