ACADEMIC CALENDAR

This project was started to discuss the 2018/19 academic calendar with the school. The PSO noticed a number of shifts in the new calendar compared to prior years and were seeking information from the school about the changes.

Conclusions

Ultimately, the main objective of the school leaders is to develop a calendar that is focused on student learning and the responsibility of setting the calendar remains with the school leadership. However, the group agreed that the three parent-teacher-student organisations (i.e. the PSO for ACS Cobham) would be consulted ahead of releasing the academic calendar in the future.

We would like to thank parents for having sent through feedback to the PSO – this is most valuable for us and the school. We would also like to thank Diane and the HoS team for having met with us, explained the process and listened to the concerns our respondents had raised. We look forward to continued dialogue with them.

Update: September 2018

After following up with senior officials at ACS Ltd about the draft 2019/20 ACS academic calendar many of the PSO’s recommendations have been incorporated into the calendar for the next calendar year.  Specifically starting school the week before the long weekend in August so that the October break does not align with the British school holidays and removing the extra days at the February break to add them to the start of the December holidays.

We will continue to work with the administration to provide parent input on future calendars – no calendar will please everyone but we are excited that parent views were taken into account in adjusting the calendar for 2019/20.

Background

Following the changes made to the calendar for the 2018/19 academic year, representatives from the three parent-teacher-student organisations from Cobham (“PSO”), Egham (“PTO”) and Hillingdon (“PTSA”) met with Diane Hren (ACS Group Education Strategy Director) and the Heads of Schools (“HoS”) on 26 February 2018 at ACS Egham to both better understand how ACS develops the calendar and to present parent feedback. The minutes from this meeting are below and these have been reviewed by Diane and the HoS team.

As background, Diane and the HoS team explained to us that the calendar is the same for all three ACS UK campuses (Cobham, Egham & Hillingdon). Amongst other factors, this is done to facilitate collaborative programs offered by multiple campuses for students (such as sports competitions) and for teachers (such as shared training & development programs during in-service days). The calendar is developed and recommended by the HoS team and approved by the ACS Group leadership team.

Diane presented to us the calendar development principles & guidelines that are followed by ACS. First and foremost, the main criterion for developing the calendar is student learning. The primary aim is to ensure the continuity, efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and learning. The school always aims to exceed the minimum number of instructional days in the school year as per their accreditation bodies (the target is set by the accreditation bodies), with the goal of then dividing these days into approximately equal semesters and quarters. The school also ensures that there is time for teacher pre- and post-planning, as well as avoiding school weeks which are only comprised of one or two school days (due to associated attendance concerns). It was strongly emphasized that the calendar is set primarily considering educational objectives.

We presented a summary of the parent feedback on the 2018/19 calendar. A copy of all unabridged feedback received by the PSO was also given to the school representatives. We received written feedback from 74 families (there are 897 families overall at ACS Cobham). A number of other families also gave their PSO representatives oral feedback, which corroborates the written feedback.

Main Points Discussed

Alignment of half-terms with local schools:

  • October and February half-terms are aligned with most UK Independent Schools for 2018/19, which was not the case in 2017/18.
  • This is the point that was given the most attention in written feedback received (71 families). Feedback was mixed in this regard from our community due to differing family circumstances, although a large majority of those who responded (>80%) do prefer staggered holiday schedules mainly to keep costs lower when travelling. This view was most strongly represented for the February break, where travel costs are significantly higher during the main UK holiday week. There was less concern over aligning the October break with local schools.
  • The school explained that for 2018/19, this is a consequence of starting the school year one week later, rather than an input into the calendar. Aligning half-terms with local schools is NOT one of the criteria in setting the calendar and there are no plans at present to make this part of future decision-making. It was made clear that ACS does not look at other school calendars in setting its own calendar. Depending on how the other criteria will line up for following years, holidays may or may not align with local schools in the future. There is thus neither preferential, nor disadvantageous treatment of families who have children both at an ACS school and a local school with regards to aligning holiday schedules.

Shortened December break / Lengthened February break:

  • There are 10 school days of holidays in 2018/19 versus 12 school days in 2017/18 for the December due to 2 in-service days being moved from the December break to the February break.
  • This is the second point which was given the most attention in the written feedback received (45 families), with near-unanimous feedback from the respondents that it is important to have at least an extra two days tagged onto this break to increase the time available to travel to different continents for the holidays. We also expressed the ongoing issue of starting the break so late in December, complicating travel further. The point was also made that extra days in February were not seen to be helpful for our community.
  • The school noted these points and understands the concerns. The impact on families appears to have been under-estimated. While it appears difficult to change the calendar for 2018/19, they will ensure that this feedback is taken into account for 2019/20. The school does not have plans at present to move towards a significantly longer 3-week December holiday (which some UK Independent Schools have). However, they will endeavour to tag on in-service days to the December holiday instead of February in future calendars to facilitate a slightly longer break here.  

Start of school one week later:

  • The school year starts after the August bank holiday weekend next year versus one week before in most previous years.
  • Most who expressed a view on this change were against it given concerns that this shortens the number of teaching days, and especially shortens the time available before the IB/AP exams which are at fixed dates. A few did express appreciation for this change as some feel that it is easier for working parents to take this last week off in August.
  • The school explained that this change is on a trial-basis and will be reviewed next year. The change was mainly motivated by ensuring a smooth transition to the start of a new school year for our Boarding students, which was seen to be more difficult when a 3-day weekend follows the first week of school.

Other topics discussed

Number of school days

  • There are 3 less instructional days in the 2018/19 academic calendar than in the 2017/18 calendar.
  • The school responded that the target number of days are reached with the 2018/19 calendar. It is important to note that the total number of school days will vary slightly from year to year and over the past 15 years has varied by 2 to 4 days in each direction. The school looks closely at these numbers and will continue to monitor this to ensure they reach or exceed their target of 180 instructional school days (this figure includes Parent-Teacher conference days).

Moving all in-service days adjacent to holidays

  • We expressed appreciation for having all in-service days now adjacent to holidays, and not having the random mid-week day off. We would encourage this practice to continue in the future and for some of these days to be appended to the December break.

Timing of calendar release

  • The school explained that the aim is to set the calendar 2 years in advance, and they do work on the calendar drafts at least 2 years in advance.
  • However, the school explained that they do like to learn from experience and that they will therefore want to see, for example, the impact of starting a week later before releasing the calendar for 2019/20.

Trunk or Treat

  • This is an ACS Cobham specific issue, given ACS Egham and Hillingdon do not hold this event.
  • The shift in the October break by one week does present the PSO with difficulties in organizing this event, but we will continue to evaluate the feasibility.

School camps

  • Out of those families who expressed their appreciation at having holidays in line with local schools for next year, we noted that one reason was having access to local holiday camps.
  • Given that alignment of calendars is not in the school’s criteria, we agreed that the school should continue to look at developing these holiday camp programs and to lengthen the hours on offer.
  • The group also suggested that ACS Egham and Hillingdon students could participate in Cobham’s camps to increase numbers and make the programs more viable.