Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00517-22 Various v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Schools prioritise holidays over learning”, published on 29th December 2021.
2. The article reported that “SCHOOLS are increasingly giving pupils a two-week break in October, despite warnings that the move could harm efforts to help children catch up on tuition they lost to the pandemic”. It included a quote from a co-founder of a parent campaign group, who had said: “This is absolutely not the year to increase the number of days off school for pupils. Children have already missed so much school. It’s just a mad thing… it could set back catch-up plans.” The article went on to state that schools can set their own holiday timetables, but they must offer the “statutory minimum 190 teaching days each year”, and that “[a]ll the local authorities and multi-academy trusts that have moved to a two-week October half-term will maintain the statutory 190 days by adding extra teaching time elsewhere in the year”.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, headlined “State schools increasingly adopting two-week half term for the ‘mental wellbeing of teachers’”.
4. IPSO received 129 complaints about this article, all of which raised similar concerns. The complainants said that the headline was misleading to claim that schools were prioritising holidays over learning and that this was not supported by the text of the article, in breach of Clause 1. The complainants said that the headline gave the misleading impression that schools were spending less time teaching overall due to the introduction of the two-week break in October. They said that this was contradicted later in the article, when it was clarified that all schools who had chosen to move to a two-week October half-term would maintain the statutory 190 days and add extra teaching days later in the year. Complainants further said that the quote “[schools] are increasingly giving pupils a two week break in October, despite warnings that the move could harm efforts to help children catch up on tuition they lost to the pandemic” added to the misleading impression that students would receive fewer days of teaching overall.
5. Complainants also said that they considered the quote given by the co-founder of the parent campaign group was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 to state that “[t]his is absolutely not the year to increase the number of days off school for pupils”. They said that this inaccurately claimed that students would be getting more days off school in total, which was not the case.
6. The publication said it did not accept that the article had breached the Code. The publication defended the headline and noted that the article explained that an increasing number of multi-academy trusts and local authorities had decided to move to a two-week half-term break in October. It said that therefore, there would be one less week of teaching in 2022, and that while the number of teaching days over the whole academic year would remain the same, this could be described as schools ‘prioritising’ holidays over learning. It made clear that it did not dispute that over the course of the academic year the number of teaching days would remain the same. The publication further said that prioritising something over another does not necessarily mean that there will be less or more of either over a period of time, but rather one thing is treated as more important than the other. It added that many teachers, pupils, and parents consider the autumn term to be the most important part of the school year. It went on to state that for pupils who will sit their GCSE and A-levels in summer 2023, an extra week off in October would mean that teaching time has been lost, as the summer term mainly consists of revision and exams, and in this respect, it was again accurate for the headline to summarise that holidays are being prioritised over teaching. The publication went on to say that care had been taken over the article, which was written by the Telegraph’s Education Editor, who spoke to experts for the article as well as asking another reporter to carry out a survey of every local authority and the major multi-academy trusts to see which implemented a two-week October half-term. The publication also added that the sentence outlining the point about the 190 statutory teaching days was marked as a “must keep” when it was sent to sub-editors, to ensure it appeared in print.
7. Regarding the quote: “[schools] are increasingly giving pupils a two-week break in October, despite warnings that the move could harm efforts to help children catch up on tuition they lost to the pandemic”, the publication said that this was not misleading. It said that it was reasonable to suggest that in 2022 schools should carry on with the process of catching up and keep up the momentum, rather than having an extra week out of school at an important point in the academic year. It said that it did not consider the reader would be left with the impression that there would be fewer days teaching overall, where the article made clear that the statutory teaching days would be maintained by adding extra days of teaching later in the year.
8. The publication said that the quote given by the co-founder of the parent campaign group where she said that “[t]his is absolutely not the year to increase the number of days off school for pupils. Children have already missed so much school. It’s just a mad thing… it could set back catch-up plans” was a reasonable opinion held by her. It said that the quote did not suggest that pupils would be getting more days off school in total, and that the co-founder made no mention of academic years. It said that she was expressing her opinion that following a period of unprecedented disruption, schools should maintain momentum and focus on the teaching, and that this is not the time to extend a school holiday. The publication further added that the ordinary reader would not be focused on the fact that the article was published at the end of 2021 and that the co-founder’s position was that this was not the moment, nor the time to be taking more holidays. It said that the fact that the teaching days are made up later in the academic year did not mean that the co-founders quote was inaccurate.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee first considered the complainants’ concerns that the headline was misleading. The print headline had stated that schools were “prioritis[ing] holidays over learning” and the article quoted the co-founder of a parent campaign group’s criticism of reducing the number of teaching days “this... year”. The complainants considered that this headline, in combination with the article, suggested that the two-week October break would reduce the overall number of teaching days in the 2022/2023 school year. The publication said that the article made clear that schools which had decided to introduce a two-week October half-term would maintain the statutory 190 teaching days by making up the teaching time in the subsequent terms. It considered that it was entitled to report criticism of the disruption posed by the extended October holiday.
10. Considering the headline on its own, the Committee noted that it did not state that learning was being replaced by holidays, rather that schools were ‘prioritising’ holidays. The Committee noted that it was the publication’s characterisation that schools were ‘prioritising’ holidays over learning, and that warnings had been given that this move could affect children catching up on teaching after the disruption of Covid. It was the Committee’s view that where additional holiday time was being allotted to the autumn term, which the newspaper said was widely viewed as the most important part of the academic year for learning, there was a basis for this characterisation. The Committee then turned to the article as a whole and considered whether the headline was supported by the text of the article. It was the Committee’s view that the article made clear that there was not going to be a reduction in the overall amount of teaching days over the course of the academic year. The Committee did not consider the headline misleadingly suggested that schools were to increase holidays in total, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. Complainants had also expressed concerns about the claim that “[schools] are increasingly giving pupils a two-week break in October, despite warnings that the move could harm efforts to help children catch up on tuition they lost to the pandemic”, as they considered it added to the misleading impression that students would receive fewer days of teaching overall. The Committee noted that neither the above claim nor the rest of the article, made any claim that students would receive fewer days of teaching overall, and, furthermore, it was explicitly stated in the article that adjustments would be made over the subsequent terms to accommodate all the statutory teaching days. The publication was entitled to report that more schools were moving to a two-week break in October, and that this move had been criticised. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. Lastly, the Committee turned to the complainants’ concerns that the comment given by the co-founder of the parent campaign group was inaccurate. The Committee noted that her reference to “this… year” in referring to additional “days off school” was somewhat ambiguous, as she did not specify whether she referred to the academic year or a calendar year. However, in considering this point, the Committee had regard for the timing of the article: it was published shortly before the beginning of a new calendar year and was referring to changes to the autumn half term, which would occur in the next academic year, rather than the current one. As such, the Committee was satisfied that the “year” referred to in the quote was the forthcoming calendar year – 2022 – rather than the 2022/23 academic year. While the Committee acknowledged complainants’ concerns, it noted that it was not in dispute that 2022 would see fewer teaching days for the schools due to the longer half-term. While these days of teaching were to be moved later in the academic year, they would fall within the following calendar year, 2023, and therefore it was neither inaccurate nor misleading for the co-founder to state that “this is… not the year to increase the number of days off school for pupils”. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 29/12/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/06/2022Back to ruling listing