The longer school day debate has been high in the news this week with Michael Gove’s proposal of a 10-hour school day and shorter school holidays.
Those in favour of the extended school day state that it will benefit all involved: parents will be able to work full time without extortionate childcare costs and the children will benefit as they will receive a more well-rounded education including extra-curricular activities:
the school day would become less frenetic. At present, everything, from classes to clubs, is condensed into under seven hours of schooling. There’s barely enough time to digest school dinners, let alone summon up the energy to take part in extra-curricular activities.
However, the evidence to back this theory up is not as apparent as it may initially seem:
Thinking about pupils, there is little support globally for the notion that longer days or longer terms do much for standards (or that UK schools are open for a particularly short amount of time). As with so much of education, it is quality not quantity that really counts; not how many hours but how you use those hours. Austria produces the highest results in maths according to Pisa, for example, but spends less than half the time on maths instruction as the UK.
The concern that children’s attention spans will not be able to cope with these extra hours are mixed with the idea that school days are long enough as they are. Another issue is that in the winter it will mean pupils are travelling to and from school in the dark, an evident safety concern.
Supporters of the extended school day also suggest teachers could benefit under certain conditions, as Russell Hobby discusses in The Guardian’s Teacher Network:
Rather than being asked to do 1,265 directed hours and then another 1,000 hours of largely invisible and unrewarded time at often unsocial hours, what if teachers had a normal working day and more normal holiday, combined with proper protection from being forced to work any longer?
It has been established that this extra time in school does not necessarily mean extra time in lessons, rather time to do homework and partake in enrichment sessions such as sport. I think the main consideration here is the age of the pupils. Such long days in primary school, although may help parents that work full-time with the cost of childcare, would not necessarily be in the best interest of the child. Children at this age need family time, time to play and according to The Sleep Foundation, children aged 5-12 should be getting 10-11 hours sleep at night.
Many primary and secondary establishments already run breakfast clubs and after-school sessions, in which I believe more pupils should be encouraged to partake. I also agree with providing the opportunity to complete homework in a safe and calm environment, which may be something some pupils don’t have access to at home. If this remains voluntary, are the pupils that need it most going to benefit from it? I certainly think there is no one-size-fits-all solution and the proposal for a longer school day will certainly need more planning based on evidence rather than presumption.