The Jane Austen Academy in Norwich, when it opens in September next year, will encourage students to study during the school day.
“Rather than setting homework that students could go home and struggle with, and where there may be limited access to computers, they will do that in the school day,” prospective principal Claire Heald explained in an interview with a national newspaper.
“We are saying that when they go home they should enjoy quality family time. There will not be any traditional homework and that has been really well received by parents who respect the fact that family time will be family time.”
In order to achieve this balance, the academy will extend the school day, possibly until 5pm.
There is nothing new in this suggestion. In April, reports circulated that education secretary Michael Gove called for school days to be lengthened and summer holidays to be shortened in a move that would be “consistent with the pressures of modern society”.
Similar proposals were discussed in the press in 2012. Some free schools and academies already have longer school days, with mandatory hours from 8:30am to 4:30pm, while others vary the school term during the year. Last March, formal limits on homework were scrapped and headteachers were given discretion on how much homework to set.
There are potential merits to extending the school day: less need for childcare, less stress on pupils, more consistency in approach, and possibly some more time for some families.
But what about the teachers? There is scant mention in these debates of the teachers, other than reference to changing employment contracts. So what impact could additional hours have on teachers’ family time?
We already know from past studies that teachers work, on average, an extra 11 unpaid hours a week. Often these hours are added to the end of the school day. Given that teachers are already contracted to work 1,265 hours a year, when can they expect their school day to end? 7pm? 7:30pm?
Factor in twilight training sessions, departmental meetings, parents’ evenings, plus other education initiatives – how much time will that leave for teachers and their families?
The last time longer school days and shorter holidays were debated, we asked teachers what they thought:
“My kids are already up at 6:15am, in breakfast club by 7:30am and are not picked up until gone 5:30pm when I have finished my teaching day,” one teacher said.
Another added: “These fools are destroying family life with these measures and alienating children from education before they have even got going.”
A third said: “I work between 55 and 60 hours per week. I have two children of my own and struggle to keep my own house clean and tidy as marking/planning takes priority. I get up at 6:15am. I get home at 5:30pm without meetings.”
It begs the question that if teachers are already struggling now, how will they cope with even longer hours?
The teaching unions have consistently highlighted the issue of workload and hours. At the National Union of Teachers’ conference earlier this year, delegates agreed to plans to draw up a draft contract setting out a 35-hour working week. Other unions have developed their own campaigns to address the issue.
It is right that the benefits of longer school days and shorter holidays are fully considered, but it is crucial that the whole school community is included in these discussions. After all, how much added educational value will a pupil really get from a teacher at the end of 14-hour shift?
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).