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Should The Government Implement Longer School Days?

The government has still not ruled out lengthening the school day in England to help pupils catch up on lost learning over the pandemic.

£1.7 billion catch-up funding has been made available for those who have suffered the disruption of school and college closures.

A report by the Department of Education was commissioned earlier in the year to explore how extra time in school may benefit students as part of an education recovery plan, the results of this report and any decisions made from it, will be set out later in the year.

Ruth Marvel, Chief Executive of the DofE, said: “The package of tutoring and teacher training will play an important role in supporting young people’s learning and tackling the growing attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, however, education recovery is about more than just academics.

In order to learn well, young people need to feel well, feel energised and feel confident – and youth wellbeing has taken a battering during the pandemic. That’s why extracurricular activities and youth programmes – from sport and creativity to outdoor learning and social action – must also be an integral part of the recovery package.”

The potential extension to the school day is expected to be 30 minutes, however this isn’t the only measure under consideration.

Ministers are also discussing financial incentives for teachers to work in more challenging areas and schools, allowing some pupils to retake the year in situations of extreme learning loss, and offering summer well-being programmes for all ages.


What Do School Leaders Think?

The majority of school leaders do not support an extension to school hours, believing that the move could be counter-productive.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said; “Many schools already run after-school activities and holiday clubs but this is totally different from a blanket requirement to grind out more hours of learning from tired children with the likelihood of diminishing returns.”

More than 70% of school leaders believe that individual and small group tutoring for struggling pupils, run by the schools themselves, should be the focus of education recovery rather than forcing an entire school to run longer hours.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, a trade trade union and professional association that represents more than 45,000 members, has asked the government to fund more flexible solutions that allow schools to “to get on with the job in the way they know works best”.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We know that quality of teaching is more important than quantity.


The Pros of Longer School Days


More Time For Teaching

This can be see as either a pro or a con, as one could say for example that more academic teaching time = less time for other valuable activities. However lets explore it as a pro for now.

Over the last century mankind has amassed a staggering amount of knowledge, especially in STEM where knowledge is advancing at speed and there are lots of job opportunities.

Giving teachers more time allows them to cover a greater range of topics and explore existing subjects in more detail, and this can offer our children an advantage in a global market.


Modernising Our School System

One reason for our current school day structure and indeed holidays, has been linked to agriculture – it has been speculated that children may have been needed to help with harvesting produce over the summer and that agriculture may have even influenced our choice of hours that the school day runs over.

The vast majority of children no longer have families that work in agriculture and modern households have changed in many other ways too. To move forward as a nation, it makes sense to at least examine the reasons for our school calendar and/or day.

By opening up the conversation and being open to change, we are ensuring school schedules are in touch with modern needs and not simply habits hanging over from the past for antiquated reasons.


More Convenient For Parents

Children leaving school even 30 minutes later each day will offer many parents notable financial benefits.

The working hours of the average full time job is rarely confined to school hours, forcing parents to pay for after school care. 30 minutes of daily childcare cost reduction spread over an entire year may amount to significant savings.

Aligning school hours closer to working hours could be viewed as a progressive way of helping working families.


The Cons of Longer School Days


Unproven Benefits For Children

While some studies have shown a correlation between longer school days and academic achievement, other studies contradict this and the results are highly dependant on other factors such as quality of teaching, student ability and more. There is no real evidence that increasing tuition time will make a difference.

Some nations (USA for instance) already spend more time in the classroom compared to other nations, and yet many of the other shorter school day nations, achieve more academically than the USA.


Increased Costs

The economic cost of keeping children in school for longer is huge. The government would be required to fund an increase in teacher salaries (plus other ancillary staff that support schools).

Some parents may prefer this, as those who are working full time are paying for after school child care themselves, and this moves more of the financial burden onto government instead.

However those parents that do not use after school child care at all (and indeed people who do not have children), may not appreciate their tax money being used to fund longer school days that they may deem as unnecessary and wasted spending.


It Limits Time For Other Activities

While academics are important for our children, there are many other activities they can participate in, that should also form part of their learning.

Children should be given the time to explore a broad range of activities such as dance, sports, music and other art forms, as these extra curricular skills will enrich their lives. Indeed some children may even excel in these fields sufficient to form a future career in a non academic role.

Taking a further 30 minutes of each child’s day to expend on academic learning only, may not be in their best interests and may not lead to a successful future.


The Extra Time May Be Ineffective

There is a finite amount of energy and focus anyone has for active learning. Once we reach this limit we burn out and every moment of teaching time after that is not effective.

It is proven that during the afternoon in a typical school, primary aged children will experience mental fatigue and failing attention, this reduces their ability to retain any of the information they’re being taught. Lengthening the day by 30 minutes isn’t necessarily going to result in them learning more.

In addition, failing attention in the afternoon often leads to an increase in low-level classroom disruption from some students, such as excessive movement, talking and general fidgeting. This disrupts the learning of the entire class.


Teacher Burnout May Reduce Teaching Quality

We’ve talked about how children burn out during the school day and how each child has a finite amount of energy; the same applies to adults (teachers).

UK teachers already experience one of the highest workloads in the world, do we really feel that allocating them a greater workload is going to result in higher teaching standards and greater student attainment?

We already know that the standard of teaching provided, is far more important than how many hours a child is taught for. It will always be quality of quantity.


In Conclusion

One of the biggest issues facing the government in terms of deciding what is best for the future of our children, is a lack of studies within the last 50 years on the impact of longer school days, and this goes for all countries.

Regarding the most recent studies we do have access to – are the results of Germany, Indonesia and Argentina in the 1970s really a comparable model to the UK in 2021?



Further Reading

The Government Education Recovery Plan News Update 

The School Day and Year Briefing Paper March 2021 (House of Commons Library) 

School Days Around The World