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Category Archives: Education & Family

Ofsted admits some ‘outstanding schools aren’t that good’

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Some schools rated outstanding may no longer be as good as their rating suggests, Ofsted has said amid official criticism of its work in England.

A National Audit Office report found 1,620 schools, mostly outstanding, had not been inspected for six years or more, and 290 for a decade or more.

Outstanding schools were decreed exempt from routine inspections in 2011.

Ofsted bosses said there was no way of telling if these schools had since fallen into a “mediocre” category.

Although, inspections can be triggered at any school if a safeguarding concern is raised, or if there is a significant drop in results.

‘Effectiveness reduced’

Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, Luke Tryl, said: “What we can’t tell is if the levels of education in those schools judged outstanding 10 years ago are the same or whether it has changed to become middling, or mediocre or coasting.”

When asked by reporters if he was saying that some “outstanding schools aren’t really outstanding”, he replied: “Yes.”

However, many schools will have their “outstanding” label highlighted on their websites and on banners outside their premises.

And many parents base at least their initial views of such schools on these Ofsted rankings.

The NAO found the inspectorate’s “effectiveness has reduced” as a result of the decision by the Department for Education and Ofsted to end routine inspections for outstanding and good schools.

Ofsted said it had since been lobbying the DfE to reinstate routine inspections every six years for a primary schools and every five or seven years for a secondary.

Lack of inspectors

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said most parents were “savvy enough” to look at a range of evidence on school effectiveness and did not just rely on Ofsted rankings.

His organisation has also been arguing for inspections of outstanding schools to be reinstated, calling for one every five years or so.

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The schools inspectorate was also found to have missed its own targets on the re-inspection of the weakest schools – those rated inadequate.

The target of 24 months for such a re-inspection had been missed in 6% of cases, 78 schools, between 2012 and 2016, the NAO said.

These schools would have weak teaching, weak leadership and possibly some behaviour issues, Ofsted said.

The NAO report said: “Ofsted has extended some of the targets to allow schools more time to improve.

“This has also allowed Ofsted to spread re-inspections over a longer period.”

But Ofsted told the NAO it had found it difficult to meet its inspection targets because of cuts to its budget and because it did not have enough inspectors.

In 2015, it took a decision to bring all its inspectors in house after a string of complaints about inspections that had been contracted out to private companies.

This had left it with a shortfall of inspectors, although this had improved in 2016-17, the NAO said.

‘Cuts and shifts’

Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s chief operations officer, defended the decision to effectively reduce the number of inspectors, saying it was taken on quality grounds.

But he added that some of its most senior inspectors, HMIs (her majesty’s inspectors), had left to run some of the numerous multi-academy trust chains being formed at the time.

He said: “Becoming an HMI used to be a traditional end of career role, and it’s not like that any more.”

“It was a challenge”, he said, to compete with academy trusts able to pay salaries of £100,000 or more.

HMIs were paid about £70,000, he said.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: “The fact that Ofsted has been subject to constant cuts over more than a decade, and regular shifts in focus, speaks volumes.

“It indicates a lack of clarity about how best to obtain assurance about the quality of schools.

“The department needs to be mindful that cheaper inspection is not necessarily better inspection.

“To demonstrate its commitment, the department needs a clear vision for school inspection and to resource it accordingly.”

Free school transport lost for 20,000 rural pupils

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Rural communities face fewer bus services and lost subsidies for school transport

More than 20,000 children in rural England have lost access to free school transport, say local authorities.

The County Councils Network says budget shortages mean rural school transport is being cut to a “bare minimum”.

They say school transport costs are on average almost 10 times higher for councils in rural areas than for those in cities.

“We have had little choice but to cut back on free transport services,” said the leader of Oxfordshire council.

The County Councils Network says that data from 20 rural authorities shows that in 2017 there were 22,000 fewer pupils getting free school transport, such as buses and taxis, compared with three years before.

Councils blame the cuts on a lack of funding and the much higher cost of collecting pupils in the countryside, who might be scattered over a wide area.

They say it is even harder for communities already facing “dramatic reductions in rural bus routes”.

‘Vital local service’

Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said the loss of school transport would have a “massive impact” on rural communities.

Transport was a major issue for rural schools, he said, and social mobility would be damaged if parents could not access the schools they wanted for their children.

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Changes to rural transport can have a “massive impact”, says a head teachers’ leader

David Inman, of the Rural Services Network, said such loss of free school transport made it increasingly difficult for young people and young families to continue living in the countryside.

The County Councils Network, representing 27 county councils and 10 unitary authorities, says on average rural authorities pay £93 per pupil in transport subsidies – while urban areas pay about £10.

But in many places it is much higher – more than £200 per pupil in North Yorkshire, £184 in Shropshire and £175 in Northumberland.

The council group is warning that further school transport cuts are likely that will disproportionately hit rural areas.

Pupils under the age of eight are entitled to free transport if their nearest school is more than two miles away – and three miles away for older pupils.

But local authorities have often helped with transport beyond this statutory minimum – and this is now threatened with cutbacks.

Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said school transport was a “vital local service” but authorities were struggling to afford it.

“We pay a rural premium in delivering these transport services, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain subsidies,” he said.

“Regrettably, we have had little choice to cut back on free transport services for thousands of rural pupils and tighten eligibility. “

‘Relax A-level grades for some medical students’

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Academic entry requirements for medical degrees should be relaxed for students applying from the worst UK secondary schools, researchers say.

A study from the University of York says these students should be able to drop one or two A-level grades.

The study finds those on medicine courses with lower A-level grades do at least as well as their peers.

The Medical Schools Council said the research added “important data” to the entry requirement debate.

Competition for a place to study medicine in the UK is fierce, with about 11 or 12 applications made for each place on offer and entry grade requirements are high – at least AAA at A-level.

But the research paper says there is an over-representation of socioeconomically privileged individuals in the medical profession and that most of the schools that provide medical students are selective.

“It is known that 80% of UK medical students come from 20% of secondary schools and tend to come from economically advantaged backgrounds,” it says.

The researchers gathered and analysed data from 2,107 students who started medical school in 2008 and grouped them into three groups:

  • those with grades AAA
  • those with AAB
  • those with ABB or lower

They assessed their prior educational attainment and school background alongside performance on the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) and subsequent undergraduate knowledge and skills-related outcomes.

Their analysis found that those with lower A-level grades (AAB or ABB) from the worst secondary schools tended to have equivalent undergraduate performance to those from the best schools with top grades (AAA).

The study says: “Importantly, the findings suggest that the academic entry criteria should be relaxed for candidates applying from the least well performing secondary schools.

“In the UK, this would translate into a decrease of approximately one to two A-level grades.”

‘Able to keep up’

Lead author Lazaro Mwandigha said: “This study suggests that relaxing A-level grade entry requirements for students from the worst performing secondary schools is beneficial.

“Although there are important further questions about how to fairly classify schools, the study demonstrates that these students are, on average, just as able to keep up with the pace of a medical degree”.

Supervising author Dr Paul Tiffin said: “This study is the first robust evidence that grade-discounting for pupils from underperforming schools is justified.

“At the moment around 20% of UK schools are providing 80% of our medical students, so A-level achievement should be viewed in terms of the context in which a pupil learns in order to help increase fairness and widen participation in medicine.

“The NHS needs more doctors from under-represented minority groups – having doctors from a wider range of backgrounds would enable health professionals to better understand and meet the UK’s diverse healthcare needs.”

What do medical schools say?

The Medical Schools Council says it monitors medical schools’ performance on widening admissions.

Clare Owen, assistant director of the MSC, said: “This research adds important data to our understanding of how entry requirements relate to subsequent performance.

“The Medical Schools Council recognises the benefits of admissions which take applicants’ backgrounds into account and this year published a guide which collects together the best practice of medical schools as they implement contextual admissions.

“Each medical school must decide on the best approach for its circumstances. And this research will help them by making a significant contribution to the evidence base.”

Oxford University ‘failing’ on diversity, says Lammy

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David Lammy has accused the university of “social apartheid” before

Oxford University remains “a bastion of white, middleclass, Southern privilege” after “glacial” progress on improving diversity, David Lammy has said.

The Labour MP told the BBC the university was “failing badly”.

His comments came as Oxford University data revealed about a third of its colleges accepted three or fewer black applicants, in the past three years.

The university said it was “not getting the right number of black people with the talent to apply”.

Director of undergraduate admissions Dr Samina Khan told the BBC she was “pushing hard” on outreach activity to make sure those students felt welcome.

Oxford’s annual admissions report showed 11% of last year’s undergraduates were from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The proportion of students identifying as black and minority ethnic was 18% in 2017, up from 14% in 2013.

The number of admissions from state schools, during the same period, rose by 1%, from 57% to 58%.

The report also showed a divide between the north and south of the UK.

London and the South East made up 46.7% of UK applications between 2015 and 2017, (and 47.9% of students admitted) while the North East accounted for just 2% (2.3% admitted).

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Lammy said the university had to explain why – having looked at the data – a person was twice as likely to get in if they were white, not black.

Mr Lammy previously accused the university of “social apartheid“, after a Freedom of Information request by him revealed 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not award a place to any black British pupil with A-levels in 2015.

This prompted more than 100 MPs to write to Oxford and Cambridge urging the universities to recruit more students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.

Reacting to the latest figures, Mr Lammy said the problem was “self-perpetuating”.

“If you’re on the 20th floor of a tower block estate and you’re getting straight A’s, you apply, go for a difficult interview.. you don’t get in, then none of the other kids apply the following year.”

‘Eton row’

“It’s very elitist, very, very white,” student Taiwo Oyebola said. “For me, applying for Classics, I was very aware I’d be the only black person or one of a few people of colour.”

“We have this joke in lectures, I go in and there’s this group we call them the Eton row, because all the Eton boys sit there.”

Joshua Tulloch of the Oxford African and Caribbean students society said his organisation was involved in targeting younger black students.

“We have a vast access infrastructure which targets students from as young as Year 9,” he said.

“The university is supporting us in making sure that we are visible and people can see that they can succeed in Oxford.”

Oxford has said it must do more to attract talent from all backgrounds.

“We want a diverse university,” Dr Samina Khan told Radio 4.

The university has agreed to a scheme which would fund the interview travel fees of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It said it is doubling its spring and summer schools, which work with students from under-represented backgrounds.

United Nations: Is it out of touch?

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The UN is going to run global surveys to find the issues that are important for young people

The United Nations wants to gain a much better idea of what young people are thinking – and to stop feeling “paternalistic” and out of touch.

It’s going to launch a global, information-gathering poll four times a year, to take the temperature of the opinions of the young on issues such as education, family life and the internet.

Michael Moller, director-general of the United Nations Office in Geneva, said governments and institutions like the UN have not listened enough to young people.

“I am 65 and there are very fundamental differences in how people see themselves when they are 15 and when they are 65 – my generation cannot assume what the younger generation wants,” said Mr Moller.


He says that promises set out by the UN and the international community – like the “sustainable development goals” – need to be informed by the views of young people.

“The paternalistic approach to development does not work any more,” said Mr Moller.

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Michael Moller, at the back, says the UN needs to stop assuming it understands views of the young

“Asking these kids regularly what they think means that we get a serious database of knowledge of what young people across the world think about their lives, what are their dreams and aspirations.”

There has been a pilot for this United Nations’ Global Youth Poll, which is going to survey more than 25,000 people, aged 10 to 29, in 26 countries.

The first findings of the pilot poll, run by the UN Global Sustainability Index Institute, has been that 63% of young people do not enjoy school or university.

Young people in the US and UK are most unhappy in education, with dissatisfaction levels at 71% and 70% respectively.

By contrast, 49% of Mexican students and 44% of New Zealanders enjoy school.

Family attitudes

The poll reveals differences in how young people in different countries relate to their families – young people in Africa and Asia countries are more positive about spending time with family than Europeans and Americans.

In the UK, 32% of young people actively dislike spending time as a family, whereas 69% of young Vietnamese enjoy it.

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Young people in the UK are less likely to want to spend time with their family, suggests pilot survey

The poll found that young people in the US reported having the worst year in 2017 – a quarter said it was a bad year for them, while kids in Austria had the best year.

The data will give the UN a more reliable measure than ever before for comparing how government policies are actually affecting young people, according to the poll’s designer Professor Dan Cassino of Farleigh Dickinson University in the US.

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Michael Moller and the UN want to find how young people view education

It lets the UN compare how countries are performing by the same metrics, and avoids the danger of statistics being manipulated.

He said it will give a deeper assessment of the actual impact of policies, beyond simply looking at the amount of money invested, which ignores waste, fraud and inefficiencies.

And children’s brutal honesty means they often provide more reliable survey results than adults.

‘Throwing spaghetti’

“The advantage is that children don’t have a filter, they don’t mind telling you the truth even if it’s politically inconvenient or it puts them in a bad light or if they think it’s what the researcher wants to hear,” said Prof Cassino.

“Children are great as survey respondents simply because they don’t care what you want to hear, they are going to tell you it what they think whether you like it or not.”

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Dan Cassino says children can be brutally honest in their views

Prof Cassino hopes the frequency of the poll, and the possibility of direct comparison with other countries, will encourage governments to “act quickly to correct emerging problems, or emulate successful approaches”.

“When a government rolls out a new programme, normally we wait five years to see what the outcomes are,” he said.

“But now we should be able to see result on the ground in three or six months and that will let governments test a lot of new things, throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.”

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The United Nations in Geneva wants to keep relevant to the next generation

Mr Moller also warned that in preparing for the future, education systems must prepare for a continued rise in migration.

“Climate change is going to put tens if not hundreds of millions of people on the move in the next decades and the world isn’t ready for that, not even close,” he said.

“Many of these will be young people – the average age in some African countries is 14 or 15 – and these kids need to be educated to be able to survive, have a job, create a family, and have a meaningful life.”

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Bereavement lessons: Talking to children about death

Around one child in every classroom in the UK will suffer the loss of a parent or sibling – prompting calls for bereavement lessons in schools.

The idea is being backed by Emma Turner and her teenage son Jamie, whose dad died when he was four.

Oxfordshire-based charity Sobell House Hospice has developed a lesson plan to help children cope and support each other.

Video Journalist: Katharine Da Costa

‘Sharenting’ puts young at risk of online fraud

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“Sharenting” – where parents share personal information about their children on social media – is the “weakest link” in risking online fraud and identity theft, warns Barclays.

The bank says parents are compromising their children’s future financial security with so much online sharing.

Barclays forecasts by 2030 it could cost almost £670m in online fraud.

The bank’s security specialists say social media means identity fraud has “never been easier”.

Barclays is warning that parents might be “lulled into a false sense of security” and fail to realise they are making their children “fraud targets” in the future, by publishing so much personal information which will remain online.

Identity fraud

Parents are being told that information on social media is vulnerable to being misused to hack passwords or for identity fraud scams.

The bank says parents can reveal names, ages and dates of births from birthday messages, home addresses, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, schools, the names of pets, sports teams they support and photographs.

Barclays warns that such details, which will still be available when young people are adults, could be used for fraudulent loans or credit card transactions or online shopping scams.

The bank is forecasting that “sharenting” will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people by the end of the next decade and will cost £667m per year.

“Another decade of parents over-sharing personal information online” will produce 7.4 million incidents per year of identity fraud by 2030, says Barclays.

The bank is urging parents to check their online privacy settings and to make sure that they know what information is being made available about their children.

“Through social media, it has never been easier for fraudsters to gather the key pieces of information required to steal someone’s identity,” said Jodie Gilbert, head of digital safety for Barclays.

“It is vital to think before you post, and to carry out regular audits of your social media accounts to prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands,” she said.

French Muslim student Maryam Pougetoux hits back over headscarf claims

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Maryam Pougetoux received abuse on social media after appearing on TV while wearing her headscarf

A French student union leader who has been accused by ministers of using her headscarf for political gain has hit back, calling the claims “pathetic”.

France’s interior minister has personally criticised Maryam Pougetoux, who is Muslim, for being interviewed while wearing her headscarf.

“It’s my faith,” the student told Buzzfeed News, adding: “[My hijab] has no political function.”

Ms Pougetoux, 19, is the president of the student union at Paris’s Sorbonne.

She appeared in a documentary talking about student protests against the French president’s educational reforms while wearing a hijab, or Muslim headscarf.

The French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said it was a “form of promotion of political Islam”, adding that the students’ union Unef “should tell us what values it wants to promote, clearly and coherently”.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said Ms Pougetoux’s appearance in a hijab was a “provocation” that he found “shocking”.

Wearing the Muslim headscarf was banned in French schools and some other public buildings in 2004 but it remains legal in universities.

‘Hate messages’

In the Buzzfeed interview, Ms Pougetoux said (in French) the comments from politicians following her appearance on television were “pretty bad”.

“I did not expect it to go up so high that it’s almost a state affair. It is rather pathetic for a minister of the interior to make such remarks,” she said.

Students began demonstrating in March over plans to give public universities the power to set admission criteria for basic degree courses for the first time. This is in contrast to the present policy which guarantees graduates a place at a public university.

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While the hijab is banned in some public buildings in France, students can wear them at universities

Ms Pougetoux has also been the target of abuse on social media and said she had received “hate messages” after her phone number was shared online.

She told Buzzfeed she felt “fear” and that she had to be “careful” in public “because I did not know what could happen”.

The student union has said that Ms Pougetoux is a victim of “racist, sexist and Islamophobic hatred”.

France and the Muslim headscarf

A ban on Muslim headscarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols at state schools in France was introduced in 2004.

It received overwhelming political and public support in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law.

In 2011, France became the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places, while alternatives such as hijabs, which cover the head and hair, remained legal.

Under the ban no woman, French or foreign, is able to leave their home with their face hidden behind a veil without running the risk of a fine.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration introduced the ban, said veils oppress women and were “not welcome” in France.

France has about five million Muslims – the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe – but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear the full-face veil.

Greenwich University fined £120,000 for data breach

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University of Greenwich

The University of Greenwich has been fined £120,000 ($160,000) by the Information Commissioner.

The fine was for a security breach in which the personal data of 19,500 students was placed online.

The data included names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, signatures and – in some cases – physical and mental health problems.

It was uploaded onto a microsite for a training conference in 2004, which was then not secured or closed down.

In 2013 it was compromised and the information, which had been published alongside committee meeting minutes, was posted elsewhere.

In some cases it included individual students’ study progress, including reasons why they had fallen behind, and copies of emails between them and staff.

In one example, it was disclosed that a student had a brother who was fighting in a Middle Eastern army and references were made to an asylum application.

The breach was discovered by one of the students, who brought the matter to the attention of the BBC and the Information Commissioner Office (ICO)..

The Information Commissioner said Greenwich was the first university to receive a fine under the Data Protection Act of 1998 and described the breach as “serious”.

‘Significant distress’

“Whilst the microsite was developed in one of the University’s departments without its knowledge, as a data controller it is responsible for the security of data throughout the institution,” said Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO.

“Students and members of staff had a right to expect that their personal information would be held securely and this serious breach would have caused significant distress.

“The nature of the data and the number of people affected have informed our decision to impose this level of fine.”

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The university said it had reviewed its policies.

In a statement, the university said it would not appeal against the decision.

It said it had carried out “an unprecedented overhaul” of its data protection and security systems since the discovery of the breach in 2016, and it had invested in both technology and staff.

It also said the fine would be reduced to £96,000 with a prompt payment discount.

“We acknowledge the ICO’s findings and apologise again to all those who may have been affected,” said University Secretary Peter Garrod.

“No organisation can say it will be immune to unauthorised access in the future, but we can say with confidence to our students, staff, alumni and other stakeholders, that our systems are far more robust than they were two years ago as a result of the changes we have made.

“We take these matters extremely seriously and keep our procedures under constant review to ensure they reflect best practice.”

German police stop ‘truant’ families at airport

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German police are on the lookout for parents defying school rules

Police carrying out checks at an airport in southern Germany discovered several school-aged children travelling ahead of the holidays.

Reports concerning 10 families have now been sent to education officials in Bavaria, German media report.

It is believed the families caught at Memmingen Airport were trying to avoid travelling at the peak holiday time, which can be a lot more expensive.

In Germany parents are legally obliged to send their children to school.

The Memmingen families were allowed to fly off on holiday despite the questioning, a German police spokesman told the BBC. “It would have been disproportionate to take the children back to school, as the families had paid for their holidays,” he said.

The Spiegel news website reports that the parents now have two weeks to explain why they took their children out of school. If the reason is not good enough each family can be fined up to €1,000 (£876; $1,177).

Last year a case in England went to the UK’s Supreme Court, which ruled against Jon Platt, who had taken his daughter out of primary school in term time for a trip to Florida.

He had won earlier court battles against a £120 fine from Isle of Wight council, but the Supreme Court ruled that parents could be fined for unauthorised absences, except for reasons such as illness or family bereavement.

Read more on similar topics:

The rules in Germany vary from state to state. But fines are quite common (and home education is effectively prohibited). In Saxony, eastern Germany, fines of up to €1,250 are imposed on parents if their child has an unauthorised absence of five or more days in one school term.

The daily Sächsische Zeitung reports that fines were imposed in nearly 5,680 cases of truancy in the state last year, generating €618,000 for local authorities. The city of Leipzig had the most cases – more than 2,280.

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An Italian beach in August: Prices go up Europe-wide during school holidays

What happens in other countries?

In Austria, the authorities are increasing penalties for parents in similar cases. In January, Education Minister Heinz Fassmann announced fines ranging from €110 to €660 for parents whose children played truant.

The penalty would escalate depending on the length of absences, he said.

France relies on dialogue between school and parents to tackle truancy, but as a last resort a fine of €135 can be levied, LCI news reports. It can be cut to €90 for rapid payment, or raised to €375 for significant delay.

Do holiday times differ much in the EU?

Yes – the dates of school terms and holidays even vary from region to region in many countries.

In France, all children get two months in the summer (7 July-2 September), but the dates of their other holidays depend on their home region.

There is also much variation in school holiday dates among Germany’s states and in Switzerland.

The EU’s Eurydice education website reports that France has 162 school days in the academic year, though the figure is higher in upper secondary education. In most European countries the figure ranges between 170 and 190 days. But in Denmark and Italy it is 200 days.

At Christmas, nearly all countries have two weeks of school holidays.

But the summer break varies a lot. In the UK, some German states and the Netherlands it is six weeks.

But children in Italy get between 12 and 14 weeks’ holiday in summer, while many also get 13 weeks in Latvia and Portugal.