Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
I wish to inform Assembly Members that I am launching a formal 12-week consultation exercise today on proposals to reform the way in which school term dates are set for all maintained schools in Wales.
I wish to find ways to help those families who experience problems as a result of variations in school term dates throughout Wales, and therefore school holidays.
Currently, local authorities set term dates for community, community special, voluntary controlled and nursery schools, while governing bodies do the same for voluntary aided and foundation schools. There is no legal responsibility placed on either of these groups to work together to harmonise term dates across Wales, and efforts by the Welsh Local Government Association to achieve harmonisation at least between term dates set by local authorities have not so far been successful.
Different term dates can cause problems for some families, including difficulties with finding childcare, as well as the challenge of meeting additional childcare costs. For example, a family in which a parent/carer teaches at a school maintained by one local authority, but the children are pupils at a school maintained by another local authority, may find in some years that they have significantly different Easter holidays. This in turn can mean that family having to source and fund extra childcare from the family budget. Similar issues can arise when a family has members associated with different types of schools, where one or more of these works to different term dates.
Taking this into account, my intention is to harmonise school term dates for all maintained schools in Wales, with variations occurring very occasionally and only where they can be fully justified.
I propose that this is done by placing a legal duty to work together on those organisations which currently have responsibility for setting term dates, so that they take all reasonable steps to agree school term dates on a Wales-wide basis. Where this does not happen, or where there is good reason to think that the school term dates which have been agreed need to be altered, I intend to bring forward legislation to enable Welsh Ministers to step in to make sure that appropriate term dates are set.
The consultation period ends on Monday 26 November 2012. Consultees include local and diocesan authorities, governing bodies of foundation and voluntary aided schools, children and young people and other interested parties. A child-friendly version of the consultation document has been produced. The consultation documents are available on the Welsh Government's website.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep Members informed. Should Members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.