Mayo County Council has called on the Minister for Education to standardise the back-to-school date to September, with councillors claiming that the early return is having a ‘devastating’ effect on the tourism industry in the county.
In recent years, pupils in both primary and post-primary schools have started to return to school after the summer break in August, and not the first week in September as was tradition.
The tourism industry claims this early return is not good for the economy, and at yesterday’s monthly meeting of Mayo County Council, councillors unanimously called for the Minister for Education to enforce a September date.
The matter was raised by Achill-based councillor Paul McNamara, who said that the tourism season in tourist hotspots like Achill was being cut short by two weeks because of the early return to school.
“Some of the schools, believe it or not, were back on August 21. That’s two weeks gone out of August in our tourism season. In my opinion this is having a devastating effect on our tourism industry, on our seaside resorts in particular. Once the end of August comes the seaside resorts empty out.
“In my opinion, if the date is standardised to September then that means there is an extra two weeks of a tourism industry which we haven’t at the moment. With the past three years it [the tourism season] has been cut short every year, and this year was the final nail in the coffin … Holidays are based around the back-to-school date,” he said.
Cllr McNamara said that a number of businesses were left short-staffed at the end of August because the young staff they relied on during the summer had gone back to school.
He said the Department of Education should standardise the date for returning to school like it has the other school-year holidays.
“I am calling on the Council here today to support a resolution to the Minister for Education that he standardised a back-to-school date to September. They have already standardised the midterm break, our Easter and Christmas holidays, surely they can standardise a back to school date for September.
“Unfortunately the tourism season is being cut short. We have already heard that 10,000 jobs are at risk due to Brexit. All of these are having a devastating effect on the tourism industry,” he concluded.
‘Lazy hazy days’
According to the Department of Education guidelines, schools are required to be open for a minimum of 167 days at post-primary level and 183 days at primary level. School summer holidays are not standardised, and schools may use discretionary days to determine the precise start and end of the school year.
“Schools will normally re-open during the week in which September 1. However, the school year may start in the week prior to that in which September 1 falls if this is necessary in order to meet the overall requirement of a minimum of 167 days at post-primary level or 183 days at primary level,” the guidelines read.
Cllr McNamara’s motion was unanimously supported by his fellow councillors, with many noting that tourists start to dwindle the after the second week in August.
Cllr Christy Hyland said children should not have to think about school until September. “I have met people in the tourism sector who usually have plenty of tourists right up to the last days in August. But you could see this year, around August 15, people were talking about going back to school. The lazy hazy days of summer for young people to run wild and free to enjoy themselves are over,” he lamented.