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The summer holiday slog: supporting families through the school holidays  

The summer holidays can be a time of much-needed rest and relaxation for children and parents, but it can also be a source of anxiety for many working families that can’t access flexibility to manage childcare, and can’t afford additional childcare costs.  

In this context, a report focusing on education inequalities is set to recommend that England should rethink its traditional school calendar.

The report is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and proposes replacing lengthy summer holidays with shorter breaks, and extending half-term holidays to benefit both students and educators.

Under this plan, state school summer holidays would shrink from six weeks to four, while autumn and winter half-terms would increase from one week to two.

Why childcare support makes perfect business sense

While some parents and caregivers may welcome this proposal, it might not align with the preferences of many. Those people see extended holidays as vital for children to unwind from the pressures of school and simply enjoy being children.

Instead, what caregivers seek is greater support during school holidays to assist with childcare while in employment.

Regardless of the changes, parents will still need to cover the same amount of weeks holiday and will benefit from the support of their employers in managing this. 

Navigating changes in childcare routines amidst consistent work demands can induce significant stress.

On average, parents face 7.4 weeks of school holidays annually after exhausting their annual leave.

This challenge is exacerbated for single parents without a partner to share the load.

In heterosexual couples, women bear the brunt of this burden, often due to the gender pay gap. Consequently, the responsibility of taking unpaid leave falls disproportionately on women, exacerbating existing inequalities.

Why childcare needs to become an employer priority

Our research found that four in 10 families on a low incomes have gone into debt to manage childcare, nearly half have had to reduce their hours, and a fifth quit their job altogether to manage childcare.

Families struggle through the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be this way, and while more financial support is needed, employers can play a key role in helping parents manage this particularly pressurised time of year.  

So, if the six-week summer holidays remain, what can employers do to better support their teams around this time of year?

Cultivating a supportive culture 

When parents and carers feel the demands of family life are understood and appreciated, they can be their authentic selves, which helps people thrive.

Key to fostering this kind of culture is ensuring employees are aware of the support available and feel able to discuss their needs with their line manager, so skilling them up with the necessary training to be supportive and the tools to be consistent is a must.

Alongside this, a robust policy framework, leaders role modelling different ways of working, listening to staff, and celebrating diversity all help create a family-positive culture, which also helps appeal to new talent. 

A flexible lifeline 

Flexibility can help parents and carers work around the change in caring needs during the holidays. But it’s not only good for families, it’s proven to be good for business too, boosting productivity and increasing retention.

There are countless ways to work flexibly. From job shares to flexi-time, compressed hours to annualised hours, there is a solution for every kind of role. And flexible working can be short-term, in this case to manage the holidays, if a permanent change isn’t required.

From 6 April, all employees will have the right to request flexible working from day one of employment, which will give many more working parents the opportunity to request a working pattern that helps them to manage their work and home life. The Working Families website is full of resources for employers, to help them manage a transition to flexible working.  

Help employees know their rights 

There are different options available for parents and carers to tap into beyond annual leave. Parental leave is available to all parents up to a child’s 18th birthday. Up to four weeks per child per year is available, up to a total of 18 weeks. It is unpaid, although some progressive employers enhance this and offer a number of days paid leave per year. 

What to do when employees can’t get childcare

Parents can also use dependents leave, which is unpaid, although again is sometimes enhanced, which is designed to manage emergencies such as if usual childcare arrangements fall through. Some employers offer flexible annual leave, allowing people to buy extra days’ holiday. Employers can help parents and carers understand these alternatives through their managers, the intranet or parent or family networks, which are also invaluable in enabling parents to share tips or information on local clubs or activities.  

By Joanne Waterworth, head of employer services at Working Families