When is your real ‘holiday time’?


As teachers we are often derided for having 13 weeks of holiday a year, but how much actual holiday time do you take? Our headteacher diarist reflects on just how much of her 13 weeks she spends working.

Arriving back at school after the half-term break, I was wondering, as is often the case after a holiday, where the week went and why I was not feeling slightly more rested than on the usual Monday morning. This got me thinking about holidays. 

Teachers are always a bit sensitive about holidays. When you tell someone that you are a teacher, often the first thing they say is something along the lines of: “I wish I had such long holidays.” To the non-teaching world, it is not fair that teachers have this fantastic 13 weeks of holiday each year, during which they can travel, relax, do all sorts of adventurous things and generally have lots of “time off”.

Of course, the reality, as anyone who is a teacher, ever has been a teacher, or lives with a teacher knows, is somewhat different. With the possible exception of those very new to the profession, a significant proportion of the 13 weeks’ holiday each year is no such thing. 

It is just work which happens to be done outside term-time. It may not be done at school (although many teachers spend a significant amount of time in school during school holidays), but it is still work. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this – clearly 13 weeks is a very long holiday compared to most other professions, who get by on four or, if they’re lucky, five weeks’ holiday a year. Clearly it makes sense that teachers use some of their “holiday” to work – lessons need to be planned, outstanding marking needs to be dealt with etc. 

However, we should not forget what holidays are for. They are a break from work. The “break” part of a holiday is vital. There is a very real risk that teachers, far from having a long leisurely break (in the true sense of the word), end up after half-term or the Easter holidays not having had a real break from school at all.

By this I mean that not only have they done work in the conventional sense (at home or at school) but they haven’t “switched off” at all.

Many would argue that teaching is no different from other professions. Most professionals are at the mercy of email at all times (including holidays). However, I think that teaching has a specific problem to address that stems from the “13-week holiday”. 

Because teachers have such long holidays, there is (rightly) an expectation that some of those “holidays” are spent working. The problem is where do you draw the line? 

When, within the 13 weeks, do you have your “real” holiday (i.e. break). The (very real) danger is that you never draw that line and none of the 13 weeks is a break (or maybe only the two weeks that you are actually away on holiday). 

While a lawyer or an accountant may only have five weeks’ holiday a year, it is more than likely that they will be away for much of that time and there will be little, if any, expectation that they will work during their break.

The problem is perhaps, not unexpectedly, most acute for headteachers and other senior staff in a school. Clearly, as one moves up the career ladder, one would expect the proportion of the 13 weeks that is real holiday to diminish. 

This is to be expected. However, even headteachers deserve a break! Legally all workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 days’ holiday a year (and most have bank holidays on top of that) – I suspect that there are many headteachers and other senior teaching staff who would struggle even to take those 20 days as true holiday.

Anyway, back to my emails and roll on the Christmas holidays...

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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