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2 September, 2004

Stealth laïcité?

Thirteen local education authorities (LEAs) in England (not the rest of the UK, yet) started an experimental reorganisation of the school year today.  Hundreds of schools will operate six terms, rather than the traditional three terms.  Most other English LEAs seem likely to follow in September 2005.

This might seem a trivial change, as the three terms have always been divided into six half-terms, but the new ones are of standardised length and the intervening holidays have been revised to provide fortnight-long breaks between two autumn terms of seven weeks duration and four spring terms of six weeks duration. The summer holiday will be about five weeks long.
That's reading between the lines of an earlier BBC report, but I suspect two holidays, presumably the first and third spring breaks, would need to be only a week long if that figure of a five-week summer is correct.

Significantly, the spring breaks will be fixed rather than varying to accommodate Easter*; when Easter happens to fall during the new term times, it will just be marked by a long weekend. I'm particularly pleased with this, as it breaks the overt link between the education system (state) and the christian festival (church) without denying practitioners an opportunity to mark the occasion as they wish. Personally, I wouldn't give special treatment to any religious festivals (or equal treatment to those of all religions, not merely christians; just preferably none (vive la France!)), but this is a workable compromise.

*: The Council of Nicaea issued the Easter Rule in 325, which states that 'Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox'.
However, the 'full moon' in question is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon, and which doesn't necessarily occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical 'vernal equinox' is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.

But you knew that, of course.

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