On BBC news this morning, hapless Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed what was already clear to most educators - that he is "enthusiastic" about a permanent extension to the school day. This is a threat that must be taken seriously by the NEU, with plans being made now to oppose it with action if the Tories press ahead with this damaging proposal.
Child-care before genuine education
The Government determination to open schools as fully as possible over the last year, despite their role in transmitting Covid, has already made clear that Ministers, and their big business backers, see schooling as a child-care service as much as an educational one.
Of course, even the education they force on young people and schools is a narrow, 'exam factory' education dominated by high-stakes testing and league tables used to grade students, staff and schools in their corporate vision of an education marketplace. What parents and educators must demand is an end to the exam factory schooling, not making the production-line run for an even longer shift every day!
Williamson's comments came during an interview about the announcement of an extra £1.4 billion for what has been described as 'catch-up' tutoring. Of course, what many children needed to 'catch-up' on above all was a chance to play and interact with peers again, with a focus on their broader well-being and mental health, rather than just additional lesson content. However, even to meet that narrower goal, £1.4 billion works out at about £50 per pupil per year - far less than required to provide sufficient additional staffing, one-to-one and small group support (see update below).
But, instead of proper investment in education, this austerity-minded Government thinks it can do better, for cheaper, by simply extending the school day. In their minds, that means getting more for less out of their workforce and more time to 'fill' children with facts. It is also a regime designed to instil the mentality that they - and their parents - need to spend more time at work, and less time together.
The school day in England is already longer than the global average
Educationally, extending the school day won't help students learn. They, just like the staff teaching them, are exhausted enough at the end of the existing school day, let alone an extended one. Concentration will not be maintained.
I explained in March in a first post responding to Williamson's suggestion of longer schooling that pupils in England already spend longer in school than the global average.
|OECD (2014): How much time do students spend in the classroom?|
Excessive hours are already driving out too many school staff
School staff, of course, already work far too long as well. As budgets tighten further and posts are cut, remaining support staff are being bullied into taking on roles outside their job description and working additional unpaid overtime. As for teachers, even the Government's own figures show that they are already working over a 50 hour week.
Send a clear warning - we'll take action if you press ahead
The time at the end of the existing school day when ignorant Ministers like Williamson might think teachers are just heading home, is of course time when teachers are desperately trying to 'catch-up' on at least some of their planning and marking. If they now have to continue teaching for longer, that work will now take up even more of their evening and weekends than it does now.
Excessive workload is already the main reason why so many teachers leave the profession - a staggering third of new entrants within the first five years in the job. These plans will drive even more out of teaching - unless we organise to make sure the Tories' plans are dropped and, instead, action taken to reduce, not increase, workload.
Under current contracts with 1265 hours of 'directed time', school employers could not enforce a longer working day. However, the pressure on staff to do so, including the pressure from performance pay, will still be exerted in some schools. School groups will need to organise firmly to make sure workload isn't increased yet further through 'divide-and-rule' amongst staff.
If Williamson and Johnson press further with trying to impose additional working hours, such an attack could not be fought school-by-school alone. That's why all teacher unions must make firmly clear that any attempt to impose changed contracts will be strongly fought together.
What I posted in March is even more the case today - "Unions need to boldly respond with a clear warning that, if the Government tries to enforce worse conditions, we will organise national action to defend staff and education".
Read more on martin4dgs.co.uk
UPDATE: 'Recovery Commissioner' resigns - also posted separately here