School holidays: should we really hope for a return to both zones?

School holidays: should we really hope for a return to both zones?

There are too many holidays and too busy days», President Emmanuel Macron launched in the middle of summer 2023. At Christmas, another debate came to the fore: should we return to two zones for the short school holidays in February and spring? “It’s not part of my immediate plans to see it the school holiday calendarto merge zones”Gabriel Attal, then Minister of National Education, indicated in November The Kindergarten House on France 2.

While a school calendar committee, bringing together teachers’ unions, parent-teacher associations and communities, has been working on the issue since last spring, the issue has systematically resurfaced since the first February holiday was established in 1968. Should there be three or two holiday areas for children? The well-being of schoolchildren would conflict with the economic interests of ski resorts and seaside resorts, according to education historian Claude Lelièvre.

Why three zones A, B and C?

Since the three zones that Prime Minister Michel Rocard wanted for road safety reasons in 1991, the distribution has remained the same. However, originally the winter holidays were divided into two zones, each benefiting from two weeks of holiday in a row. Only in 1972, at the insistence of tourism professionals, did we move from a division from two to three zones, explains Claude Lelièvre, honorary professor at Paris V. Logic: more customers over a longer period would allow tourism operators to better fill their coffers.

The two weeks of spring break, which arrive five years later, follow the same three-zone division. But in 1979, doctors and chronobiologists launched their counter-offensive. An alternation of seven weeks of school and two weeks of vacation during the year would be ideal for the pace and learning ability of the children. This calendar would imply a return to two zones, to avoid prolonging the school periods of certain academies by spreading the rest periods too widely between the zones.

Two or three school holiday zones? Mitterrand and Giscard d’Estaing

This school rhythm was eventually (re)adopted under François Mitterrand by Minister of Education Jean-Pierre Chevènement, in 1986. For a short time… A back and forth conversation on this subject ensued. “Under Giscard d’Estaing, who made a mockery of school timetables, we went back to three zones in 1988. Before the Jospin law on the orientation of education, which in 1989 again shifted the holidays to two zones: the interests of youth take precedence», says Claure Lelièvre. After the bad weather in the winter of 1991, it was difficult to return from the February holidays, mainly because there were too many motorists on the road. We need to distribute holidaymakers better, the return to the three current zones is final… until further notice.

Three holiday zones: making holidays accessible to everyone

According to Grégoire Mallet, marketing director of the operator VVF Holiday Villages, which takes 450,000 French people on holiday every year, families and tourist operators benefit from this division into three zones. “By spreading the holiday areas, accommodation becomes more accessible to as many households as possible. If we were to combine our offers over two weeks, we would have to increase our prices because we would get more requests in a shorter period of time“. Market law requires that the more demand there is, the more pressure there will be on prices.”This would be inevitable for all tourism stakeholders“, he specifies.

And the tourism lobby?

Historian Claude Lelièvre emphasizes that the division into three zones serves the tourist lobby. “When the decision was made to return to the three zones in 1991, Edmond Maire, former Secretary General of the CFDT and close to the Prime Minister, was chairman of the VVF Holiday Villages association. It was necessary to move in this direction, despite the fact that the Education Council, on the advice of doctors and chronobiologists, voted in favor of preserving the two zones.“, he explains. To which the marketing director of the tourist operator responds: “Edmond Maire was a trade unionist, a humanist. During this period of growth, we have mainly strived to make holidays accessible to as many people as possible, for the well-being of everyone.“.

The division of holidays into three zones has remained intact for more than thirty years. The opinion of the teachers’ unions and parents, in favor of a return to the two zones for the educational interests of children, is only advisory in relation to the opinion of the Prime Minister of Education. So the three areas still have good days ahead of them.

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