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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:

Finland: 5,637     Korea: 5,910      Japan: 6,501

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).

Australia: 7,907

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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Comments, replies and queries

  1. Roger Titcombe says:

    How many parents send their children to school ‘for them to be trained to run in a global race’?

  2. Michael Strain says:

    Gove doesn’t care about getting facts right, despite his wierd protestations about a curriculum based on useful facts. He just wants to destroy the public school system in England that is in any way controlled by organisations run by locally elected councils or their replacement. His tissue of wrong facts will always be successful if, as I am certain happens, a majority of people are swayed by the values and purposes implicit in them – right or wrong!

  3. Having worked in more than one education system I have discovered that this belief that the length of the school varies directly with the quality of outcomes is flawed. The quality of teaching and learning improves the outcomes for students not how long they spend in school.

    The education systems that Michael Gove praises are systems that value the professionalism of the teachers; they have motivated with high morale because they are valued. In this there is never a day that goes by without Gove criticising teachers or their work. We have the most demoralised teaching workforce in the developed world. Even with such hostility from the Secretary of State teachers in England do their with diligence because they care about their students. This idea that increasing the time that teachers spend in school will improve outcomes ignores the fact that most teachers spend hours and hours outside of the school day marking and preparing for lessons.

  4. […] between the English education system and East Asia. A blog post on the Local Schools Network crunches the data available and […]

  5. […] maybe Gove is wrong, no surprise there, whilst i cannot be sure about the exact accuracy of these figures, I would be happy to consider that Gove is more on rhetoric than fact. Even if he was to get his […]

  6. Dan Waddell says:

    State schools are already legally obliged to provide an extended day via Breakfast Club and Aftercare for working parents. So the idea these proposals are to benefit working parents is a canard. Those proposals exist. This is all about Gove trying to inflict his miserable childhood on others and turning a generation of kids into wage fodder.

    • Dan – you’re correct that many schools offer extended days although I’m unsure it’s a legal obligation. You’re also correct that these proposals won’t necessarily benefit working parents. It could, however, benefit employers who could deny flexible working to parents by saying, “But your school doesn’t close until 5.30. You don’t need to leave early.” Or, “We’ve noticed your child’s school starts at 8am. We think you’ve got plenty of time to drop them off and be at work by 8.30 instead of 9 at present.”

      Gove’s shorter holidays proposal is risible. Millions of parents all scrambling to book holidays in a shorter time scale will cause many more to take their children out of school during term time. And employers aren’t going to be chuffed when all their employees who are parents want to take their hols in the same few weeks.

  7. […] But is he misleading us about the evidence? See […]

  8. I’ve now updated the post above to using the 2012 figures for the total hours that pupils spend in the classroom between the ages of 7-14 (inclusive). English pupils still spend more hours in the classrom than the same age group in Finland, Korea, Japan and 17 other countries (not listed in the update – see page 424 of OECD Education at a Glance 2012 for these).

    I’ve also included extra countries in the update: Ireland, Canada, France and Australia. These are the four countries where, according to Chris Skidmore MP writing in the Telegraph, pupils spend more hours in the classroom. They do – but in only one – Australia – do 7-14 year-olds spend significantly longer in classes. And it doesn’t relate to performance in global educational tests. Pupils in 9 other countries (not listed in update) spend more time in the classroom than English ones.

    So, pupils in a total of 20 countries spend less time in the classroom than in England. Pupils in 13 countries spend more time in the classroom but in 6 of these countries the extra time is not much more. Pupils in Estonia spend the least amount of time in class (Finland is second). Pupils in Chile spend the most time in class (well over 8,500 hours) – it’s the only country where children spend more than 8,000 hours in 8 years).

  9. Whatever the facts say English language is official language in many countries in five continents occupied by the generations of people who immigrated very long time ago is also fact .
    Another fact is that all students of the countries mentioned above dream to come and study in the UK. I can see the campuses in all Birmingham universities are full of students from all over the world.
    What should change is to make the fees less and help the citizens of the UK to get higher education not to rip off people.

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Gove misleads Spectator conference about longer school days and shorter holidays in the Far East

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