For many schools that choose to vary the structure of their academic year, the number of teaching and holiday days are redistributed. But the Boulevard Academy, a secondary free school in Hull, has taken a different tack since it opened in 2013.
The school’s approach is prominently summarised on its website: “More and longer school days per year gives more time for our pupils to meet their goals. Let’s get ready to work.”
Boulevard implements a trio of measures to maximise the time its children spend in education: a longer formal school day, which starts at 8.20am and ends at 4.30pm; Saturday morning sessions that pupils attend once every five weeks; and a shorter summer holiday.
“In its entirety, the concept of the longer day, Saturdays and the additional two weeks gives us an extra 320 hours of learning a year,” explains principal Andy Grace. “That equates to approximately six-and-a-half teaching weeks a year over the five years that a youngster is with us [adding up to] an additional academic year. We are attempting to engineer young people’s futures in terms of securing the best outcomes we possibly can, and we feel that [extra time] is contributory.”
Staff are employed on the usual conditions of service, with an additional commitment to longer days, Saturdays and two weeks fewer in the summer holiday.
Grace says the quid pro quo is that the academy operates a “family first” policy for staff. “If you want to support your child at their sports day or the Christmas pantomime – whatever it is that takes place during the school day – we will work together to facilitate that,” he says.
The extra two weeks, when most schools are on holiday, open up options for Boulevard, which “end-loads” the term with field visits. A lack of competing demands from other schools at that time of year means preferential rates for transport, more availability to take up summer school opportunities at local universities, and career internships for Year 10 pupils.
Grace adds: “It’s not a play-scheme activity, but it is an opportunity to do things like collapsed curriculums; we certainly put our whole-school sports day in that two weeks, so we incentivise the youngsters. We don’t want them to feel as though they are being punished by going to school for a further two weeks.”
While the idea that more work might reduce workload seems paradoxical, Grace insists the structure of the year benefits his staff, allowing them time within the current academic year to plan for the next.
At other schools, he says, “You know what happens: staff take a couple of days off and then they are back in school sorting out the admin, and then the week before school is due to recommence, staff come back in and they are getting themselves ready.”
“We accommodate all that within our existing term time,” he adds. “The law is you mustn’t come into the academy throughout the month of August; we don’t allow people to do it, so there’s a genuine break there.
“That works well for staff and I think it’s lengthy enough for youngsters to have their summer holiday to relax and come back having had a bit of fresh air and the opportunity to switch off.”
He says that the academy does not hold after-school meetings apart from parental-consultation meetings, which each year group holds three times per year.
Staff recruitment, he states, is not a problem, and the school has no vacancies.
The academy is clear about its term dates with prospective parents, who know that it is a commitment they make when choosing the school for their children. “Parents respond overwhelmingly positively,” notes Grace. For proof, he points to attendance figures that he says never fall below an average of 96 per cent, even during the extra two weeks of summer teaching.
What about staff who have children at other schools? “It has never presented a problem,” says Grace.
“They probably have day-care arrangements anyway because we finish school at 4.30pm and their child may be at a school that finishes at 3pm; they have long been arranging to have their child picked up by another member of the family, for example, so it doesn’t provide a particular constraint on staff.”