Plans to extend the school day to be considered by Education Secretary

The new education secretary has pledged to look at lengthening the school day.

Nadhim Zahawi told MPs there are some “excellent examples” that he will examine, before he urged all schools to ensure they move to the average school day length of 6.5 hours.

It has been suggested an extension to the school day will help children prosper after the coronavirus pandemic and catch-up lost learning.

Speaking at education questions, Mr Zahawi also said “there is no place for anti-vaxxers harassing or coming anywhere near school leaders” as he insisted the vaccine rollout for senior school pupils “continues at pace”.

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Speaking in the Commons, Conservative MP Robert Halfon MP – who chairs the Education Select Committee – asked if the Secretary of State will continue to make the case for a longer school day.

Mr Halfon said: “We know from the Education Policy Institute that it increases educational attainment from two to three months, especially amongst disadvantaged pupils. We know that a longer school day, according to the department for culture, media, sports, increases numeracy by 29%. So, this increases educational attainment.

“Will he at least consider some pilot schemes in disadvantaged areas around the country where we can have a longer school day?”

Mr Zahawi replied: “I think the priority has to be for those children and students, who have the least time available to them to recover, which is why the £800 million for the 16 to 19-year-olds additional 40 hours of education is so important. Plus the £1 billion going into secondary and primary, making the total £5 billion of recovery money.

“There are some excellent examples… of a longer school day which I’m going to look at. The average school day now is 6.5 hours and I would like to see everybody move towards that average.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said in a statement: “The gains that might be possible through extending the school day must be weighed against the costs of such a strategy, including the impact on pupils’ mental health, reduced family time and less time for extra-curricular activities.

“Children’s happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised as well as their education.”

Responding to questions from Labour on vaccines, Mr Zahawi also told the Commons: “It was the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that did not initially make the decision and then went further and asked the four chief medical officers to then make that decision.

“So, as we have done throughout the vaccination programme, we’ve operated by taking the advice – JCVI, by taking the advice of the chief medical officers and we moved swiftly the moment that advice was made available to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds, and of course through the holiday period that was expanded to out-of-school vaccination and now that they are returning back into school that continues at pace.

“He is right to highlight the dangerous behaviour of some anti-vaxxers, there is no place for anti-vaxxers harassing or coming anywhere near school leaders and I have the reassurance of the Home Secretary that she’ll make any resources available that the sector needs to make sure those people in our schools are protected and are able to get on with the job of teaching children and protecting them.”

Meanwhile, the education minister, Michelle Donelan, appealed for university lecturers to “reconsider taking strike action” amid a dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.

She told the Commons: “I am deeply concerned about it because there is the threat of strikes, our students are now in a position to have face-to-face teaching, and I would urge every lecturer to reconsider taking strike action.

“Strikes before have not helped the situation but they have impacted students, who deserve a fairer deal.”

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