Professor calls for school that never sleeps

13th December 2002 at 00:00
Leading academic says education should be on offer 24 hours a day to reflect today's flexible working culture, reports Warwick Mansell

JUST as the teachers' workload talks reach their climax a leading academic is calling for schools to join the 247 world.

Professor Kate Myers, a senior associate of Cambridge University, believes they should offer fitness facilities, computer suites and even night-time adult education lessons to reflect today's open-all-hours culture.

But she was immediately attacked for "living in cloud cuckoo land" by the National Association of Head Teachers.

Professor Myers was addressing a meeting on the future of education held by the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants. "We are in changing times, but do we yet have changing schooling? I think schooling is not catching up fast enough," she said.

"Most of us now use banks you can access 24 hours a day, most supermarkets are open 24 hours, local doctors' surgeries operate a 24-hour rota.

"What about the 24-hour school? Should we be thinking about relating what schools offer to that sort of flexible lifestyle and re-think why we still offer schools from 9 to 4?"

She said it was a "complete waste of resources" to have schools, many with millions of pounds worth of facilities, standing empty when pupils were not there.

People paid a fortune to go to private gyms, she said, while similar facilities were provided at taxpayers' expense at schools across the country.

Professor Myers' suggestion, which she admits could take years for any school to implement, chimes with government moves, enshrined in this year's Education Act, to extend schools' hours and open them up to be used, for example, as post offices.

Some secondary schools have offered evening classes for decades, and charging for use of gyms is becoming more popular. But the suggestion that some of these facilities, including adult education classes, could be provided through the night is new. Professor Myers said she was worried she might be "lynched" by teachers over the suggestion.

She added that if necessary, schools would only need to open some of their facilities, such as computer suites, to the public at night, in which case support staff rather than teachers would be needed.

Some teachers, particularly those with young families, might welcome the chance to work more "flexibly", beyond the traditional morning and early afternoon schedule. But she added: "This must not be at the cost of teachers, some of whom work crazy hours anyway."

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "More and more schools are moving, if they possibly can, to opening up for longer hours. In itself, this presents plenty of logistical, staffing and other implications.

"As for 24 hours, I think she is living in cloud cuckoo land. Let's get the 12-hour, or the 14-hour school sorted out before we start going into flights of fancy like 24-hour schooling."

Copies of a report of the discussion are available from naeiac@gemsoft.co.uk

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