A School that Breaks for Winter
UK Virtual School has an unusual term structure in that we run from the first Monday of every month for 3 weeks only, with the 4th and 5th weeks (where applicable) as holidays. We take December completely off and also August, leaving a total of 10 months of teaching.
It wasn’t always like this.
We caught up with our founder, Syd, to find out why she decided to set up the school year this way.
“Back when we first started UK Virtual School in July 2020, our school year ran over 11 months of 3 weeks each (33 teaching weeks). That first year was really interesting as it was the middle of the covid lockdowns. It was an unusual year to say the least.”
3 Week Structure
“I had made the decision right from the onset that we would not have more than 3 weeks of classes at any one time. This was due to my own experience of working remotely and realising that zoom fatigue was real! Three weeks seemed the optimum time before tiredness kicked in. I also didn’t want to replicate traditional school term times – 6 to 8 weeks are ridiculously long, and tiring to both students and teachers. Teachers are constantly playing catch-up and students are unable to focus for weeks on end without breaks. 3 weeks seemed like the perfect length of time for classes. I even tested it out with our 15 trial students in June 2020. I did not know anyone else in the education world who had adopted this structure yet it made so much sense!
“The school has evolved over the years. We’ve played around with a few different things that we no longer do, including, live one-way webinar style classes, daily 30min sessions in core subjects for primary and also a 11 month academic year. As we tested out what worked and what didn’t, we took feedback from parents and children and teachers and evolved. I think now, in our 4th year, we have a solid structure that not only works but is effectively fine tuned for the online world.”
“That first academic year 2020-2021, we did actually have classes in December. It quickly became apparent that the students wanted to hibernate instead. Who blames them? I have always had the urge to stay indoors during the winter months, sleep most of the day and not work. I don’t believe humans are designed to work consistently throughout the year. We should be in tune with nature. I assume in our cavemen days we relied heavily on seasonal and weather input – I can’t imagine the productivity in spring matched that in winter. Yet in modernity, we seem to think we are super humans!
“So after a month of students turning up half an hour late to class, being ill constantly, not wanting to log in online and generally looking exhausted and being distracted by Christmas and family visits, we made the decision to ditch December classes altogether..
“For the past 3 winters, we have had no December classes. I can honestly say it has been the best decision. I encourage families to go and travel somewhere warmer, visit family or take it easy during this time and let your bodies rest and rejuvenate. It makes all of the difference!
“The students (and teachers) are ready to go again every January after a period of rest. It works perfectly!”
Benefits of a Monthly Break
“There are so many benefits to having a week off every month. From a teacher’s perspective, it gives them a chance to reflect on the month and plan for the upcoming 3 weeks. It’s not unusual for our staff to go on holiday during this time.
Here’s a list of benefits I can think of from the top of my head – there are probably lots more you can add to this:
- Catching up – we can’t help being ill but sometimes taking time out of lessons can mean students falling behind. Despite the fact we have video recordings available for our students, sometimes it can be difficult to catch-up with a routine in place. The break at the end of the month allows families to pause and breathe and use the time to fill in gaps, reflect and ensure they are all on track!
- Welcomed break – As I’ve mentioned before, a break every three weeks avoids zoom fatigue. On top of this, for those students who are SEN, a break every month can ease their experience. It doesn’t feel like an endless run of classes but more manageable.
- Cheaper holidays! – there are some months where our UKVS holidays do not coincide with school holidays. We all know what happens during school holidays. The hiking of prices during peak times is widespread in the tourism industry. Part of the benefits of home education is the flexibility to travel. Having a three week structure allows families to travel and not worry about catching up on classes
- Residential Trips – Having a week off at the end of every month(and sometimes two weeks when there is a 5 Monday month!), allows us to arrange residential trips! We had a fantastic first international residential trip to Morocco in Oct and Nov 2023. They both took place in our weeks off meaning that students didn’t miss out on classes. It’s a perfect opportunity!
4 Day Week vs 3 Week Month
“There’s always been hype around the 4 day week in the corporate world and its benefits. I honestly feel a 3-day weekend doesn’t allow you to fully switch off and a 4-day week means you just get stuck into work to be back on a long weekend break. Three days is also not long enough for a holiday – but a whole week is! Add the two weekends on either end and you get 9 whole days to switch off!
I think the 4 day week is overrated. Three week months all the way!”