The Education White Paper 2022 – Opportunity for all

On academisation, our school's Governors are already looking at the pros and cons of being an academy school, so this White Paper may make little difference to our direction of travel.

On the length of the school week, the White Paper says, ‘We will deliver a richer, longer average school week. We will therefore introduce a minimum expectation on the length of the school week of 32.5 hours for all mainstream state-funded schools (to be met by September 2023). We will strongly encourage all state-funded schools to deliver two substantive morning and afternoon sessions each school day’.

Laudable, perhaps, but;

  • Not new at all – we used to have a minimum school day prescribed, but it was removed by a previous government to allow schools to use freedoms to meet local need. It was seen, like a speed limit can be, as a target rather, than as a starting point,
  • irrelevant to the 60% plus of schools that already meet the ‘new’ expectation,
  • it is unlikely to increase teaching time as teachers’ contracts have a limit on directed working hours,
  • the school day includes register, play times and lunch time – the cheapest places to lengthen the day,
  • many of our pupils have considerably longer school weeks than this in our regular offer,
  • schools will only be required to publish details of their general opening hours (not those available to less than the entire school – such as in interventions, sports and cultural activities or breakfast clubs),
  • not one piece of research evidence is used to justify this statement, a shocking omission for a government department that likes to promote research –led developments and interventions.

We make no secret of the following – it is already on our website and has been for as long as we’ve had a website:

We start each and every day of the pupils’ school year (of 190 days) at 08:45

We finish each and every day of the pupils’ school year (of 190 days) at 15:15

The length of each day, by DfE’s calculation is, therefore, 6.5 hours.

Our school week is 32.5 hours. Always has been.

Now for the ‘howevers’:

However – I have no idea how time in actual lessons compares with other schools (our lessons cover 305 minutes a day).

Or how long the lunch break is at other schools (ours is 55 minutes).

Or how many play times pupils get elsewhere (we have 15 minutes, twice a day, therefore ensuring our pupils can be physically active every day).

Or whether some schools run a ‘form time’ during registration (we don’t – we have had a learning activity available from 10 minutes before the register starts).

Or how many assemblies a school timetable has and of what length?

Or what degree of ‘richness’ a school’s curriculum gets simply because it is longer or shorter?

Or when did equity mean ‘equal’? Different people in different schools need different provision. They probably should be different in many, many ways. If we are going to make all schools the same, can we have the same grounds, buildings, class sizes, historical funding levels, public profile, staffing, parental support, sponsorship, scholarships, facilities, chances, history…?

And I think they mean ‘substantial’ sessions each morning and afternoon, rather than ‘substantive’.

 

As has too often been the case in central education policy thinking, this may well be a good answer to a question but it is a good answer to the wrong question. If you want pupils in lessons for longer, you have to say so. If you want lessons to be more effective, you have to say so. If you want schools to provide longer child care for ‘hard working families, then say so. Make the school day 8 hours long if you want, but it will not automatically increase lesson time by a single minute. To increase teaching time in my school by just 5 minutes a day would need more than a day a week of extra teacher time, and would cost around £13,000 – unless we are about to see a forced change in contracts, à la P&O.

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