Government may add half an hour to school day

Education / Tue 1st Jun 2021 at 08:41am

THE government is considering paying teachers to add an extra 30 minutes to the school day in England under leaked proposals to help pupils overcome a year of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic reports The Guardian.

A plan drawn up by Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s education recovery commissioner, seeks to establish a minimum 35-hour week and add 100 hours of additional schooling compared with existing timetables in many state schools and colleges.

The details come from a 56-page document reported by the Times newspaper, which said Boris Johnson had been briefed on the plan. The proposals are also expected to include further individual or small-group tutoring for five million students and professional development for teachers.

The government has been working on a promised “catch-up” plan for schools and colleges, expected to be published before the summer holidays, but the rumoured £15bn price tag – £700 per pupil over three years – is said to have run into opposition from the Treasury and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

Funding the package will hinge on support from No 10 but it adds to the battles the Department for Education (DfE) faces before the autumn spending review, as it is already seeking additional funding for the government’s lifetime skills guarantee as well as an £11bn bill for school and college repairs identified in a report published last week.

The government is also keen to set a target for recruiting and training new teachers before the end of the parliament, as part of the education recovery plan.

Collins’ recovery plan focuses on “three Ts” of time, teaching and tutoring, paid for by a “recovery premium”, with £12bn of the £15bn paid directly to schools and targeted at disadvantaged pupils. Headteachers would be given a high degree of autonomy over how they spent the funds, which would be monitored by Ofsted school inspectors rather than the DfE directly.

Other proposals that have been considered include an extension of the school day from 8am to 5pm or 6pm, but with the extra time used for voluntary extracurricular activities such as art or sport. But Collins has argued that making attendance voluntary would mean the children who most need the additional support missing out.

“The more voluntary things are, the less likely they’re going to get to the hard to reach bits of your community,” he told a House of Lords committee last month.

Collins’ report argues that the UK as a whole had the longest closures of schools and universities combined in Europe. Many students in England missed around 23 weeks of school closures during the pandemic, with a cost to the economy of “at least” £100bn in lost productivity, rising to £1.6tn by 2100 if not addressed.

However, research published last week by a University of Cambridge academic found that schools in England with longer teaching hours in their timetable made only modest improvements in their students’ performance, and that other interventions may be more cost effective.

Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, is set to publish Labour’s recovery plan later this week, which is likely to back many aspects of Collins’ plan but with a stronger focus on mental health.

The British Psychological Society said that instead of additional time in the classroom, resources would be better spent allowing children to play, socialise and engage in activities such as music, crafts and sports that were also missed out on while schools were closed to most pupils during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

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