There is a huge opposition among teachers over any idea that the school day should be extended to help pupils “catch up” with learning they have lost during to the pandemic, it has emerged.
The prospect of “lengthening the school day” as part of a “transformative” post-Covid change to education was raised by Gavin Williamson last month.
And sources close to Downing Street have told Tes that there is a desire for “a serious push” on an extended school day next month when Boris Johnson is expected to announce a four-year education recovery plan.
But if that is what the prime minister is going to unveil then it appears that many people working in schools won’t like it.
Cost of Covid: Teachers' grim figures on learning loss
On Sunday, Tes published an analysis looking at what might be motivating ministers to make such a change and whether unions were in any position to fight it.
But most teachers reacting to the piece online didn’t really get as far as discussing how the catch-up plans might play out politically. They were just crystal clear on one thing: they do not want a longer school day.
And they seem to have parents on side. As Tes revealed last week, polling shows that only one-fifth of parents see a longer school day as their preferred method of Covid catch-up.
That compares with “increased wellbeing support” for all pupils, backed by 56 per cent of parents.
So if Mr Johnson and Mr Williamson do want to extend the school day, it looks like they will have to win a lot of people over – teachers and parents. Here are some of the arguments they are likely to face:
1. Longer hours would 'punish' already tired pupils
"Funny how you never hear children mentioned in these plans?" tweeted teacher Iain Matthews.
"Has anyone who thinks these things up ever been with children at the end of the day? Or at the end of term? They’re knackered!"
Another teacher said: "So because some children have not been able to access the home learning, all children have to be punished with longer hours?
"It will dishearten the kids who've worked their socks off. It won't help the children who struggle as they find it hard to concentrate as it is."
"They need to visit schools at 3pm and see if they think children are capable of learning anything," said primary teacher Vicki Ayre.
2. Teachers are tired too
"The profession, already with a recruitment and retention problem, will be in crisis – many good teachers will leave," warned teacher Mrs D on Twitter.
"Oh yes, by 3-3.15 you are about to collapse," agreed a supply teacher. "Teachers love their jobs but kids do drain you."
"There is no point," tweeted a Yorkshire primary teacher. "Children are already tired by 2pm so they’re not going to learn more by keeping them in school longer.
"Teachers work after school marking/preparing so I don’t see how it’s possible anyway, especially if teacher-parents ever want to see their own kids!"
3. Teachers say their contracts mean they can't be made to work longer hours
This argument was made multiple times by teachers and will be a key point that ministers have to consider.
If they are expecting teachers to staff longer school days then it may have to be on a voluntary basis, unless they are prepared to enter into long negotiations over contractual changes.
4. The whole idea is wrong – longer hours won't improve learning
Some teachers are arguing that the basic concept of a longer school day for catch-up is overly simplistic and just won't work.
"Children are only able to sustain concentration levels for academic subjects for short periods of time at primary level," said teacher Brid Collins. "A longer day is a bad idea."
And Emily Weston, a primary teacher, argued: "Just asking someone to learn for longer doesn’t mean they’ll learn more. Extra time will mean tiredness and lethargy which, in turn, will result in less retention of knowledge and understanding of skills."
5. Pupils would miss out on other after-school activities
"Never mind teachers," wrote primary teacher Anna Marshall. "I don’t know any parents who want longer school days and shorter holidays.
"Kids are looking forward to getting back to their after-school activities. Families want to use the holidays to do all the things they haven’t been able to do all year."
A government spokesperson said: “We are working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure all pupils have the chance to recover from the impact of the pandemic as quickly and comprehensively as possible – and we have appointed Sir Kevan Collins as education recovery commissioner to specifically oversee this work.
“As part of this we have already invested £1.7 billion in ambitious catch-up activity, including high-quality tutoring and summer school provision. The majority of the funding is targeted towards those most in need, while giving schools the flexibility of funding to use as they believe best to support their pupils.”