A council has become the first in England to shorten its school summer break, cutting the long holiday to less than five weeks.
Local authority schools in Barnsley, south Yorkshire, will stay open until the end of next month and have a two-week autumn half-term.
The change has infuriated some head teachers, however, and does not appear to offer much help to parents struggling to afford peak-season family holidays.
Parents in Barnsley will be restricted to taking summer holidays in August. The extra week’s break in late October and early November will be long after the holiday season in Europe has ended.
The authority justified the move by saying that the traditional six-week summer break for schools led to “learning loss”. Children forgot some of what they had been learning in the previous academic year and returned to school behind in their studies, it said.
Tim Cheetham, the council’s cabinet spokesman for education, said: “The main differences to this year’s dates from previous years — the shorter summer break and a two-week break at October half-term — will support educational outcomes for pupils by reducing the long summer break which can lead to learning loss.
“It also means that holiday weeks are distributed more evenly throughout the school year.”
Mr Cheetham, a Labour councillor, said research suggested that school summer holidays should be no longer than five weeks to maximise educational achievement. The Barnsley plan for the 2017-18 academic year would cut the summer break to four weeks and four days.
Brighton and Hove council has considered reducing summer holidays to give parents an opportunity to take cheaper off-peak family breaks earlier in the autumn term. The authority is still considering the move.
A head teachers’ leader, however, has criticised the switch, saying that there has been too little consultation.
Nick Bowen, the principal of Horizon Community College in Barnsley, told The Guardian: “We have been left perplexed that a change of this magnitude is being brought in without any real consultation with head teachers.
“This will affect our ability to recruit high-quality staff because they will not want a shorter break.
“There is also the fact that most of the academies in the area probably won’t come on board with it so everyone will have different holidays. It will be a disaster in terms of attendance because parents who have multiple children will have to take other siblings out of school if the holidays don’t match.”
Many councils have reported a surge in fines for parents taking their children out of school. In 2013 the government limited head teachers’ discretion to give authorised absence to take out children. Head teachers are now able to approve such requests only in exceptional circumstances.
Parents who take their children on term-time holidays without approval can be fined £60 and prosecuted if they refuse to pay.