Land of the setting sun

26th April 2013 at 01:00

Thank God Michael Gove has finally addressed the issue of the skimpy school day. As he rightly points out, it was tailored to suit the needs of previous generations who spent their holidays threshing corn, gathering sheaves and poking the village SEN kid with sharp sticks.

Gove is now looking to the East for clues on how to develop the talents of the 21st-century learner. His new educational philosophy is inspired by The Vapors' 1980 chart hit Turning Japanese, a song with a reassuring ding-dong-the-witch-was-in-charge-then provenance. In a nutshell, his theory is that if we place our students in classroom leg irons for the same length of time as their Asian counterparts, when we get to the Countdown numbers round they will smash the opposition and dominate the world markets.

This is, of course, bollocks. It's not the length of the school day that shapes a child's future - otherwise all the kids in private schools (with their XXL holidays) would end up flipping burgers. School is only a part of the equation. But while I disagree with the argument, I would adopt the solution. Extending the school day has its advantages: most of us work until 5.30pm anyway, so why not just legitimise it? By contractually agreeing to do what we already do, we would benefit from a seismic shift in public sympathy and we could write our Year 9 reports without being interrupted by the school caretaker on the dot of 5pm, clanking his keys and threatening to padlock the gates.

The problem with the school day's timing is simply that we've outgrown it. In terms of career grand designs, we're stuck in a dingy bedsit with a foldaway bed and a two-ring hob, while other professions disport themselves in spacious loft apartments with panoramic views of the city. You can see the impact that living in such cramped conditions has had on our profession. For a start, it has diminished communication. We've learned to speak in acronyms, not words. We reduce everything to incoherent strings of letters because to pronounce them longhand would feel like sitting on a Megabus that's been diverted north of Leeds. Ironically, this reliance on time-saving mnemonics actually increases our workload. Because information rarely reduces itself to neat acronyms, people add extra letters to give their aides-memoires more oomph. And this adds pointless, unnecessary actions. For example, the only reason a SMART target has to be both "attainable" and "realistic" is because without the tautology we would be chasing SMAT targets - and that sounds shite.

Because of time constrictions, teachers have pared everything back to the bone. Even sleeping. Many of my colleagues are taking up transcendental meditation because it delivers two hours' worth of sleep benefits in 20 minutes, thus knitting up ravelled sleeves of care at six times the nightly rate.

But possibly the strongest pressure to extend the school day comes as a result of changes to the way we teach English. Before 2012, we taught to the test. But thanks to last year's results fiasco, many schools are now teaching to two. English departments are safeguarding their headline figures by simultaneously delivering two different exam specifications (GCSE and IGCSE), the hope being that if they throw enough shit against two walls, some of it will come back as a C. Still, at least there's an upside: when performance-related pay comes in, they'll be on twice the money.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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