Could longer school hours mean Tory election win?

A former policy advisor to Number 10 believes that longer school days, shorter holidays and a 45-hour school week be the ‘perfect manifesto’ to win the Tories the next election.

Paul Kirby who is now a partner at accountancy firm KPMG has proposed that lengthening school days and cutting holidays might be the magic formula for the 2015 election, which could not only carry the Tories to victory next year, but also in 2020.

Kirby believes his proposal that the manifesto includes the pledge for all state schools to provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year from September 2016, will prove extremely popular with voters despite the anticipated opposition from the teachers unions.

He argues this will allow more women to enter the workforce, thus improving economic growth. He also claims it will greatly benefit children’s education and “poorer kids’ progression most.”

Allowing longer days means lessons can become “less rushed, less stressful, more relaxed,” he says, explaining: “There is more time on the task – time to explain, to repeat, to explore.” He also says that increasing things like PE lessons will mean teachers won’t have to be in class constantly but will have free time to plan.

He proposes: “The extra-curricular could come into the curriculum – but for all kids, not just those with supportive or able parents.”

However the National Union of Teachers have angrily refuted his claims, insisting that children are not to be treated as an “inconvenience” and that schools already work with local services to make sure playtime can be had by all.

Christine Blower General Secretary of the NUT said:

“Children and young people deserve a childhood and contrary to the suggestion that this will please parents the majority will not support this idea at all. Children are not an inconvenience to fit in around work. Equally education should not be viewed as a production line.

“Teachers already work some of the longest hours of any profession with many putting in 50 to 60 hours a week . There needs to be a balance to ensure that both teachers and pupils have time to recharge their batteries.”

Objections have also been raised by psychology professor Dr Peter Gray, who writing for the Independent called for childhood to be 'given back to children' and called for greater play.

Mr Kirby's idea is not new.  In 2013 Michael Gove called for longer school days telling the Spectator's schools conference that “in the most successful East Asian education systems school days are longer, school holidays are shorter.”

However Dr Gray says it’s not so simple reminding us that Asian schools have their downsides.  He said;

“According to the scholar and author Yong Zhao, who is an expert on schools in China, a common Chinese term used to refer to the products of their schools is gaofen dineng, which essentially means good at tests but bad at everything else.’

He also pointed to out that a recent large-scale survey conducted by British and Chinese researchers, Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play.

A Department for Education spokesperson responded by saying whilst they would consider recommendations for further reforms, schools already had the freedom to set the length of the school day and term and that many Academies and Free Schools already offered extended opening hours.  

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