Schools will be “asked to offer” a week of at least 32.5 hours by September 2023, under plans to be set out in the government’s white paper.
The minimum hours will be an expectation rather than a new statutory duty for schools. But Ofsted will be asked to report on schools that miss the target if they are also found to be providing a poor quality of education.
Government data also suggests the announcement would only impact a small number of schools, as most already operate weeks of that length. The majority of those that don’t are already very close.
A 32.5-hour week equates to a six and a half hour day, Monday to Friday, or the equivalent of a school being open to pupils from 8.45am to 3.15pm each day.
Six and a half hours is already the average length of the school day in England, but education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said last year he wanted to see all schools “move towards” that average.
However, proposals from former education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins to extend the school day were not taken forward by the government last year.
Collins, who resigned over the government’s failure to implement his plan, estimated around 10,000 schools were below the 6.5 hour mark.
A review of time spent in school concluded that extending the school day would involve “significant delivery considerations” including teaching capacity, new legislation and accountability measures to ensure quality.
Instead, the spending review allocated £800 million for more funded provision for 16 to 19-year-olds.
Most schools already meet government target
A further 41 per cent of primary schools and 35 per cent of secondary schools run a day that is between six hours and fifteen minutes and six and a half hours long, meaning they would only need short extensions to comply.
Just 8 per cent of primary schools and 5 per cent of secondary schools run a school day of less than six hours and fifteen minutes.
Ministers accepted “most school weeks” nationally were already the required length, but there is “discrepancy across the country”.
“A child who receives 20 minutes less of teaching time per day would lose out on around 2 weeks of schooling per year,” the government said.
The change “aims to bring fairness for every child no matter where they go to school, and provide enough time for engagement with the full breadth and depth of the curriculum, as well as any mental health or catch-up support children might need”.
Ofsted asked to report on lower hours
The DfE told Schools Week the new minimum hours expectation would not be a new statutory duty for schools. However, Ofsted will be asked to mention lower hours in reports on schools that don’t perform well against its “quality of education” judgment.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said he was “unconvinced by the benefits” of a minimum school week expectation as “the vast majority of schools already meet, or come very close to meeting, this expectation”.
He said it would be “important to understand the factors which may lead to fewer hours in some schools”. For example, start and finish times in rural schools may be affected by transport considerations.
“Adding time on to the school week may sound straightforward, but there are many issues which need to be considered in individual schools, and we would encourage the government not to rush any changes.”
Schools white paper due out on Monday
The schools white paper is due to be published on Monday, and the government said it would “set out how the system will drive up standards to make sure children and young people can fulfil their full potential in the classroom”.
Schools Week reported earlier this year that the white paper will set an ambition for all schools to become academies by 2030. We also revealed how allowing councils to run multi-academy trusts was one policy under consideration.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the plans set out in the white paper, “from world class teaching to more inclusive, calm and supportive school environments” had been “crafted to continue work already begun to level-up outcomes across the country and deliver on overarching ambitions for pupils’ achievements by 2030”.
The government’s much-delayed SEND review will be published on Tuesday.
The SEND review will take the form of a green paper and full consultation, and will “build on education support and change the culture and practice in mainstream schools to be more inclusive, helping the workforce to adapt to every pupil’s needs”, Zahawi said.
Together, the white paper and SEND review would “give parents the confidence that their local school will support children regardless of their needs, while specialist provision remains in place for those who need and want it”, he added.