Do kids need a longer school day to catch up?

As the Government pledges up to 100m hours of extra tuition for pupils…Do kids need a longer school day to catch up?

  • Children in England will be offered up to 100 million hours of extra tuition
  • Tanith Carey says Government should spend on improving quality, not quantity
  • Melanie McDonagh says she’s all for longer school day to help children catch up 

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


by Tanith Carey

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

‘Dear Employee, thanks for your efforts to keep working from home during lockdown.

‘While we appreciate you did your best when doing your job online, we are sorry to say this did not make up for the shortfall in our productivity.

‘To rectify this, we are introducing a longer working day to improve your performance. This isn’t negotiable.’

As an adult who’s just come through one of the most challenging and stressful years on record, quite rightly, you’d probably be angry.

Now imagine how our kids — who have no choice in the matter — are going to feel if the Government pushes forward with the latest think-tank idea to extend the school day.

As it is, thanks to SATs, GCSEs and A-levels, English youngsters are already among the most tested in the world.

They also spend longer in the classroom than most nations in Europe, at an average of seven hours a day.

Then there’s the fact that even before the pandemic, our children were becoming mired in a mental health crisis.

This has already led to a rising number persistently refusing to go to school — now estimated at around 770,000, according to figures released last year.

So if the Government is planning to spend billions to help pupils ‘catch up’, is it really the best idea to use it to chain children to their desks when their concentration is already exhausted?

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

Let’s splash that cash on improving pupil-teacher ratios, with smaller class sizes, so children get the personalised support they need.

A range of research reveals that school success doesn’t depend on how long you put children in classrooms. 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 gets some of the best results.

Post-pandemic, by all means, keep schools open for longer — but do this so that pupils 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 will let children catch up on the life skills they really need after spending so long in lockdown.

Considering what the younger generation have just come through, a far better message from education ministers would be ‘Well done’ instead of ‘Could do better’.

Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says she’s all for longer school day to help children catch up


by Melanie McDonagh

So, the Government’s plans for a Covid catch-up in schools may well include a longer school day.

Yesterday the Department for Education announced that children in England will be offered up to 100 million hours of extra tuition as part of a £1.4 billion programme.

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

Under his idea, it would be up to schools to choose how to distribute this time (and extra money) but it could, in practice, mean they add an extra half-hour on to each school day. They might offer some even longer days — say, 8am to 6pm.

Bring it on! Though reports suggest Sir Kevan’s plans have been put on ice by the Government, I say they should start in September.

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

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

In fact, for some private pupils, lockdown was really rather pleasant — one parent told me her daughter was flourishing, because she didn’t worry about her appearance so much. (My daughter, meanwhile, was going feral.)

Lucky them. Because in many state schools, lockdown was dire — at least first time round. As far as I could see, there was next to no teaching. Rather, work was left online to complete.

Some children had a lovely time pretending that technical issues prevented them from joining classes. Despite my best efforts, I rather think my daughter was among them.

I’m all for a longer school day to help children catch up. My only quibble 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 pity if the extra hours came at the expense of extra-curricular activities.

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

Of course, children need time to play. But the loss of so much learning means that there are whole subject areas they haven’t covered. A longer school day is desperately needed and, like it or not, my daughter will be at the front of the queue.  

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