Jane Smalley, 59, (pictured) founded Shrewsbury Prepatoria in 2013, after witnessing substandard nurseries while working as an independent consultant. PHOTO: MailOnline
A month might have passed since the British long summer break, but for many working parents in the country, any relief at having their offspring safely ensconced back in the classroom is eclipsed by the stress of the looming half term.
For a parent like Sarah Golden, however, there will be no navigating expensive childcare or escalating screen time during the next school holiday. No juggling work deadlines with moaning youngsters, or begging the grandparents to babysit. Here is her secret as detailed by DailyMail online, while other children are running amok, Sarah’s five-year-old son Chase will be at school.
He attends Shrewsbury Prepatoria, the first school in England to scrap term times and open its doors all year round.
The school was launched by headmistress Jane Smalley last September to cater for growing numbers of working parents who can’t take 13 weeks’ leave from their jobs to look after their children during school holidays. Instead, they can whisk their children away for up to six weeks, whenever they want — an act that incurs hefty fines and possible prosecution in some parts of the state sector.
Although the independent school’s fees are £6,540 (N2.8 million) a year, Jane argues parents can save around half that money by avoiding astronomical peak season flights and holidays, and extortionate childcare. Their children, meanwhile, benefit from a slower pace, more focus on play and no homework.
“The long summer holidays aren’t good for anyone,” Sarah a 42-year-old mother told MailOnline. She is a marketing consultant from Shrewsbury, whose partner Andy, a 40-year-old IT manager, agreed that Shrewsbury Prepatoria was the right choice for their family. Their one-year-old daughter Cecily is also at the school three days a week.
She didn’t feel any guilt at denying her son the summer most children take for granted: “He is so much happier [at school], with his friends.”
The school’s appeal for stressed working parents is obvious. But is it really best for the students? Jane, a thrice-married Liverpudlian and mother of four adult children, who has been passionate about the education system since her own unhappy school days, is keen to espouse the benefits. ‘It’s a no brainer,’ she says. ‘Why shouldn’t we have schools that meet the needs of families?
An unassuming red brick bungalow on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, the school has just 11 pupils aged four to six in Reception and Year 1 (although from next year it will extend to Year 2) and looks more like a home than an educational hub.
The headmistress, Jane, 59, according to DailyMail founded the school as a nursery in 2013, after witnessing substandard nurseries while working as an independent consultant for local authorities.
She quit her job as a reception teacher, sold a holiday villa in Turkey to fund the project and adopted the Reggio Emilia approach, an Italian educational philosophy that favours experimental, child-centred learning.
The alternative ethos appealed to Sarah, who put Chase into nursery full time after returning to work from maternity leave in 2015. She was so pleased with Chase’s progress that she, along with other nursery parents, asked Jane to consider extending into an infant school.
Jane’s plan to abolish term times only happened later, and ‘by accident,’ after she applied for Department for Education guidance on how to open an independent school in 2017.
They told her that schools didn’t need specific term times as long as children have the minimum requirement of 190 days a year that constitutes full-time education. It was an eye-opener. The current length of school holidays, Jane points out, stems from the Victorian era, when children had to come out of school to pick crops, DailyMail reported.
Now it means there is a ‘race’ to fit the whole curriculum into 190 days. And, of course, these long holidays don’t facilitate family life in a society in which 72 per cent of families now have a working father and mother.
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Although Jane started off permitting pupils to take up to ten weeks’ holiday — a time she has now cut to six weeks to ensure more learning time, in addition to the four weeks the school is shut over Christmas and Easter — no parent has ever requested that. She says: ‘The average taken is four weeks.’
But without endless holidays, one of the biggest perks of the teaching profession, how did Jane find the staff?
She says it wasn’t a challenge to find the three teachers employed at the school. They are paid more pro-rata according to the extra weeks they work.
Jane admits that starting a school has been a challenge. But it paid off last October when Shrewsbury Prepatoria was rated Outstanding by Ofsted. While having no fixed long holidays may be game-changing for parents, psychologist Emma Kenny says that long breaks ‘absolutely serve a purpose for children’.
She says: “They provide an unstructured activity which is an integral part of learning to be a healthy human. They also provide the opportunity for boredom, which inspires imagination and helps children learn to self-regulate.
“School is exhausting for children. Our education system teaches children to value themselves based on a tiny number of academic variables, and even schools that focus on child-led activities like this one deny children long stretches of freedom. Plus, the time a child spends around their loving parents provides happiness and emotional cogency that no school can replicate.”
Nonetheless, according to DailyMail report, Jane who has four more children enrolled for next September and will surely reach her school’s 22-strong pupil capacity soon hopes more will follow her lead.
“Being open all year long, and seeing the impact on the children, I think — why isn’t this being offered to every family?”