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Extending the school day is a bad idea

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Watch out school children and watch out mums and dads. It seems almost inevitable the school day is going to be lengthened as part of the post COVID-19, Education Recovery Plan. How long the school day will be extended by remains to be seen, but one option is to have a school day that runs from 8am until 6pm.

extending the school day
Will an additional 30 minutes on the school day be productive, or is it like giving students a detention?

Yes, you read that correctly. The Government’s Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins has suggested a school day ten hours long that would involve both academic and enrichment activities.

Let’s be clear, this is one of two options. The other option is a half-hour long extension to the school day that would focus solely on activities that are academic.

All things considered, I think the first option is a great headline grabber, a wonderful way to start the negotiations, as it were but it’s unrealistic. Option two, however, well, I can see it happening and I am not happy about it (neither are many other parents, according to Parent Ping).

I cannot help but think this is an extremely cynical plan. This doesn’t look like a way to help children catch up with lost learning. This looks more like a stealthy way to provide childcare so parents can work longer hours. Is this really about educational recovery, or economic recovery?

Whatever the logic, this is a blunt, one-size-fits-all solution to solve a problem that requires a response tailored both to the school and the individual student. Think about it: Little Johnny might have fallen behind with maths and Little Jane might have fallen behind with geography. Little Johnny and Little Jane need to be given extra help in these two subjects. Instead – it seems – their entire class will have to study goodness knows what for an extra 30 minutes each day.

It’s easy to write this off as simply an additional 30 minutes on the school day but it’s much more than that. In response to COVID-19, many secondary schools shortened their break times by 30 minutes to prevent different bubbles mixing. Let us assume schools revert to their old timetable (IE add 30 minutes on to break time). You’ve then got to add a further 30 minutes for additional, Government mandated study. Add in time traveling to and from school and you won’t get much change out of a ten-hour day.

It’s quite a significant alteration to the school day and one that could stop children from taking part in enrichment activities independently of school. If I think about my children, they are involved in sports clubs outside of school, one of my children performing at quite an advanced level. If the school day were extended by 30 minutes we would struggle to get her to her training sessions.

Learning does not just happen at school. These activities provide a valuable opportunity for lessons in teamwork, fitness, relationship building, training for success, learning how to deal with failure, confidence building, time keeping and so on. Anything that could stop children from partaking in these activities has to be challenged.

Added to that, youngsters are yet again receiving negative messages about their education. They’ve had Government ministers criticise their behaviour and repeatedly state that they’re falling behind. It’s not what they need to hear (…and let’s be honest, have us adults behaved perfectly during lockdown?)

I want to see the evidence that children have fallen behind. Perhaps my outlook is far too positive, but I don’t think our kids have experienced an educational apocalypse. They may have a few issues, they might face a few challenges and fallen behind a bit here and there. Yes, I’m sure that’s happened but I don’t think this generation’s educational abilities have been irreversibly stunted.

I totally appreciate that some youngsters live in circumstances where they have fallen seriously behind. Maybe they have not had access to the required tech, maybe they have special educational needs, maybe their parents have been unable or unwilling to help with their schooling.

I would like to see help and assistance directed at these youngsters. If you carte blanche make every kid study for an extra half hour a day, you’re simply going to perpetuate any inequalities in the education system.

It’s not that the Government hasn’t come up with some good ideas (honestly, it has, keep reading). I know there are genuine criticisms to be made of it, but the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) is a great way of getting tailored tutoring to pupils who need it. It’s also a good way of using Government money to support tutors who would otherwise be on the rock ‘n roll while there are no GCSE, A-Level or 11+ exams to study. Ultimately, the NTP provides the tax payer with tangible benefits. If it’s a choice between extending the NTP for youngsters who need the support or extending the school day because some kids might have fallen behind, I’d vote NTP every time.

I haven’t even got on to how an extension of the school day would impact on teachers. During term time teachers unquestionably work incredibly long hours and they have all the same stresses as the rest of us, needing to balance work and family life etc.  It just doesn’t seem to me like a good idea to burden teachers with further lesson preparation, marking, teaching and so on.

In essence, any extension of the school day has to be approached cautiously. Today it could be lengthening the school day, tomorrow the summer holiday might disappear.

We are dealing with children and families. Let youngsters have a childhood and let’s direct help and assistance to those youngsters that really need it, not put all school kids in detention for 30 minutes at the end of the school because no matter how we dress this up, that’s how the students will see it.

5 thoughts on “Extending the school day is a bad idea”

  1. As you know, my own children do lots of after school dance classes. Extending the day would undoubtedly impact on those. Other children do other activities, all very worthwhile. The government are just ignoring that and sweeping those enrichment activities aside. Penning a letter to my MP now!

    1. It is a totally daft idea Dave. I can see this having very serious ramifications. It just doesn’t solve the problem and strikes me as a way to appease readers of certain newspapers who just want to see something, anything, being done. I am also very suspicious that this is needed. Yes, in some areas of the country I am sure there is a very big problem with lost learning. Target the resources at these children, don’t splatter them across the entire generation because – in reality – not all kids need extra learning support.

  2. I think a voluntary extension until 6pm could work. Ok, yes, works from a childcare perspective. Not sure it does from a academic one. Nor would I want it to. If the voluntary additional hours are filled with extra curricular activities and not academic ones then for the parents that work childcare costs would be solved, some parents may go out to work. Child poverty would reduce and gender equality increased. As long as the children were taking part in fun activities (not the pretence of increasing educational achievement) it would be good for children too. I am not sure what the problem is with it being an economic solution! We have the highest childcare costs in Europe! The question is HOW could it be achieved? Teachers all ready have enough to do between 3.30pm and 6pm. I can’t see where they are going to find and fund additional teachers. BUT for it to work the activities for children need to be of high quality. I can see this working better in secondary than primary as things currently stand but perhaps there is less need for it from a childcare perspective. AND I very much doubt the Tory view of how those hours will be spent coincides with mine!!

    1. The issue here is that childcare is getting confused with education. The Government is very clearly talking about extending school hours. What is the aim? On the one hand the talk is about educational recovery yet it’s being designed in a way that looks more like a childcare set up. If it’s childcare, we should go down the route Denmark has, with state-backed childcare provided to everyone, but no tax credits or family benefit payments. Whatever happens, the needs of children need to be at the centre of whatever decisions are made. it shouldn’t simply be about helping parents work.

  3. My son’s school has offered optional catch up lessons, which he has refused to do. But I don’t have any worries about him, he worked hard during lock down and is bright for his age. My daughter’s school have a lot of children which would probably be more in need of extra help in catching up, but I hope that none of this will be forced. The hours are ridiculous for pupils and teachers. Who would want to be a teacher these days!

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