01 Jun Teaching unions criticise plan to extend school day in England
Teachers’ unions have criticised government plans to extend the school day in England by 30 minutes and said they could potentially do “more harm than good”.
Education unions also said that the £1.5bn funding package fell far below levels needed to help children catch up on learning lost because of the pandemic.
The unions’ comments came in response to a plan drawn up by Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s education recovery commissioner, which proposes a minimum 35-hour week and 100 hours of additional schooling compared with existing timetables in many state schools and colleges.
However, those close to the negotiations say that, despite No 10’s support, opposition from the Treasury could mean the scheme is significantly reduced in scope from Collins’ proposals, with its anticipated £1.5bn funding allocation falling 10 times below the £15bn recommended by the commissioner.
Commenting on the report, which was leaked to the Times newspaper this week, Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The marginal gains that might be possible through extending the school day must be weighed against the costs of such a strategy, including the impact on pupils’ mental health, reduced family time and less time for extra-curricular activities.
“The government could end up doing more harm than good by adding more classroom hours to children’s school day.”
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. It will be vital that these proposals are properly resourced and don’t become an unsustainable burden on schools, leaders and teachers. And there will be many questions about exactly what the expectation will be over the content of longer school days.”
He added that extra staff time would need to be funded properly to prevent any additional workload for leaders and teachers “who are already stretched to breaking point”.
Alison Peacock, the chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, said that elongating the school day could leave pupils feeling they were being punished for events outside their control.
“The youngest children by the end of the existing school day are often very tired. Children with additional needs may find this very difficult,” she said.
She recommended that school leaders be given flexibility to decide how to spend any additional funding since they knew what worked best for their pupils.
“I would like to see resources for art, dance, drama, music and sport, all the things that motivate youngsters to want to be in school. That breadth is needed to enable the basics to flourish. They need to want to be in school not to feel that they’re being forced to stay longer beyond their will. We want them to love learning.”
Unions were also critical of the reports of the Treasury’s funding shortfall, which Barton described as “concerning”.
“Frankly, if that is the case, then the plan is likely to fall at the first hurdle. It is hard to see how £1.5bn spread over three years could possibly deliver the proposals that have been outlined,” he said.
He added that there would be “alarm bells” in schools over the suggestion in the leaked documents that Ofsted would play an expanded role in monitoring schools. “It is hard to see how more inspections would be helpful for schools that are already under the cosh of an accountability system that is extremely harsh.”