School till six o’clock in the evening, with seven weeks’ holiday a year? Parents might approve, but it’s every child’s worse nightmare. Paul Kirby, former policy adviser to David Cameron, has suggested that the Tories would win the next election hands-down by promising in their manifesto that all schools would be forced to provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks per year. Not if children had the vote.
Pity the poor teachers, too. Kirby’s blog contains the slightly chilling phrase: “The role schools play in our national and family life is far too important to be left to teachers.” There’s a tendency for the rest of us to think that teaching is all short hours and long holidays, and that any of us could do it, which is obviously nonsense. If children constitute a nation’s most precious resource, then we should recognise the vital contribution we expect from teachers. We should be making their job easier, not harder. If the government wants schools to add child-minding to the list of services they provide then they must be prepared to stump up for it.
Some schools would presumably choose not to fill the extra time with formal lessons. It’s all very well extending the school day with sports and other extra-curricular activities, but other people need to be drafted in to run them - it’s unreasonable to expect teachers, unless it’s on a voluntary basis, to work an extra two or three hours when they should be spending their time marking work and preparing classes.
Kirby lists the social benefits, such as reduced childcare costs and the freeing-up of a whole sector of newly available workers (a figure that would also have to include the out-of-work childminders). And youth crime, which apparently peaks between 3pm and 6pm, would fall. But wouldn’t that just shift it to later in the day?
The proposal wouldn’t work for children with a sporting or artistic talent who attend classes or training sessions outside school – what would happen to those activities? Would parents who removed their children from school in the afternoon to take violin lessons or football training be penalised for it?
I don’t think in general that children would suffer from longer hours, though. It’s a system that seems to work well elsewhere – in France, for example – and in fact schools here already have the ability to set their own hours and term-times. So why don’t most of them bother? Is it because it would be too impractical and expensive without an influx of voluntary manpower?
Unless schools staggered their holidays travel companies would be surely quick to adjust to the shortening of their open season on parents’ wallets. The resultant concentrated price-hike mania would leave everyone apart from the travel firms considerably worse off. Paul Cookson’s Facebook “SCHOOL HOLIDAY RANT”, which went viral this week and led to a government e-petition calling on companies to stop charging extra during school holidays, would take on even greater pertinence if the window shrank to seven weeks.
Many parents would clearly welcome longer hours and shorter hols – though by no means all, I’d guess, and certainly not the stay-at-homes. The children? I doubt it. I conducted a one-pupil straw poll: my nine-year-old daughter was horror-struck. It wouldn’t work, she said, because children would be moaning all the time. But parents would like it, I countered. No they wouldn’t, she said – because children would be moaning all the time. She probably has a point.
Teachers' pet hate: Gove's other reforms
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies