Education Secretary considers lengthening school day

Education Secretary considers lengthening school day

Nadhim Zahawi wants all schools open for 6.5 hours each day to help more pupils recover from the Covid crisis.

During education questions, the newly appointed education secretary said there are some "excellent examples" of schools which have implemented longer teaching hours and urged all institutions to ensure they are operating for the average school day length of 6.5 hours.

His comments came as a response to Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee Robert Halfon who called on Mr Zahawi to continue to make the case for lengthening the school day.

Ministers have previously been urged to extend the school day to help children catch up on lost learning after the disruption they have faced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Halfon said "We know from the Education Policy Institute that it increases educational attainment from two to three months, especially amongst disadvantaged pupils. We know that a longer school day, according to the department for culture, media, sports, increases numeracy by 29%. So, this increases educational attainment."

"Will he at least consider some pilot schemes in disadvantaged areas around the country where we can have a longer school day?"

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Mr Zahawi replied: "I think the priority has to be for those children and students, who have the least time available to them to recover, which is why the £800 million for the 16 to 19-year-olds additional 40 hours of education is so important. Plus, the £1 billion going into secondary and primary, making the total £5 billion of recovery money.

Nadhim Zahawi said there were "excellent examples" of schools that already run extended timetables to give children more time in the classroom.

Before he urged all schools to ensure they taught children for at least 6.5 hours a day, Mr. Zahawi said he will examine the case for a longer school day.

Back in June, then education secretary Gavin Williamson said there was "a debate to be had" over extending the school day for children to be able to catch up following reduced face-to-face teaching time during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Williamson questioned whether some pupils should be exiting their school gates before 3pm and whether the midday lunch break had been "condensed" too far.

He suggested lengthening school hours would allow for extra learning time and longer lunch breaks.

In response to Mr Williamson's comments, shadow education secretary Kate Green warned that while she agrees that schools should be given more funding to extend their learning provisions, "children won't learn well if they are tired and if it has been a long day".

'Children's happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised'

teacher in class

Echoing Ms Green’s response, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said in a statement: "The gains that might be possible through extending the school day must be weighed against the costs of such a strategy, including the impact on pupils' mental health, reduced family time and less time for extra-curricular activities.

"Children's happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised as well as their education."

Ministers have already implemented post-COVID catch-up plans worth £1.4bn for school pupils in England, with the extra funding to be spent on tutoring sessions to make up for learning time lost during the pandemic.

rishi sunak budget
In last month's Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged an extra £2bn for education recovery from COVID, bringing spending on COVID catch-up since 2019 to nearly £5bn.

But critics pointed out - even with the extra cash - how the sum is still less than a third of the £15bn asked for by the government's former education catch-up tsar, Sir Kevan Collins who resigned in protest because the money was not enough.

Sir Kevan had pushed for a package worth up to £15bn, including money to extend the school day by half an hour.

At the time, the Department for Education suggested that more money could be on the way pending ‘a review of time spent in school’.

The DfE said the findings of the review ‘will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review’. However, no findings were released ahead of Rishi Sunak’s Budget last Wednesday, which did not come up with any extra funding for longer days.

Mr Sunak also announced that funding per pupil in England's schools will be restored to 2010 levels over the next three years. It means an extra £4.7bn for schools in England by 2024-2025 and a cash increase for every child of £1,500, the chancellor said. However, it will not cover the 9% fall in funding since 2009 - the biggest cut in 40 years.

The chancellor is understood to have concluded that the evidence is not strong enough to back the plan.

But one Whitehall source accused the privately educated minister of hypocrisy in denying state-school children more time in the classroom.

They told the i Newspaper: ‘Why do private schools do it?… It’s not for the fun of it, it’s because it actually produces results.’

Meanwhile, one teaching union leader suggested the government either failed to carry out the review or were refusing to publish it because it ‘doesn’t give the right answers’.

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, branded the debacle a ‘sorry little tale of subterfuge’ and said that the NEU had been willing to support a longer school day ‘as long as it’s paid for and voluntary’.

The DfE has insisted a review did take place and that this informed new money pledged in the Chancellor’s budget. However, no detailed findings have been published.