Do English pupils work shorter hours? Channel 4 FactCheck and FullFact sift through the evidence.

Janet Downs's picture
Channel 4 FactCheck and FullFact came to the same conclusion as this site: English pupils spend more hours in the classroom than the OECD average.

Channel 4 found data about East Asian top performers was “frustratingly incomplete, with information about hours spent at school in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Japan missing. The partial data we have suggests that Japanese pupils spent less time in school than their English pen-pals.” (The fewer hours in Japan are confirmed by OECD 2012 data. Japanese pupils spend a total of 6,501 hours in class between the ages of 7-14, while English pupils spend 7,258).

FullFact concluded there might be some evidence to support Education Secretary Michael Gove’s assertion that increasing teaching hours and shortening school holidays could improve pupil performance. It cited research which found that German pupils affected by a temporary shortening of the school year during a period of transition were more likely to repeat grades in primary school and less likely to progress to the higher track schools in Germany's tripartite system.  But FullFact reported that the research found the “short school years had no adverse effect on earnings and employment later in life.”

FullFact also cited evidence which showed that increased time spent on teaching language (English), Maths and Science would improve results in these subjects. This increased emphasis wouldn’t necessarily mean increasing teaching hours overall. It could be accommodated in the existing school day.

Channel 4 FactCheck wrote “Meta-analyses of the data tend to show a small positive correlation between increasing school hours and achievement, particularly for pupils at risk of failing. It’s unclear whether the improvements would be worth the money we would have to spend on extending school hours.”

Harvard research, Factcheck wrote, found New York charter schools with more school days tended to outperform other schools. But pupils in these charter schools only spent an extra 0.67 days annually in school than the English minimum of 190 days. And the Harvard researchers warned that generalisations should not be made from their findings because they only looked at a sub-set of NY charter schools. In any case, increasing hours was only one of five factors associated with better school performance.

FactCheck cited the Education Endowment Foundation (aka the Sutton Trust toolkit):

“Most of the studies find evidence of improved learning compared to shorter days or school years, but this is usually quite small and gains are not consistent across all studies. Unsurprisingly, the amount of improved learning appears to depend heavily on how the time is used and which aspects of teaching and learning are increased.”

This re-affirms OECD findings that it’s quality, not quantity, of teaching which counts.

FactCheck also found that Gove’s statement that “some of the best schools in the country are moving to a longer school day” was also based on weak evidence.

Regular LSN readers will not be surprised.




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