Stories + Views
Will longer school days impact badly on family life? Great Yarmouth parents divided on plans to extend academy school day.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea. The longer students spend in school the better they will do,” commented Mr Gove about the decision by Greenacre Primary School in Great Yarmouth to extend the school day to up to 6pm for older pupils when the school becomes an academy. Attendance would be compulsory. A free after-school club would be available on request for younger pupils whose parents were concerned about making two journeys to collect children.
Mr Gove was enthusiastic, “It also helps parents, actually, making it easier for them to get promoted at work or move jobs in the town and I think it’s absolutely fantastic that the new headteacher there wants to spend time with the students and help them to do better.” Yet pupils in England already spend more hours in school than the average for OECD countries.
Bill Holledge, the school’s head, believes the extra hours will benefit pupils. However, parents have raised concerns on the Great Yarmouth Mercury website about the qualifications of those supervising enrichment or homework.
Not all parents are happy. 130 signed a petition against the move fearing the extra enforced hours would prevent children from doing other activities and would leave them exhausted. Others felt the school was being patronizing – it serves a disadvantaged area and some parents felt the school was saying it would be better for the children to stay in school than be with their own families.
The consultation documents for academy conversion were not all the same. The parents’ consultation (downloadable here) gave little information apart from describing academies as “publicly-funded independent schools that strive to provide a first-class education for all pupils” (as if non-academies don’t also do the same thing). It said the governors had agreed unanimously and that the academy would have a sponsor, Theodore Agnew, Chairman of Norfolk Community Foundation and non-executive member of the Department for Education. Mr Agnew is also millionaire donor to the Conservative party, trustee of right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange and trustee of the New Schools Network.
It’s unclear why the school decided to produce different consultation papers and why some contained more information than others. The parents’ consultation had no information about proposed changes to the school day – that was in the public consultation document.
This situation raises important questions especially when combined with Sir Michael Wilshaw’s call that teachers in disadvantaged areas should act as surrogate parents and be willing to work beyond the school day, at weekends and during holidays in order to keep children away from “unsupportive parents.” The questions raised are these:
1 How far should the state take over the role of parents?
2 Is it legal for schools to insist that children spend more hours at school than required by law?
3 What penalties would be given to parents who removed their child from school at, say, 3.30pm?
4 How far should teachers be expected to heal society’s ills?
As the Independent’s leader said – the balance can tip too far. Consideration should also be given to alleviating poverty and providing youth services.