Christmas holiday may be extended for some schools as government announces optional inset day

Pupils in England may be allowed to stay off school for an extra day before the Christmas holidays.

The decision to offer an optional inset day was announced by the Schools Minister on Tuesday 8 December to allow teachers to have a “proper break” from working with test and trace to identify Covid cases.

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This means many schools in England will break up for Christmas a day earlier than planned, with the added holiday becoming an inset day for teachers.

Here’s everything you need to know about the holiday extension, and what date schools could now break up for Christmas.

Why have the Christmas holidays been extended?

Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced to MPs that schools in England could have an optional inset day on Tuesday 8 December.

He said the extra day is intended for teachers so they can have a “proper break” from identifying potential Covid cases among pupils.

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Students should be off for a “clear six days” before Christmas Eve, Mr Gibb said, so teachers will not have to work with NHS track and trace through their seasonal break. 

Instead, he said schools will be permitted to use the extra day on Friday 18 December as an inset day for teacher training.

The decision represents a U-turn as, in November, government ministers had told schools in England that they could not close early or change the date of the Christmas holiday.

The news comes as union leaders called for schools to be able to move to remote learning a few days before the Christmas break for increased safety measures.

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Speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee, Mr Gibb said: "We are about to announce that inset days can be used on Friday December 18, even if an inset day had not been originally scheduled for that day.

"We want there to be a clear six days so that, by the time we reach Christmas Eve, staff can have a proper break without having to engage in the track and trace issues."

Christmas holiday dates in England

Many schools in England will now break up on Thursday 17 December for pupils, with 18 December being an inset day for teachers.

The official Christmas holidays for both pupils and staff members will begin on Monday 21 December and last until Friday 1 January.

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Many pupils will be required to return to classrooms on Monday 4 January, although some schools will have staff training days in place.

Holidays are set by each school and tend to differ, so for an exact date you should check your local council’s website where all the term dates, including half term holidays, will be listed for 2020 and 2021.

You can find your local council by typing in your postcode into the UK Government’s council finder.

Then make sure you go to the schools and education section of your council’s website.

What is an inset day?

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All schools in England have five inset days, or teacher training days, each year after they were introduced for school staff in 1988 by Conservative Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker.

They were brought in as part of many changes to schools, including the introduction of the national curriculum.

Inset stands for “in-service training”, with schools typically closing to students on these days to allow for compulsory teacher training.

The days were put in place to ensure teachers have the right resources and practices to deal with the day-to-day challenges of the job. 

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While teachers receive on-the-job training throughout the school year for development and learning, schools say inset days are a good opportunity for extensive training when pupils are at home.

Support staff are also often involved in teacher training days so all staff can complete their jobs to the best of their ability.

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