The school funding crisis is increasing the problem of reduced break times, headteachers warned today.
James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Breaks are essential for everyone in the school, and the negative impact on pupil wellbeing is definitely a concern. It’s the unintended consequence of a number of factors.
“The school day is now jam-packed with tougher content and more obligations for schools to deliver. School budgets have been at breaking point for several years, so resources are stretched and the number of support staff available to cover break times has been reduced.
“Everything points to a system under incredible strain at the moment.”
Break times 'vital to pupil wellbeing'
His made his comments as a new video from the British Psychological Society warned that schools must prioritise providing a proper break time for pupils, with an expert highlighting the “pressure on play”.
The video, “Right to play,” which features children’s poet Michael Rosen, shows primary-school children from Luton and London explaining the importance of play in their lives.
Dan O’Hare, from the British Psychological Society, said schools needed to understand that play was “vital” for children.
“The pressure on play is a growing problem," he said. “Children’s break time has been reduced by 45 minutes a week in recent years, and one of the results is that eight out of 10 children now do less than one hour of physical activity per day.
“We are grateful to Michael Rosen and the children in the video for helping us make the case that play is vital for schoolchildren. Because play isn’t just a means to an end: it’s fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.”
In the video, pupils talk about how play “helps children to concentrate”, “makes them stress-free,” and makes them feel “like I’m not alone and I’m not lonely”.
One pupil spoke of how “adults don’t play, they do other things like work and all that. So maybe they’ve just forgotten what it feels like to play”.
In the video, Mr Rosen says: "Play is really, really important for me. I've spent all my life doing different kinds of play, but especially with words."
A study carried out last year by UCL’s Institute of Education compared data from 1,133 primary and secondary schools in 2017 with data collected in 2006 and 1995, and found that at key stage 1, children had 45 minutes less break time per week than children of the same age in 1995.
And pupils at KS3 and 4 – aged 11 to 16 – had 65 minutes less.
The Department for Education has said schools have autonomy to make their own decisions about the school day, but that pupils should be given appropriate breaks.