All over Europe, the school year is over. But while for some students, the summer holiday started – at least – a month ago and will continue until September, for others, it has fairly recently begun and will end within 4 to 6 weeks.
In the 37 countries surveyed by the Eurydice network (the nations participating in the Erasmus+ programme*), the minimum cumulated length of holidays lies between 100 and 120 days. Yet, in 13 of these countries, it exceeds the limits on both sides of the spectrum. Malta has the longest break (135 days), and, completely on the opposite, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway count for a minimum of 87.
For most students, summer breaks last between 9 and 12 weeks, and the school year finishes between the end of May and half of July. But even if classes in most places start around September 1st, the exceptions stand out for the differences setting them apart from the averages. For example, in Denmark, some German Länder, some Swiss cantons, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands (where summer break usually starts at the earliest during the second week of July), students will have a six weeks break before returning to school.
Conversely, in most Italian regions, Latvia and Malta, the holidays last 13 weeks, with Maltese students returning to classes last at the end of September. Where summer breaks are shorter, schools can open as early as the beginning of August. In Denmark, lessons start on the 8th this year, and in some Dutch regios (or “areas”), on the 21st.
Where the school year last longer
Besides surveying how many free days European students in primary and secondary education have, Eurydice also accounts for the annual teaching hours per country. As for its aim, the network, funded by the EU Commission, provides up-to-date, useful and reliable information to help policymakers take decisions in the education field. It releases reports calculating the length of teaching time and free time during the mandatory years of study. And draws the status quo and possible repercussions of longer or shorter in-class teachings. Its reports, for starters, point out the positive effects of increased time for learning combined with the quality of education, extra learning time outside school and specific support offered to disadvantaged students.
This year’s data show an overall increased number of teaching hours compared to the previous survey that covered the 2020-2021 school year. A shift that, according to the study, is due to some important reforms introduced in countries like Finland or Romania. And to the addition of subjects to the curricula, as happened in Austria and France.
The count of free days vs teaching hours during a school year fuels considerations about students’ performances. And the effectiveness of the lessons taught to children in mandatory learning years. Eurydice’s report acknowledges directly: “The amount of instruction time available to students is an important factor in their learning process. […] the quality and the time available for learning can have a positive effect on student achievement and can compensate for weaknesses in other areas such as students’ capabilities or willingness to learn. [Longer] instruction time allocated to a specific discipline can help to raise students’ interest levels in that subject, and subsequently improve performance”.
However, it continues, “The positive relationship between increased instruction time and student achievement is, in effect, more apparent when the increase is accompanied by other support measures and directed at disadvantaged students, for instance, those who have a less favourable home learning environment.”
Reading, math and natural sciences
Which teachings are most learned in European schools? Overall, reading, writing and literature predominate, especially in primary schools. On average, the minimum time for these subjects was 25% of the school year – with France, Cyprus, Austria, Slovakia and Turkey registering the highest percentages (above 30%). Almost everywhere, less emphasis is given to these subjects in secondary education. At these levels, more time is allocated to natural sciences (including physics, chemistry, environmental sciences and ecology.)
The second longes-taught (compulsory) subject in primary education is mathematics. Similarly to reading and writing, its portion in the curricula decreases in secondary school. In those years, more time is dedicated to foreign languages or other scientific teachings. According to data, in about half of the countries considered, maths teachings occupy between 16% and 19% of school time, translating into an average of 641 hours – from the minimum of 305 recorded in Bulgaria to the maximum of 1.056 in Luxembourg.
The other field surveyed is social studies. It includes, for example, history, geography, civic education or philosophy. Since those topics are not compulsory in many countries or all levels of mandatory education, the time dedicated varies among nations and between primary and secondary grades. Being it because they often fall into a time flexibility scheme or because they are combined with other topics in about half of the countries, in primary education the percentage of school time dedicated is usually between 3% and 13%. It is below 5% in Denmark, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Finland, and above 10% in Sweden and Turkey.
* 27 EU members, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.
Alley Oop’s newsletter
Every Friday morning Alley Oop arrives in your inbox with news and stories. To sign up, click here.
If you want to write to or contact Alley Oop’s editorial team, email us at email@example.com.