Schools have been pioneering this long before Ruth Kelly, the new Education Secretary, came along to claim credit, and their experience is generally good. It makes sense to make better use of our expensive school buildings, to offer children more chances to do sport and music, and to provide flexible childcare arrangements – although there are still practical questions to be answered about where the money and the people are going to come from to make these extra hours genuinely enriching for children, and not just childcare on the cheap.
But – and this is a huge but – everything will depend on how this extended day is used. It is one thing for an older child to stay late at school a couple of nights a week to play soccer or do drama; another for a five-year-old to be dumped there every day in the pre-breakfast half-light and be expected to stay there until the caretaker clangs the door shut behind the last evening pick-up.
Such institutionalised child rearing is bad for children, and no good for anyone else either. Home is the place where the foundations of a decent society are laid, and the family the only unit that really matters when it comes to learning fundamental lessons of trust, respect and sharing.
For parents to do this well requires not only their own time, effort and patience, but also the moral support of society in general. If Kelly hours make them feel that their prime duty is to be at work, and that their children can easily be corralled at school while they do so, the extended school day will be doing no-one any favours.
When our children were young, we brought them up ourselves. Today's parents use all their time and energy finding other people to do it for them, and then working to pay for it. Then we wonder why we have a problem with 'respect' and teenagers who don't know how to behave towards others. Kelly hours will only make this worse.
Muriel Anderson, Rugby
Our local primary school has been running after-school activities for years. Pupils do things like singing, painting, jazz dance, netball, soccer or homework club. The school has a drop-in centre for parents and runs some educational classes for adults. It is open all the time and there are always people coming and going. Even those of us whose children have moved on can see that it is a hub of the community, and wish it had been like that when we were parents there.
Helen Pryor, Kent
There was a time when Labour Party policy was to encourage employers to have family-friendly hours. Sadly now, this government has inverted that position and simply attempts to socially engineer business-friendly families. Lone parents have already felt the government's lash on this issue and have been encouraged via threats to welfare entitlements into the workplace. Now parents are to be encouraged to submit to the burden of longer working hours through the school system. The casualty is the parent-child relationship – sacrificed on the alter of increased corporate profitability.
Gavin Lewis, Manchester
I am a secondary school English teacher and increasingly frustrated by how little my pupils know about the wider world. Even the most commonplace allusions in poetry and novels go over their heads. Do other people find this? And what can we do about it? Dumb down what we give them to read? Or keep banging our heads against all these gaps in their general knowledge?
Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by 4 July, at 'The Independent', Education, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include details of your address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraserReuse content