Former No 10 policy adviser, Paul Kirby has posted a proposal on his blog that holidays should be cut and the school day extended until 6pm and offer ‘45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year’.
Kirby’s argumentation wasn’t primarily an educational one - but largely that it would provide extended child-care. While that could sound attractive to working parents desperately trying to work enough hours to pay their bills, in reality this is a Tory attempt to institutionalise a low-wage, long-hours economy, maximising profits for hard-nosed employers. Of course, it also links with Gove’s plans to include teachers in that approach and to try and force already overworked teachers into taking on even greater workload.
Educationally, these proposals make no sense. The idea that children will learn more, simply because they are in class for longer, is nonsense. School students, even more than adults, get tired and need breaks. Concentration will not be maintained. Extending hours will not improve education.
Figures published by the OECD show that pupils in England spend around 7,258 hours in the classroom between the ages of 7 and 14 –already above the OECD average. In Finland, consistently regarded as one of the highest achieving education systems, the equivalent figure is just 5,637 hours.
Socially, children need leisure time and parents should have limits to their working hours so that they can enjoy time with their children. Youth and play services can be a valuable additional resource - but these are precisely the kinds of services that are being slashed by Local Authorities.
The idea that cutting holidays is vital to boost educational achievement is also nonsense. Many countries that are ranked more highly than the UK in international education comparison studies like PISA already have longer summer holidays than Britain. For example, Finland and Hong Kong have a 10 week summer break, Iceland 11 weeks, Sweden 10 weeks, France 8 weeks.
If these kind of attacks were to be forced through, many teachers would see them as the last straw – and leave. Staff turnover would increase even further, further damaging education.
The NUT has a responsibility to make sure these threatened attacks are defeated. We need a calendar of national strike action to defend teachers – and to defend children’s education.