New government research reveals pupil and teacher attitudes towards a longer school day. Did they say what you expected?

Last year, when he was still Chancellor, George Osborne announced a quarter of secondary schools would receive cash to operate for longer hours. It was all part of a plan by former education secretary Nicky Morgan to make schools more family-friendly and cover parents’ working hours, which are rarely 8.30am to 3pm.

One year on and the policy was scrapped. The new education secretary, Justine Greening, transferred the funding into cash for new sports facilities – in part to make up for a shortfall in money for needed building works. (And last month we learned the cash has been reshuffled again to make up for general budget shortfalls).

But who made the wisest decision? The politicians who wanted to extend school hours or the one who kept things as they are?

A new government report released today reveals what parents, teachers and school leaders thought of the idea.

 

Do people want more hours for academic learning?

Nope, not really. Schools, parents and pupils were not massively supportive of more study time.

Most of the concerns were focused on teacher workload, with even parents raising the issue of morale. It was also thought that pupil behaviour would deteriorate.

 

Do people want more hours for extra-curricular activities?

The majority of surveyed parents liked the idea of longer hours for extra-curricular activities. Teachers and school leaders were more negative.

Schools already rely heavily on teachers giving up breaks and lunchtimes in order to run free clubs. Making after-school clubs compulsory for an extra hour at the end of the day might needle away at this goodwill, especially if people running clubs after school receive payment.

Also few schools had ring-fenced cash to use for extra-curricular clubs. In a couple of instances schools had hired fundraisers to get grants for after-school projects. Otherwise clubs were funded in a hotchpotch way: case-by-case; using department budgets; taken from pupil premium pots. Almost no one felt their extra-curricular offer could expand without further cash.

Can private or charitable companies help?

The report notes that one way to create more resource for clubs is using external providers and it includes various case studies of schools doing this successfully.

But the interviews revealed that schools are reluctant to use companies for after-school clubs for three reasons:

– Cost

– A teacher still needs to be present, and

– It is difficult to verify quality

Parents were also reluctant about third-party groups as they felt their use often introduced extra charges

Also while there may be more capacity in private companies to support schools with after-school clubs, there is not as much as might be expected. And even if there were, schools cannot use it because of its cost.

 

So, should after-school extra hours be compulsory?

The forced nature of longer days bothered people. Osborne and Morgan’s vision was that longer days would help working parents. But parents and teachers seem to think a forced extension would suck the ‘fun’ out of activities.

Transport also caused problems. Many children are only able to get one train or bus service and so cannot stay longer. In other families, older children need to leave on time to pick up younger siblings, or to work in a family business, which would be disrupted by compulsory longer hours.

 

Future governments, take note! Here are the BIG barriers to extending school hours

If any future government does want to extend hours, the report helpfully lists the issues that must be tackled

1. Cost – extra clubs, for every pupil, every day, won’t come cheap. Either teacher contracts must change to cover the hours (good luck arguing for that), or parents will need to be charged (also a tough argument)

2. Transport – if pupils can’t get home later then they won’t stay behind

3. Quality marks for third parties – without established indicators of how good a company is for providing extra-curricular activities, schools remain suspicious of using them

4. Payment – if providers are paid for clubs but teachers are not, this causes tension. Either everyone should be paid, or it should be run by volunteers

5. Family and wider community – some children are needed by their families, and others already complete extra-curricular activities elsewhere, for example they are in a dancing troupe or play a competitive sport. Figuring out how to accommodate these needs matters for longer days

6. Access to facilities and equipment – some schools barely have enough space for all their pupils to be sat down in lessons at the same time, let alone trying to have them all dashing about the place doing various extra-curricular activities

Some solutions to the extra-hours problems

The report also does a good job of providing some solutions to the tricky extra-curricular problem.

Including:

1. In multi-academy trusts, employ a central team to oversee extra-curricular activities: This group can sort contracts with external companies and share resources across schools

2. Pool resources: I know of at least one academy trust who share their music teachers across their schools, moving around each day. Local authorities also used to do this. It’s smart.

3. Offer training to staff (especially teaching assistants) to update their skills: particularly in the case of teaching assistants, who should not have a marking load, there is more capacity for after-school work. If given more training in a skill this could enable them to run a club.

Who was right then?

So who was right, Osborne who wanted to expand hours, or Greening who said things are fine as they are?

The report suggests Greening’s decision was sensible. By and large, schools are happy with their extra-curricular provision and even a touch more cash wasn’t going to solve other problems, such as transport or the lack of quality providers.

It’s interesting to note that this research was carried out until February 2017. That’s the month before Greening revealed the stepdown on the extended day. Could it be that this report was what convinced her? It would be nice to think a politician was making an evidence-based decision for once!