Stories + Views
Gove misleads Spectator conference about longer school days and shorter holidays in the Far East
In Far Eastern countries “School days are longer, school holidays are shorter,” said Education Secretary Michael Gove in his keynote speech at the Spectator Education Conference. “If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday … then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”
In England, the school year is 190 days long. Holidays total 11-12 weeks. School days usually run from about 9am to 3-3.30pm. (6 to 6½ hours including breaks).
So, how does this compare to other countries, particularly those in the Far East?
Education at a Glance 2011 (OECD) gave the total number of “intended instruction hours” in schools between the ages of 7 and 14. This should give some idea whether English pupils spend more or less time in the classroom than those in other countries.
The average for OECD countries was 6,732 hours of instruction. English pupils spent around 7,250 hours in the classroom, above the OECD average. This compared with other countries as follows:
Finland – one of the top-performing countries in PISA tests: around 5,750 hours;
Korea – another top-performer: slightly less than 6,000 hours;
Japan – around 6,300 hours
So, OECD data shows that English pupils already spend more time in compulsory education between the ages of 7 and 14 than in two Far Eastern countries, Korea and Japan.
Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong were not included in the OECD figures. Data for these countries had to be found elsewhere.
Singapore: hours per day in school: Primary 5 hours including recess, Secondary 6 hours including recess
Holidays 2013: About 12 weeks in total
Hong Kong: *hours per day 7 hours including breaks
*School year is 190 days, same as England.
Shanghai: *hours per day in school: 8 including 1 ½ hours for lunch
Holidays: *about 14 weeks including a full two months for the summer holiday (1 July to 31 August)
School pupils in Singapore, then, spend about the same amount of time in school as English pupils. Hong Kong pupils spend between 30 minutes and 1 hour more than English pupils per day and work for the same number of days. Shanghai pupils are in school for between 1 ½ to 2 hours more than English pupils but have a longer lunch break and longer holidays.
Conclusion: English pupils spend more hours in the classroom than those in Korea and Japan. They spend about the same as those in Singapore, less than in Hong Kong and Shanghai (although pupils in Shanghai get a longer lunch break and more holidays which offset the extra hours).
For more examples of Gove’s misleading rhetoric see Gove v Reality which blows holes in many of Gove’s soundbites.
*Information re Hong Kong and Shanghai was difficult to track down. I had to rely on Wikibooks for the school day and information on a school’s website for Hong Kong. For Shanghai, I relied on a global expat website. The information might, therefore, not be accurate.
UPDATE 22 April 2013. The OECD publication, PISA in Focus
PISA in Focus looked at the amount of time spent studying, after school lessons and student belief whether time spent was beneficial or not.
It concluded: “The bottom line: When it comes to learning, it’s the quality of teaching at school and students’ atttitude towards learning that count most, not the number of hours students spend studying.”
UPDATE 25 April 2013
The figures above related to 2011. Below are the up-to-date figures from OECD Education at a Glance 2012.
OECD average of total hours spent in the classroom by 7-14 year-olds (inclusive) = 6,862.
English 7-14 year-olds spend a total of 7,258 hours in the classroom during this time.
The figures for Finland, Korea and Japan are as follows:
In addition, Chris Skidmore MP wrote that pupils aged 7-14 (inclusive) in Ireland, Canada, France and Australia spent more time in the classroom than English pupils of the same age. The figures are:
Ireland: 7,362 (104 hours more over 8 years)
Canada: 7,363 (105 hours more over 8 years)
France: 7,148 (less than English pupils according to the OECD key facts for France. BUT the graph on page 424 of Education at a Glance 2012 shows French children as having slightly more total hours than Canada).
Pupils in only one of the four countries which Skidmore cited (Australia) spend significantly more hours (649 over 8 years) in the classroom than pupils in England.
Do these extra hours relate to performance in international education tests? Australian pupils outperformed English pupils in the 2009 PISA tests (Reading, Maths, Science) but English 10 and 14 year-olds outperformed Australian pupils in TIMSS Science 2011. English 10 year-olds outperformed Australian pupils in TIMSS Maths 2011. In PIRLS 2011, English 10 year-olds significantly outperformed Australian pupils in Reading.
With such a mixed picture, it’s clear that extra hours in the classroom don’t necessarily improve a country’s international standing in global education tests. In any case, it’s important to keep a sense of proportion when analysing international tests (see Warning in faq above “Is the UK tumbling down the international league tables?”). And the Sutton Trust warned that such tests can be misleading and commentators shouldn’t jump to simplistic conclusions.
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