Duncan Barkes: Education? We must do better...

MY nine-year-old daughter was outraged when I told her that the man in charge of this country’s education was suggesting the school day be extended to ten hours.

She said children would be too tired and that it would be unfair. But is this a price worth paying to boost standards in education?

Education Secretary Michael Gove has been a busy chap, recently, suggesting all kinds of tweaks and changes to our education system.

As well as wanting a return to punishments such as writing lines, he has said that state schools should operate ten-hour days, so they are indistinguishable from private schools. Mr Gove said he wanted the country’s schools to be world-class, and that the ‘Berlin Wall’ between state and private schools must be torn down. He has hailed the achievements of academies and free schools, which are already able to run longer school days, and he has pledged to provide the resources to ensure that all state school state schools extend their day.

One of his arguments is that an extended school day would allow time for structured homework sessions, which would be invaluable to those children who come from homes where it is difficult to secure the peace and quiet – or, indeed, the encouragement necessary for study.

All well and good in theory, but how would this work in practice? Teachers of my acquaintance already seem to go above and beyond for their schools. What impact might Mr Gove’s plans have on them?

If the school day is longer, when would they have time to for prepare for lessons?

Of course, as the Education Secretary has pointed out, this is already the case at private and free schools, so it must be manageable.

I recently spent an interesting afternoon at Chichester Free School. Pupils were asked what they liked or disliked about the place. Some said they found the longer school days a challenge, but all conceded that ultimately it was of greater benefit to their education. The most recent Pisa report, a major international study of standards of education, shows that the UK remains far behind countries like Germany, Finland and Japan when it comes to basic standards in education. Some 65 countries took part in the study.

The UK ranked 26th for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science.

It is hard to argue against the logic that extending the school day to nine or ten hours would not benefit a child’s education, but these things are rarely clear cut. But if this is not the answer to raising standards of education, what is?

As it stands at the moment we really could do better.

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