Should_the_school_day_be_extended_? (Sam Curran)

The length of the school day has always been a contentious issue. It has long been debated whether extending the school day would have an impact on children’s educational achievements.

Although schools have slight regional variation up and down the country, the average length of a school day in the UK is from about 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. which includes 5 lessons, a morning break and lunchtime. Depending on each school’s provision for extra-curricular activities, children may stay on after school (or before in some cases) for additional activities (often sports and interest groups). More of this later. Is the school day long enough? And perhaps to a lesser extent: How should we structure our school day?

Many people have voiced their opinion that the school day is to short and that it needs to be extended sufficiently so pupils will improve academically. Certainly this has cross-party agreement. Michael Gove recently voiced his preference for a 10 hour school day and Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary said that that children should spend more time in schools to prepare them for the world of work. Predictably, this was met with backlash from teaching unions who argued that this would stretch already overworked staff even further and reduce the quality of their performance.

The question you do have to ask yourself is: in what job to workers clock off at 3:30p.m or even earlier than that? However, do we want to liken going to school as having a job and being a chore? Or is there a way of lengthening the school day without doing this?

Around the world, the UK length for the school day is on a par with many other countries. However, Asians countries such as Japan and China have longer school days. Their school days typically run from 8-5 often with study sessions and supported activities often running quite late into the evenings. In addition to this, they may have sessions on weekends and holidays are often spent in study camps and summer schools. This approach does seem to pay dividends for these countries as they well known for their educational success and economic weight. Could a similar approach pay off in Blighty?

To some extent, this has already been trialled here. Private schools like Eton and Harrow run often beyond 5 o’clock as do many other selective institutions. However, these schools benefit from prestige and small class ratios (typically 8:1).

A more interesting example is that of Great Yarmouth primary academy in Norfolk. The school day at this school runs from 7:45 to 6 p.m. So this school adheres to Gove’s ideal of a 10 hour school day. Pupils can attend a free breakfast club from 7:45 a.m. and school runs from 8:55-3:30 and after school children take part in compulsory extra-curricular activities like cello lessons, first aid, sport and even rocket engineering at Cambridge University. The really nifty bit is for the final hour of school pupils get help with homework. Cynics will note that this academy is sponsored by a millionaire and other schools will not be able to finance this approach. However, teachers don’t actually have to take part in extra-curricular activities and the homework help is actually provided by teaching assistants who are of course paid considerably less than teachers. This rewards staff who put extra hours in and echoes the sentiments of Unison who are in favour of a banked hours scheme where staff are paid extra for additional hours they work. Results have improved at the school (it was once deemed a failing school by Ofsted) and most importantly the pupils are enjoying it.

There is the obvious issue of whether this would leave children tired and rob them of valuable family time. However, in an era where parents work longer hours and often get home late would the pupils be actually missing out at all? Could this sort of scheme provide free childcare for pupils and keep them occupied and out of trouble? So potentially it could save parents money and reduce social unrest.

Of course there are problems with this, the main one being whether staff would want to commit to these longer hours. However, in schools I have worked with many staff have been quite keen to take part in extra-curricular activities. It is a chance to get to know the pupils in a more relaxed, informal context and to build a relationship with them. It also provides teachers with a break from the classroom and keeps them fresh for the next day. For pupils, it might make school seem more of a home and fun place and somewhere they enjoy going. At every school I have worked a, pupils have always loved extra-curricular activities. It could even be used as a behaviour management technique by removing privileges from pupils if they misbehave. Studies have also shown that pupils who take part in extra-curricular activities generally have better results than those that don’t. Astonishingly, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) found that schools who offered 30 or more activities were more likely to have nearly 100% of pupils achieving GCSE grade B or above.

Implementing this approach would need a bit of creativity and may reduce the time for meetings and admin, but surely this would be beneficial for teachers and allow them to concentrate on pupils more. Personally, I believe this approach should be applied throughout the school as well as after school: before school, breaks and lunches you could have homework clinics and study groups/interventions which should be compulsory for pupils to attend. It keeps students occupied and stimulated and might even allow for a clearer division between school and home: completing homework and revising in supporting environments outside of lesson time will allow pupils to gain access to specialist approach which they can only benefit from. It might allow pupils to have less work to do when they get home so they can relax.

Going down this route would generate some opposition: even the scheme at Great Yarmouth Academy motivated over 100 people to sign a petition against the scheme and 13 pupils were withdrawn. The fact is though that any change will always produce conflict, but the long term benefit of this scheme would be huge. The most successful schools I have been in have been the ones which have extensive extra-curricular provision and are also open to pupils on weekends and holidays to use the sports facilities (perhaps casually or something organised like a soccer school/holiday scheme) and also academically like having events such as booster classes, revision sessions and summer schools. The least successful schools I have observed have been the ones where pupils cannot wait to get out of the door at home-time and rarely stay behind for any activities.

All of this seems to indicate there are certainly some benefits for extending the school day. With many authority figures also in favour of this, there could be a change in the school landscape soon. Food for thought indeed.


QR Code
QR Code extending_the_school_day (generated for current page)