Extending the school day so pupils can catch up following months of COVID disruption would only serve to tire them out, an education union has warned.
This morning, education secretary Gavin Williamson refused to rule out a lengthening of the school day when questioned about the government’s catch-up plans for students.
Asked if the government was considering extending the school day after pupils go back on 8 March, Williamson told Sky News: “We are looking at a whole broad range of different options of how we can support schools, how we can support teachers but most importantly how we can support children.”
When pressed again on the school day lengthening, Williamson again refused to answer directly, adding: “We will be looking at how we can boost and support children in a whole range of different manners.
“But it’s not just about time and school, it’s about supporting teachers in terms of the quality of teaching and how we can help them.”
However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the government has not discussed the idea of extending the school day, and that “the only mention we have seen of this idea is in media reports”.
Barton said the ASCL “would not support a mandatory extension to the school day”, adding: “Schools may want to put on some tailored after-school provision for groups of children who would benefit from this support.
Watch: Schools to reopen on 8 March
“But the notion of forcing all children to sit through extra classes at the end of the day is not necessary and making tired pupils do more work is not effective.
“We need to focus on quality not quantity.”
Patrick Roach, general secretary of teacher's union NASUWT said education recovery cannot be done "at the expense of teachers and support staff in schools who are already working around the clock".
He added: “Education recovery cannot be based on trying to squeeze more out of an education system and an education workforce that is already at breaking point as they continue to deal with the unprecedented and exceptional challenges of the pandemic.
"The government must now commit to recruiting substantially more staff to provide an ambitious programme that will deliver the education recovery that all children and young people deserve.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said research "shows that there are better methods to help pupils than lengthening the school day".
He added: "The government must filter out loud calls for superficially attractive schemes and listen to the experts instead.”
Research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) found that, on average, pupils “make two additional months' progress per year from extended school time”.
However, the EEF added that if longer school days were to be successful, the increases “should be supported by both parents and staff”.
Williamson’s comments came as Boris Johnson pledged an extra £400m of funding – on top of the £300m announced in January – as part of the government’s education recovery plan following months of school closures.
As part of the recovery package, summer classes will be introduced for pupils who need it the most, such as incoming Year 7 pupils, while one-to-one and small group tutoring schemes will be expanded.
The programme includes a one-off £302m “Recovery Premium” for primary and secondary schools to support disadvantaged pupils – which could include running additional clubs and activities in the summer, or opting for evidence-based approaches to help children from September.
A further £200m will be available to secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer schools.
The NAHT's Whiteman said: “Summers schools will be of value for some pupils but it will be important not to overwhelm students. Recovery cannot happen in a single summer.”
He added: “Fortunately, there already exists a wealth of knowledge within the profession about how to narrow achievement gaps. We need to trust schools to put in place a long-term approach based on what they know about the needs of their pupils.”
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, called the package of measures “a promising start”, but he added there were “no quick fixes” and called for a consistent multi-year recovery plan.
He also said it was important “to recognise the problem of teacher burnout that could be exacerbated by additional workload”.
Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?