Longer Days, Shorter Holidays, Better Schools? Fat Chance

23 Apr

Michael Gove recently called for school days to be made longer and school holidays to be shortened. This appears sensible; after all, those pesky teachers really don’t work hard enough!  Or do they?

The Education Secretary in Westminster seems extremely focused on throwing out the idea of a skills based curriculum and replacing it one based around just recalling facts. With that in mind I thought he may appreciate some of the truths below.

Summer Holiday Time:

UK – 6 weeks
Singapore – 6 weeks
Germany – 6 weeks
Australia – 6 weeks
The Netherlands – 6 weeks

Austria – 7 weeks
Denmark – 7 weeks
Hong-Kong – 7 weeks
Switzerland – 7 weeks

Belgium – 8 weeks
Canada – 8 weeks
Sweden – 8 weeks
France – 8 weeks
Norway – 8 weeks

Finland – 10 weeks

USA – 12 weeks
Italy – 12 weeks

Turkey – 14 weeks

One of the top performers in international PISA tests was Hong Kong whose holidays are a week longer than those enjoyed by UK teachers. Honk Kong was followed by Finland, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. The best-performing European countries included the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and Estonia. Not one of these nations has shorter summer breaks than the UK. Many have longer. We should also remember that the UK has the least number of public holidays in Europe and one of the lowest numbers worldwide.

The reality is that the UK already has some of the shortest summer school holidays of any nation in the world. The idea that shorter summer holidays will lead to any improvement in standards simply does not stack up, especially when compared to other leading nations.

In regards to the length of the school day Michael Gove’s comments simply highlight his ignorance to the reality facing most teachers across the UK. I thought I would highlight this by keeping a diary of my own wife’s workload, a primary school teacher in the Rhondda. This is the hours she put in last week

Monday – 8am-5:30pm at school & 7:45pm-10pm working at home.

Tuesday – 8am-4:30pm at school & 7:30pm-9:30pm at home

Wednesday – 8am-4:30pm at school & 7:45pm-9:45pm at home

Thursday – 7:30pm-10:15pm at home

Friday – Free

Saturday – Free

Sunday – 7:15pm – 10:15pm at home

If you’re wondering why the 7pm evening starts it’s because between work finishing and working at home she is, rather inconveniently for Michael Gove, feeding, bathing and putting our baby to sleep.

The total hours worked over the week tallied up at 38.5. This would maybe be acceptable if you didn’t factor in the fact that my wife is a part time worker contracted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday only.

These figures are not for a particularly hectic week. Indeed, prior to us having a baby (there’s that inconvenient priority for Michael Gove again) my wife would also work most Friday nights and Saturday days while I would be at rugby, as well as Thursday and Friday school days as she was then a full time teacher. Nor are they for a particularly hard working teacher. By that I don’t mean my wife doesn’t work hard! She works extremely hard and is a damn good teacher, but her hours are no more or less than the dedication that you will see from the vast majority of teachers in Wales. Indeed, simply by examining the Facebook posts of her peers it is easy to see that her workload is reflected across dozens of other teachers in the Rhondda alone.

Some parents, who perhaps see children being in school as some sort of state funded childcare service rather than institutions dedicated to the academic and social development of students, may welcome Michael Gove’s plans. The warning I would give is be careful what you wish for. The consequences of these plans will be chaos, educationally for your child and for your family. I’ll post again about that impact at a later date.

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