current affairs

Can longer school days increase student performance?

It’s 3:24 on a Friday and the clock is slowly ticking in the corner of the room.

It’s 3:24 on a Friday and the clock is slowly ticking in the corner of the room. The 60 seconds that lead to my weekend approach unhurriedly, as I sit watching the hands on the clock gradually reach the minute-mark.

The bell goes. 1,800 of my peers vanish at a flash, as they do every day of the week, in order to escape the four walls of school. Whether you’re the type of student who enjoys school, or you’re a tired teenager who counts the days until you can leave, the end of the school day is always a moment of bliss.

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s most recent proposition, for shorter school holidays and longer school days, is a plan which he hopes could be implemented within the next couple of years. He has added that he wishes state schools to remain open until 4:30. Gove stated that this system will lead to improved performance of students, when in fact, I believe he will have the exact opposite effect.

Specific school times vary between establishments, but as I approach the end of seven years at my High School, I have become accustomed to a 9am-3:25pm school day with five hour-long lessons, and this is most definitely enough.

The average attention span of a teenager is around 10-15 minutes, with hour-long lessons requiring being broken up into smaller sections to maintain the continued progress and education of the students. There can be no denying that the longer the day goes on, this span becomes decreasingly shorter, with an extended school day disqualifying Gove’s aim of improving performance. Students will instead be wasting valuable time, with information draining through their ears, when they could be using the time effectively at home on extra studies such as homework and revision.

I would be thoroughly interested in seeing the evidence behind Gove’s reasoning for this proposal. Unlike Gove, I have had experience in a classroom both in the UK and overseas, having taken part in lessons in Cologne whilst on a trip to Germany. British pupils already spend longer hours in the classroom than in most other countries, with the German school day being just one of many examples, with students leaving shortly after 2 o’clock in the afternoon at this one Cologne grammar school.

Even in Finland, where the education system is consistently regarded as one of the best in the world, the shorter school days are highlighted as a central point of their success. Gove should learn from the trust that the Finnish place on their students, granting them with a greater sense of flexibility, instead of the negative and doubtful view that Gove clearly has of a teenager’s work ethic.

He added that this system would benefit the working parent, making their life easier in the process. How exactly, I’m not so sure, as having to deal with disgruntled and tired children isn’t what most parents would choose to do when they come home from a busy and already stressful day of work. However, is this even something the education secretary should necessarily be concerned with?

It stands clear that, as Education Secretary, Gove should be focusing on those most involved in education—obviously, the students and the teachers. And it is going to take a lot of persuasion to get the latter back on Gove’s side.

At the latest annual NUT conference, held in Liverpool with an audience of over 1,000 members of one of the biggest teachings unions in the country, cheers of ‘Gove must go’ echoed around the room as a unanimous vote of no confidence was passed.

His ‘limited experience of education’ was pointed out, and can be highlighted in his suggestion at shortening holidays. By dropping the six-week summer holiday to just four weeks, teachers and staff are losing out on 14 days of valuable time, which they require so greatly to complete the vast amount of work and planning that they must do. Somebody with experience in education would be able to empathise with this and would understand that the combination of shorter holidays and longer school days is impractical and simply unfeasible as staff will not be able to uphold the sheer quantity of work required of them. Consequently, the standard of teaching and education standards will surely decrease and Gove’s aim is, once again, strongly challenged.

People can often quickly criticise members of the teaching profession for their long holidays and short days. However, if they took a day out to visit a school, it would soon become evident that their working hours extend much further than the school’s start and finish times.

Equally so, students simply cannot switch off from school when they finish at 3:25 and it is irrational to think that they do—homework, coursework and revision have to take precedence over daytime TV unfortunately. By keeping schools open until 4:30, Gove is simply holding students back from using their time effectively for these crucial studies.

What do you think? Is Gove’s proposal a good one? Or do you agree that ‘Gove must go’? Let us know in the comments section below, on our Facebook page, or tweet us with your thoughts.