I’m quite sure this is not the first post to address Michael Gove’s latest ramblings on education and I’m equally certain that it won’t be the last. Teachers will have much to say on this subject. As a general rule I don’t involve myself in the politics of education. What will be will generally be and quite frankly, unless things are intolerable I’d rather concentrate my energies on educating the children in my care. That’s my role, not politics. That said, this week’s news has moved me to write this post. Things may actually becoming intolerable.
So, the lovely Mr Gove has decreed that teachers do not teach enough hours in the day and that holidays should be shorter. See m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013 As a senior leader I would like to inform Mr Gove that I work 50 hours per week actually on the school premises. This includes teaching, planning, marking, assessment and an endless list of jobs too tedious to mention. At home I work a further 10-15 hours in the evenings and at weekends. A grand total of around 65 hours per week, not including random things such as tweeting important news to parents as it happens. I am not alone in working this ridiculous number of hours. Many teachers work similar and some more. I would like Mr Gove to tell me how I could actually fit in any more work and survive. Work/life balance anyone?
That brings me to his reasons for announcing this move. With echoes of President Obama, Gove says we are stuck with a system of schooling that is rooted in the 19th century. Patrick Worrall explains in his blog that this was an age when farmers needed their children at home in the afternoons to bring in the harvest. Fair enough. Maybe there is a call for some change. Possibly shorten the summer holiday by two weeks. Michael Gove says
“If we look at the length of the school day, the length of the summer holiday and we compare it to the extra tuition and support children are receiving elsewhere, then we already start with a significant handicap”. (Michael Gove 18/04/2013).
Gove has examined Pisa statistics and decided that English children achieve far worse than their Eastern counterparts due to spending less time in school. In contrast to this, evidence from OECD states that the reports do not show which countries spend more time in the classroom and which have shorter holidays. The evidence is patchy and inconclusive. The Charity Education Endowment Foundation suggests using existing school time more effectively rather than extending school time. In my opinion this would be a better solution.
It is fair to say that many parents would support a longer day for their children. Some schools finish at 3 00 PM and I have long thought that this must be difficult for working parents. Wait a minute! Did we not have a solution for this? ‘Extended Schools’ were funded by the LA after the introduction of ‘Every Child Matters’ in 2004. Schools worked together to run after school clubs for sports, hobbies and revision. The idea was to improve children’s potential and increase motivation and self esteem whilst also helping working parents. There were some difficulties with this arrangement but the theory was there and the strategy was in place. In June 2005 over 5000 schools were offering this full wraparound care and a range of services were available from 8 until 6 throughout the year. This was recognised and encouraged by the Government, especially in the area of PE but funding was limited. The funding was originally limited by Michael Gove in August 2012. Seven months later Mr Gove is complaining about the length of the school day. How very strange!
I wonder if Mr Gove has actually thought about the practicalities of his idea. My children are SEN and arrive in school on LA provided transport. One young lady has a two hour drive. To arrive in school at 7 30 she would set off at 5 30. Working backwards her Mum would need to wake her at 4 30 in the morning. At the other end of the day she would arrive home at 7 30. She doesn’t have the stamina to cope with this. How would this help her Mum? Mainstream children would be rising at 6 30 in the morning to arrive on time. Families would be exhausted. This is far too long a day for the children. Childhood is for enjoyment in my book. Also what exactly would parents do all day. Some are working but many have no jobs. Will there be a sudden creation of new jobs?
From a teacher’s perspective, when would we plan? When would we mark? When would we assess? This is important as there will be almost twice the number of lessons to be planned, marked and assessed. Will we receive twice the amount of money for twice the amount of work? Silly question I know. Teachers would need to be in school by 7 00 AM to prepare for classes. That in turn means getting up at around 5 30 to allow for food and travelling time. When would we see our own families? The likely hood is that our own severely shortened social life would become almost non existent. We lose many talented teachers to stress and exhaustion and lengthening the school day would compound this situation.
I urge Mr Gove to think through the ramifications of introducing a longer day. He is repeatedly setting himself on a collision course with the teachers. He is determined to make the teaching profession Public Enemy Number One. I repeat, I do not get involved in politics as a rule but even I have been moved to respond to this latest idea. Mr Gove is pushing the teachers too far and he may regret this sooner rather than later.