The length of the school day has played havoc with working parents, mostly mums, for years. It sees many of us rushing out of the office at 3.00pm to make it to the school gates whilst our colleagues scour at our mid afternoon escape or we fork out a small fortune in childminders or we beg favours from other mums or rope in the grandparents.
So I welcome George Osborne’s announcement yesterday that schools will be able to bid for some of the £285m made available for English secondary schools to open longer.
Of course, once they have reached secondary school they are fairly self-sufficient so for working parents a longer primary school day would help.
Many a time have I have discussed with other parents, over a glass of wine or two, that a longer school day is much more conducive to modern living and working. Not to mention there would be no more tiresome excuses from the benefit brigade on how they need to be there for little Johnny, Jemima, Jennifer, Jordan and Jimmy so they can’t possibly get a job.
The longer school day for secondary school parents is still a bonus. Whilst many have homework clubs after school, they are voluntary, being able to complete your school work within the school takes the pressure off tired working parents who have to cook dinner, provide a taxi service to sports clubs and oversee homework before flopping into bed and doing the same thing all over again the next day.
When we decided our local University Technical College (UTC), new schools which focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, was the best place for my youngest son, one of the attractions was a longer school day. Although, now I work from home, it wasn’t about being more in keeping with office hours, it was the fact that most work is undertaken in school. No more battles over homework.
‘Oh my God,’ his sister had said when we first started looking at the UTC. ‘You’re so lucky, I wish I could’ve had a longer day and no homework.’
It’s not quite no homework. They do have private study time which is guided in years 10 and 11 and there will be times when they have to work from home, but the majority of their work is completed at school.
The day runs from 8.30am-4.30pm Monday and Friday and until 5.00pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. However, the school is currently consulting students, staff and parents about shaving off half-an-hour from the day. That works for us as we are the furthest outpost of the UTC at 16 miles away, but if I was closer I would be opting for the longer day.
So yesterday’s announcement in the Budget that money will be made available to enable schools to operate a longer day (amongst other things including transforming all schools into academies taking them out of local authority control), I thought it was a good move.
As with these things, the devil will be in the detail. Making the money available for 25% of schools will give some pupils advantages over others and whether the longer day in these schools would then be compulsory is another question. If it isn’t compulsory, chances are the very kids who would benefit most are unlikely to attend. Plus many schools already run after school clubs, homework clubs and revision sessions so will it just mean they can bid for the money to fund what’s already in place rather than make additional changes?
Our system is already heavily criticised for working our kids too hard and placing them under too much pressure. But here’s the thing, a longer day at school doesn’t have to be filled with more sitting at desks, getting to grips with trigonometry or writing essays on the representation of women in Shakespeare. They can do more sport, drama, music or art. All those subjects which have come under threat because they are not ‘academic’. And it means those who struggle to complete homework can do so in an environment where help is at hand if they need it.
Of course, the big question is resources. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves and there’s a recruitment crisis. They cannot be expected to extend their responsibilities even further and put off the hideous pile of marking until much later in the evening. I used to sit next to a teacher at the ice rink at stupid o’clock on a Saturday morning while our kids skated. I would write articles (still do) and she marked books. It’s not a 9-3.30 job with 10 weeks’ holiday.
The money George Osborne has promised to make the longer school day a reality will have to be largely committed to providing extra staff and not expecting overworked teachers to spread themselves even more thinly. The 25% issue would need to be looked at soon after implementation and once take-up has been understood. The question of whether schools should make it a compulsory extension to the school day rather than voluntary also needs to be tackled. But as a concept, it has my vote.