This is old news now! The situation has probably flip flopped multiple times since I originally read the TES article that highlighted the Government’s plan to either add a mandatory extra 30 min extension or to fund a longer, voluntary 8-6 school day (8am-6pm-extended-school-day tes 2021). This Covid education recovery plan felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. This huge slap in the face to teachers who, on the whole, have worked tirelessly through lockdown providing online educational resources, lessons and support to a significant amount of students, thus being their educational rock through a national pandemic without warning or training. Then from this, secondary and post 16 education, having to wade through the immense amount of marking and assessments to collate accurate and unbiased portfolios of evidence in order to grade and rank our students in their final years (with little to no recognition of the added workload from the government let alone the exam boards) was a hard pill to swallow. But this isn’t a pity party, teachers did what they had to do and stepped up to face these new challenges.
So when I heard of the ideas being tossed around by our government to extend the school day, it hugely saddened me. Not because I would have to do more work but because it just epitomised how little the government recognises how hard teachers, students and parents have worked through this crisis. This punishment, without substance, proposes that adding three hours to the school day will somehow bridge the gap of where students currently are to where they ought to be. Now I understand this is very important in primary schools when learning the foundations for future education but as students get older all we are saying is that they are behind according the national assessments and grading structures designed by the system. Are these students actually behind? Is there really “lost learning” (extended-school-day-more-same-wont-do-much tes 2021)? Or are they just behind when looking at schemes of work and exam specifications designed by our educational system? Shouldn’t these be what change rather than extending the school day in order to crowbar more learning into the old system? I have found that students have developed other life skills such as resilience, independence, responsibility through having to deal with huge uncertainty and often many lost opportunities.
These assumptions made by the government, adopt the view that longer means better. But from looking at the research and evidence this can be seen as not necessarily the case. After following the research over the years produced by Inner Drive it is clear that there is much debate over a student’s attention span, with some saying only minutes whilst other research saying 10-15minutes (grab-and-keep-students-attention Inner Drive; ‘Do Students Really Have an Inability to Concentrate During Lectures?’ Bradbury, Neil 2018). A common feature between research is that attention span in general is low. So by extending the school day, this will not promote more quality learning it will just mean going through the motion for more lessons. As Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary pointed out, “It’s not addressing the most important thing, which is the quality of teaching, quality of support or quality of enrichment.”(8am-6pm-extended-school-day tes 2021)
Second of all when looking at schools across the world, their school day ranges from 5 hours (Brazil/ Finland) to 9.5 hours (China) but often the longer school days include a two hour lunch so that children can go eat at home (France/ Japan) (we-compare-school-days-around-the-world School-Days Blog 2019). So whilst their school day is longer this is because they have regular breaks and extended lunches not because they are covering more educational material. Finland, for example, usually only have a couple of classes a day, have no standardised testing and are flexible around homework and start time of the school day (grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare Guardian 2016). Whilst I am not saying we should adopt a Finnish strategy, it is interesting to consider that “Finland has been ranked as one of the happiest and most successful countries in the world, and most recently was ranked as the number one country for higher education by The Economist.” (IPS News 2019; finland-leads-second-year-globally-providing-future-skills The Economist 2019) Can we not take a leaf out of their book when assessing the mental health and well-being of our teachers and students which seems to be the real crisis area here? Plus, setting aside how much this would cost, a number of other red flags seem to have gone unnoticed: what about after school clubs, if students work until 6 when will they eat, what about homework, what about life away from education, who will be blamed if it doesn’t work?
Finally, and I will make this brief, the government are setting a new target for the number of teachers it wants to train before the end of this Parliament, as part of the education recovery plan. Why not look after the teachers you already have!?!