School Calendar September 2024

Shorter school holidays needed to tackle ‘holiday hunger’, experts claim

Experts are calling for a change to the school calendar, proposing making the summer holidays shorter in a bid to help families struggling to cope with ‘holiday hunger’ during the long break.

September  School Calendar Template - Edit Online & Download
September School Calendar Template – Edit Online & Download

A five-week summer holiday instead of a six-week break could be part of changes “to a school calendar that has been stuck in place since Victorian times,” according to a new report on tackling post-pandemic education inequalities.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, recommends a series of reforms including reducing the long summer break and extending one of the winter breaks by a week.

Editable September  Calendar, Cute Printable Calendar, Back to
Editable September Calendar, Cute Printable Calendar, Back to

As well as potentially helping to “improve the wellbeing of teachers and pupils by creating more holiday breaks during the gruelling winter term”, the report suggests spreading the school holidays more evenly across the year could help those families facing challenges – including a lack of childcare and “holiday hunger” – in the long summer break.

“Over the summer holidays, children from under-resourced backgrounds can be put at risk through malnourishment, isolation, and extended periods of inactivity,” Lee Elliot Major, who is one of the report authors and a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, told Yahoo UK.

“Families face many challenges, including lack of affordable childcare and ‘holiday hunger’ as children do not receive the meals they receive for free at school.”

Professor Major says shortening the summer holidays would have the benefit of spreading out the costs of childcare and holidays across the year for many parents.

“Under our proposal, teachers and pupils would still enjoy the same number of days of school holidays,” he continues. “At the very least, we should trial a rebalanced school calendar in some areas to generate evidence on its potential benefits.”

Some parents and children are going hungry in the school holidays. (Getty Images)

The ‘holiday hunger’ issue

The subject of ‘holiday hunger’ was addressed by the London Assembly in July 2022 with Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan explaining that the main driver of the issue is families with income levels that are too low to afford the essentials.

“It is not only children who are affected,” he explained. “Adults are having to choose between eating themselves or feeding their children.”

Free school meals are a lifeline for many families living in poverty, but the scheme, which means that the poorest children in the country are guaranteed at least one nutritious hot meal a day, does not extend to school holidays.

In 2020, footballer Marcus Rashford successfully convinced the government to offer meal vouchers over the summer holidays, but it rejected calls to extend the holiday food scheme.

Jamie Oliver has also previously called for the government to address the issue by providing hard-up families free school meals in the holidays, following a survey, by food bank charity The Trussell Trust, which revealed one in four secondary schoolchildren know someone their age who regularly skips meals and goes hungry.

With the voucher scheme no longer in practice, availability of support for the most vulnerable families during the school holidays is a postcode lottery.

“Some local councils have created their own meal schemes using government funding provided by the Housing Support Fund,” explains Professor Jonathan Glazzard, professor of social justice at the University of Hull.

“This is a grant of £800m. However, although it has been extended, it is currently due to end in September.”

The problem is the ramifications of holiday hunger extend far beyond mere physical hunger, psychologist Barbara Santini explains.

“It infiltrates into the psychological and emotional realms, casting a shadow over children’s wellbeing and educational prospects,” she explains.

“The stress and anxiety experienced by parents struggling to provide adequate nourishment for their children can detrimentally impact familial dynamics and exacerbate existing financial pressures.”

Experts have suggested rebalancing the school calendar could help ‘holiday hunger’ in collaboration with other schemes. (Getty Images)

Could rebalancing the school calendar help address the ‘holiday hunger’ issue?

Santini says the proposed rebalancing of the school calendar presents a promising avenue for addressing the issue of holiday hunger.

“By redistributing the breaks in winter rather than concentrating them solely in the summer, we can mitigate the intensity of food insecurity experienced by vulnerable families, she explains.

“This recalibration offers several distinct advantages. Firstly, it ensures a more equitable distribution of resources and support services throughout the year, thereby alleviating the burden placed on families during extended breaks.

“Secondly, by shortening the duration of the summer holiday, parents are afforded greater financial respite, as they no longer have to stretch their budgets to cover an extended period without school meals.”

Peter Taylor-Gooby, a professor of social policy at the University of Kent, says the rebalancing of the term-time calendar will have an impact on ‘holiday hunger’ only if it reduced the amount of time in the year taken up by holidays.

Instead, he believes we need a full-year feeding scheme for children alongside higher cash benefits for lower income families.

“The benefit system has been cut back repeatedly since 2010 and the money available in benefits which top up the incomes of low-paid families and those out of work is now not enough,” he explains.

Santini agrees in order to tackle holiday hunger we need a multi-faceted approach involving various stakeholders.

“Supermarkets and food retailers can contribute by offering discounted or free meal options during school holidays, thereby easing the financial strain on families,” she suggests.

“Online platforms and mobile applications can serve as valuable resources, providing access to meal planning guides, budgeting tips, and information about local food assistance programs.

“By fostering awareness, advocating for policy changes, and mobilising resources, we can collectively strive towards ensuring that every child has access to nutritious meals year-round, regardless of socioeconomic status.”

Additional reporting PA.

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