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The longest day?

Labour's shadow education minister Stephen Twigg is reported to be in favour of lengthening the school day. Some Free Schools and academies are said to be doing the same, or experimenting with the school week in other ways. Michael Gove would seem to be in favour, or at least in favour of experimentation.

When you look at international comparisons, England and Wales are not out of the mainstream. We do a higher than average number of days and a school day of probably about average length. (We are talking averages here: in my area schools finish as early as about 2.30 and as late as nearly 4.00.) The Germans are unusual in that they start very early at 7.30 and finish very early at 1.30. The French and Spanish finish quite late, which may be explained in part by their latitude and climatic factors.

One can see certain advantages to a longer day: the chance to include more in the curriculum, a greater range of activities (including more "extra-curricular"), the opportunity for more independent learning, including homework, which many children do not do even when they finish at 3.00 or earlier; finishing later may reduce anti-social behaviour after school and may suit parents as far as child care is concerned with younger children. Stephen Twigg argues that a longer day prepares children better for the 9-5 world of work.

On the other hand, the school day is demanding already, both on children and teachers. Do we wish to take away even more time from family life? If you add homework to a longer day, do we want to make school days a drudge? If the longer day is crammed with "academic" work, do we risk limiting a child's other social and extra-curricular activities?

I have observed the long French day for many years and have not been persuaded that you need to work beyond 4.00 at the very latest. I do see a case for limiting the amount of homework we sometimes impose on dedicated children. A slightly longer day would be a social leveller and allow the less dedicated to get things done at school. It may allow a little time for supervised private study too and a little less of the "factory approach" to education, as it is sometimes labelled.

And what about the teachers in all of this? Here is an international comparison of teaching hours from 2008.

Unfortunately there is no data for England and Wales, but you will note that the Scots feature very near the top. If you do your own calculation you will probably find we are not far from the top of that league. My French colleagues do significantly less than us.

I reckon we work too many hours already, so any length of school day would have to be accompanied by more teachers or supervisors. Is that going to happen in the current climate?


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