Do children need a longer school day to catch up?


Tanith Carey (pictured) says government should spend on improving quality, not quantity


by Tanith Carey

Can you imagine getting the following message from your bosses in your inbox?

Dear Employee, thank you for your efforts to keep working at home during the lockdown.

“While we appreciate your effort in getting your work done online, we’re sorry to say it didn’t make up for the productivity gap.

“To rectify this, we are introducing a longer working day to improve your performance. This is not negotiable.’

As an adult who just went through one of the most challenging and stressful years ever, you would be rightfully angry.

Now imagine how our kids — who have no choice — will feel if the government pushes ahead with the latest think-tank idea to extend the school day.

Thanks to SATs, GCSEs and A-levels, English youngsters are already among the most tested in the world.

They also spend longer in class than most countries in Europe, averaging seven hours a day.

Then there’s the fact that even before the pandemic, our kids were stuck in a mental health crisis.

This has already led to an increasing number stubbornly refusing to attend school – now estimated at around 770,000, according to figures released last year.

So if the government plans to spend billions to help students “catch up,” is it really the best idea to chain kids to their desks when their concentration is already exhausted?

If there’s money in the pot, I’d say let’s spend it on improving quality, not quantity.

Let’s spend that money on improving student-teacher ratios, with smaller class sizes, so kids get the personalized support they need.

The concentration of the students is already exhausted

A series of studies show that success in school doesn’t depend on how long you leave children in the classroom. It comes from how you use those hours.

Finland, for example, has one of the shortest school days in the world – just five hours – and achieves some of the best results.

At least post-pandemic will keep schools open longer – but do this so students can use their school libraries to do homework, and so it could be a home away from home, hosting sports clubs and social activities, and offering pastoral care .

This allows children to catch up on the life skills they really need after being in lockdown for so long.

Given what the younger generation has just been through, a much better message from education ministers would be ‘Well done’ rather than ‘Could be better’.

Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says she's all for a longer day at school helping kids catch up

Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says she’s all for a longer day at school helping kids catch up


by Melanie McDonagh

So the government’s plans for Covid catching up in schools could very well include a longer school day.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Education announced that children in England will receive up to 100 million additional hours of education as part of a £1.4 billion programme.

It comes after a leaked report by Sir Kevan Collins, the former Education Restoration Commissioner, suggested schools could introduce a 35-hour minimum week by 2022 to help children catch up.

In his view, it would be up to schools to choose how they allocate this time (and extra money), but in practice it could mean adding an extra half hour to each school day. They may offer even longer days, for example from 8am to 6pm.

Bring it on! While reports suggest Sir Kevan’s plans have been shelved by the government, I say they should start in September.

The goal is to help children catch up on education they missed during the pandemic — about 115 days on average. Actually, it felt much longer than that for my kids, now 14 and 17.

There were really two pandemics: one for private schools, one for public schools. Private schools had a normal school day, online only. Students had the same schedule and homework requirements.

There are entire fields that they haven’t done

In fact, for some private students, the lockdown was very pleasant – one parent told me that her daughter was doing well because she wasn’t too concerned about her appearance. (My daughter, meanwhile, became feral.)

Lucky them. Because in many state schools, the lockdown was terrible – at least the first time. As far as I could see, there was almost no education. Instead, the work was left online to complete.

Some children loved to pretend that technical difficulties prevented them from attending classes. Despite my best efforts, I’d rather think my daughter was there.

I’m all for a longer school day to help kids catch up. My only complaint is that Sir Kevan’s focus seemed to be on what he calls the three T’s: time, teaching and tutoring. It would be a shame if the extra hours came at the expense of extracurricular activities.

Some of the additional funding should go towards physical and social activities such as chess clubs, drama or (for schools lucky enough to have playing fields) team sports.

Children, of course, need time to play. But the loss of so much learning means there are entire fields of study that they haven’t covered. A longer school day is much needed and, like it or not, my daughter will be at the front of the line.