The longest day

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Pupils in the first two years of primary stay in school the same length of time as those in P7, to some parents' annoyance

one of Scotland's main parents' bodies has attacked a council for imposing a longer school day on its youngest primary pupils without consulting parents.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has taken up the fight on behalf of angry parents in Aberdeen, who say that a 25-hour week for children in the first two years of primary - the same length of school week as P7 pupils - is more they can cope with.

Judith Gillespie, development manager for the SPTC, claims Aberdeen's handling of the change of hours flies in the face of Scottish Executive policy to boost parental involvement in their children's education - enshrined last year in the Parental Involvement (Scotland) Act.

Nicol Stephen, Deputy First Minister and MSP for Aberdeen South, backs the parents' case. He said: "Obviously, full and open consultation with parents is very important. The council has accepted that it did not follow its own good practice."

For its part, however, the council insists that full consultation was carried out with parents and staff about the reconfiguration of the school day on a school by school basis. It says the vast majority of parents have been positive about the changes.

The case was raised in the middle of last year when the SPTC was contacted by a parent. The unnamed parent was told originally by the council that the extension of the school day was taken in accordance with instructions from HMIE. Further investigation by the SPTC discovered that this was not the case.

A spokeswoman for the council told The TESS this week its decision was taken to comply with the executive's guidance .

However, a letter to Mr Stephen last July from Peter Peacock, the former education minister, said the length and structure of the school day was at the discretion of education authorities.

He added that the regulations covering teachers' class contact time only affected the teacher's working week - not the number of hours children attend school.

HM Inspectorate of Education did point out to the council in 2004 that some P3 pupils were not receiving the full 25 hours per week of schooling that is standard for most Scottish pupils of this age.

However, the council chose to increase the P1-2 children's hours to 25 hours a week last year - the same as for older primary pupils.

Douglas Paterson, Aberdeen's chief executive, told Mr Stephen in a letter last year that feedback from HMIE inspections and advice from the teachers'

agreement communications team were behind the decision to lengthen the school day.

But when Mr Stephen raised the matter with Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector of education, he was told: "In almost all education authorities in Scotland, the pupil week for those at P1 and P2 is 22.5 hours and 25 hours for those at P3-P7. A very few authorities, including Aberdeen City Council, have continued to deem P3 pupils as infants, which has resulted in pupils at this stage receiving a half day's less school each week, compared to the vast majority of their peers in other authorities."

In his most recent letter to the parent, Mr Paterson stated that the council's legal officials confirmed that "the decision we took to extend the school day was valid, although it clearly did not follow our own expectations in terms of good practice".

Mrs Gillespie said this confirmed that there had been no consultation with parents. "He is saying: 'We didn't consult you, but we're keeping these hours anyway,'" she said.

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