Four-day week makes sense

25th February 2011 at 00:00

The idea of a four-day school week (short-lived proposal by North Ayrshire) is not as daft as many suggest - particularly when you spread the 190 days, for which the school legally must be open, more evenly over the school year.

This brings significant educational benefits by reducing learning loss over the long summer holiday (currently six or seven weeks). Ask any primary teacher about this phenomenon and imagine which children it affects most. Alternatively, look at the existing research, which is unequivocal: long holidays can adversely interrupt learning.

Similarly, if you chart the incidence of pupil indiscipline, teacher absence, grievance and workplace stress, you find that the three terms show the same pattern - starting low and curving nicely upwards as deadlines and the end of term approach all too fast. In fact, if you wanted to design a work system to maximise pressure on staff, then short, intensive periods of work with multiple important deadlines and targets, coupled with long layoff times, would fit the bill.

However, given the demands on working families, authorities would be compelled to offer some engaging activity for those children and young people who wanted it on the fifth day. This could take the form of work experience, community-based learning, outdoor education, sports and arts, independent study or maybe even just leisure time. It might well save money by reducing absence, but the point is that "thinking the unthinkable" is a necessary step towards seeing new ways to address old problems in challenging times.

If you have taken a creative or systems thinking course, this will be comfortable territory for you; if not, and you work in local government, sign up quickly, because only whole-system redesign will realise the level of savings that are required while avoiding some very negative cuts.

John Stodter, general secretary, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

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