Education secretary considers plans to extend school day in England

Nadhim Zahawi wants all schools open for 6.5 hours each day

Adam Forrest
Monday 01 November 2021 19:12
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<p>Boris Johnson with school children during a visit to Westbury-On-Trym Church of England Academy in Bristol</p>

Boris Johnson with school children during a visit to Westbury-On-Trym Church of England Academy in Bristol

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has pledged to look at lengthening the school day in England in a bid to help more pupils recover from the Covid crisis.

It has been suggested an extension to the school day will help children catch-up on lost learning and prosper after the pandemic.

The recently-appointed minister told MPs there are some “excellent examples” of academy school leaders bringing in longer days that he will examine.

Mr Zahawi also said he wanted all schools to ensure they move to the average school day length of 6.5 hours.

Speaking in the Commons, Conservative MP Robert Halfon MP – who chairs the education select committee – asked if the cabinet minister would consider making the case for a longer school day.

Mr Halfon said the Education Policy Institute had found that a longer day increases educational attainment – especially amongst disadvantaged pupils. “Will he at least consider some pilot schemes in disadvantaged areas?”

Mr Zahawi replied: “There are some excellent examples ... of a longer school day which I’m going to look at. The average school day now is 6.5 hours and I would like to see everybody move towards that average.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said any possible gains from extending the school day “must be weighed against the costs … including the impact on pupils’ mental health, reduced family time and less time for extra-curricular activities”.

The union leader added: “Children’s happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised as well as their education.”

Speaking at education questions, Mr Zahawi also said “there is no place for anti-vaxxers harassing or coming anywhere near school leaders” – as he insisted the vaccine rollout for senior school pupils “continues at pace”.

Labour has called for councils to be able to stop anti-vaccination activists from protesting outside schools by using exclusion orders. Mr Zahawi said home secretary Priti Patel would look at ways to stop harassment of parents or teachers.

The education secretary said: “I have the reassurance of the home secretary that she’ll make any resources available that the sector needs to make sure those people in our schools are protected and are able to get on with the job of teaching children and protecting them.”

Meanwhile, education minister Michelle Donelan appealed for university lecturers to “reconsider taking strike action” amid a dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.

The Tory MP told the Commons: “I am deeply concerned about it because there is the threat of strikes, our students are now in a position to have face-to-face teaching, and I would urge every lecturer to reconsider taking strike action.”

The universities minister added: “Strikes before have not helped the situation but they have impacted students, who deserve a fairer deal.”

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