Schools have introduced two-week half-terms and slashed meeting times so they can extend the school day without breaching limits on teacher hours.
The government has been reviewing the length of school days after Sir Kevan Collins, the former catch-up commissioner, proposed classrooms stay open for an extra 30 minutes a day.
The Sunday Times reported ministers are expected to announce pilot funding this month for schools to stay open from 8am to 6pm.
The Guardian reported that Gavin Williamson, the former education secretary, was sounding out plans to cut the cap on teacher hours, currently 1,265 per academic year, to ensure schools could staff longer days.
But Schools Week has found leaders that already run extended days have managed to do so within the cap.
NET Academies Trust (NETAT) extended the school day at its primary schools in Harlow, Essex, by 40 minutes five years ago. This was used for extra-curricular and academic catch-up.
The trust extended the May and October half-terms to two weeks to free up teacher time.
School trials 30 day extension with two-week October break
A different model to extend the day by 30 minutes, with a two-week half-term in October alone, is being trialled at its Waltham Holy Cross Primary Academy. The impact of both models is to be reviewed at the end of this school year.
Jo Coton, the chief executive of NETAT, said: “It’s been an excellent initiative and we advocate a longer school day – our parents and staff are really supportive of it. Above all we have seen such huge benefits for our pupils in terms of catch-up, booster sessions, teaching more subjects and extra-curricular opportunities.
“Teachers and support staff make good use of it and are able to rest and recuperate during the longer half-term.”
Meanwhile, at Summit Learning Trust in Birmingham, each headteacher has carried out an audit on staff time to allow them to extend every day by an hour for year 11 pupils.
One of the trust’s schools found 55 hours of extra time per teacher by shaving 15 minutes from before and after-school duty each day, cutting six hours of meetings and four hours of detention time a year.
Vince Green, Summit’s education director, said: “I don’t think there’s a professional body who is saying it’s a good idea to abolish the 1,265.
“When you’ve got a good staff culture and you’ve got staff who are flexible and willing to work flexibly and balance working life with home life, then it works.”
Prominent trust cuts back on meeting time
Star Academies has also cut back on meeting time, including having meetings with teachers during assemblies, to enable after-school catch-up.
Star has also “overstaffed” by employing more English and maths teachers and has adjusted some staff hours so they work 9am until 4pm, rather than 8am until 3pm.
But Lisa Crausby, STAR’s director of education, said if the government wanted to extend the day for all pupils then, ideally, schools needed more funding.
“Extra money is always the answer as we can pay people for extra time.”
The government has this year handed schools £579 million extra cash to employ tutors to help pupils catch up. This is on top of the subsidised National Tutoring Programme.
Tutors can be current or retired teachers, teaching assistants or trainees – although some staff will need specialist training.
This year’s school teachers’ pay and conditions document also includes details of a new teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment.
A fixed-term award TLR3 can now be awarded for teachers who undertake planning and preparation, as well as coordination and delivery of tutoring. This includes when it is outside normal directed hours, but during the school day.
A freedom of information request by Schools Week in July showed the Department for Education had “no systematic data collection” of finish times in English schools.
But its school snapshot survey, due to be published this autumn, will contain information on school day hours based on a survey of 4,500 teachers.
A TeacherTapp survey this year found that only one in 20 primary schools and one in five secondaries closed before 3pm.
A DfE spokesperson said the government was “committed to an ambitious, long-term education recovery plan and an excellent education system that works for all”