The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has shortened the December holidays for this year, as it begins a process of reassessing the school calendar.The DBE last Thursday published a notice in the Government Gazette calling for comments to change the holiday timetable. This year, the school year will be knocked back one week, and public schools will now close on December 12. The decision, made by the Council of Education Ministers, was to ensure there was sufficient time for the school curriculum to be completed before teachers went off to mark matric examinations. Teacher unions, however, questioned the decision, highlighting the fact that this decision allows teachers far fewer days of leave. The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) felt the shortened holiday period would make no real change to the preparations for matric pupils.“The curriculum and assessments are completed long before educators go for matric marking, hence impact on delivery is minimum,” said Naptosa CEO for KZN, Thirona Moodley. “Naptosa members are up in arms regarding the drastically shortened December vacation. The December vacation period is the only one that teachers can consider a holiday as during other holiday periods they could be called for duty.” Moodley said the DBE recently released a circular indicating teachers would have to attend workshops during the July and October holiday periods. “This translates to the December vacation the only ‘real’ holidays the teachers can enjoy.”Alan Thompson, of the National Association of Teachers Union (Natu), said the union would not tolerate the DBE shortening the December holidays of teachers. “We don’t want any tampering with the number of leave days. Teachers don’t get the normal 21 days of leave during the year, and their only leave is the December period. “We will analyse all proposals made [to the DBE], but the priority is the number of leave days. So we’re not endorsing or objecting to a potential change just yet.”Thompson also highlighted the need for the DBE to employ more matric markers per exam marking centre, saying currently the workload was “too hectic”, and could lead to mistakes.“If there are mistakes, then the lives of the learners [are] affected. The DBE choosing to postpone the start of the holiday for more learning time is good, but there are issues here that we don’t want to take focus away from.”CEO of the Governing Bodies Foundation, Tim Gordon, agreed that the fourth term was too short, but said the DBE should have started the 2019 school year a week later after it decided to postpone the end of this year’s calendar. He said school calendars were made years in advance, so pupils and parents would have been well informed of the change.