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Will the school day be extended in the UK? Now the UK is slowly recovering from the pandemic, attention has turned to the so-called ‘Covid catch-up plan’ for schools. 

It’s estimated that most children missed out on 23 weeks of school over the course of last year, and not as a result of a teacher strike, instead schools and colleges were forced to close to try and prevent the spread of coronavirus. Even though children are now back in the classroom, not everything is back to normal as all school exams have been cancelled for 2021 and much of day-to-day school life is vastly different from how it was pre-pandemic. 

The leaked proposals for education recovery, which were published by the Times newspaper this week, include major upheavals to the education system across England. But with doubt already cast on how effective the plans will actually be, some education experts are calling for funds to be diverted to help children catch-up in other areas of life.

Will the school day be extended in the UK?

The government is considering adding 30 minutes onto the end of the school day, according to leaked government proposals. Nothing has been confirmed for certain yet though, as funding for more catch-up plans will depend on the spending review in autumn.

One part of the Covid catch-up plan for schools, otherwise known as the education recovery plan, has already been announced. To help children close the gap in their learning created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Education has allocated a budget of £1 billion for an additional 100 million hours of tutoring. £250 million has also been allocated for further professional development for teachers, while schools and colleges themselves will be allocated funding to allow some year 13 students the option to repeat their final year. This is on top of the £1.7 billion announced earlier in the year for summer schools and mental health support for pupils.

Boris Johnson has called this the "next step" in the education recovery plan, saying it "should give parents confidence that we will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential." However, this step has been dubbed by Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, as "hugely disappointing" and showing a failure by the government to recognise "the scale of learning loss" over the last year. The tutoring will be offered to those most in need of additional support and provided in smaller groups, but it won't be offered to all pupils.

However as noted, this is just one element of the whole education recovery plan. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that plans to extend the school day were still "very much on the agenda" for later this year.

As part of the proposals, leaked earlier this week, children are set to have an extra 100 hours of schooling every year from 2022 and a minimum 35-hours in school per week. There may be more focus on one-to-one teaching and further tutoring in smaller groups for five million pupils across England as well.

Other proposals in the plan include extending the school day from 8am to 5pm or 6pm, with the additional hours used for extracurricular activities such as sports or art. However Sir Kevan Collins, the education recovery commissioner who created the plan, has argued that by making these extra hours voluntary, the children most in need of additional support would be most likely to miss out.

He told a House of Lords committee last month, “The more voluntary things are, the less likely they’re going to get to the hard to reach bits of your community.” 

The government has been working on this catch-up plan for schools over the last year, but despite not being finalised yet, the plan has recently hit a snag due to the heavy £15 billion it would reportedly cost to put into action. Working out at £700 per pupil over three years, the plan is supported by the Prime Minister but has received opposition from the chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Treasury.

Young boy sitting in the classroom

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Additionally, research published in May by the University of Cambridge suggests that keeping children in school for longer periods will not be enough to help fill the gaps in their education caused by disruption during the pandemic. The study, conducted by researcher Vaughan Connolly, used timetable data from almost 3000 schools in England to find the connection between changes in the amount of teaching time pupils received in England, maths, science and humanities subjects, and their performances in GCSE results for the same subjects. The results revealed that "even substantial increases in classroom teaching time would likely only lead to small improvements."

A more productive way to use the additional hours, Mr Connolly suggested, would be to support student's metacognitive skills by giving them the information they need to plan and evaluate their own learning.

The study also found that just more teaching was only "likely to do relatively little" to reduce the attainment gap between students on free school meals and others. An hour extra each week in English reduced the gap by 6% and an additional hour of maths reduced the gap by around 8%. When compared to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning toolkit, which collects international evidence on teaching interventions and translates their effect into months of progress, the results are poor. Increased classroom teaching time is only likely to lead to two months of progress over a whole academic year, which is significantly less progress than the results of other inventions in the document.

The British Psychological Society has also suggested that resources would be better spent improving children’s social and personal skills. They’ve suggested that the government divert funds to activities like music, crafts and sports, all of which children also missed out on when schools were closed during two lockdowns.

Vivian Hill, vice-chair of the organisation's educational and child psychology division, has said that if the plans go ahead, "it’s important is that we don’t just fill those extra hours with more and more formal teaching sessions".

"It is about developing a balanced offer and recognising that learning is a dynamic process. We urge the government to use this as an opportunity to re-set the approach we take to education and our children within schools." She said, “Children don’t have to be sat at desks in a classroom to learn, giving them space to play sports, paint, try different crafts, and socialise will all lead to learning and the development of important life skills.

Two children doing art in school as plans for extended school day are revealed for the UK

Credit: Getty

Will the school day be extended from now on? 

It’s not currently known if the government’s plans to have the school day extended will become a permanent fixture in education. 

The recovery plan, which has not been finalised yet, is due to come into play from 2022 and could last for a number of years to ensure all children who missed out on education during the pandemic are caught up.

Will the school day be extended across the rest of the UK?

There have been no plans suggested to extend the school day in other parts of the UK so far. The plans drawn up by Kevan Connolly only involve schools and other educational establishments in England, with other devolved nations making their own recovery plans for education.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did say that she would consider "tuition in the summer holidays and extended hours" for students in Scotland to ensure they can recover from the lost classroom time, however. When asked during First Minister's Questions in February this year whether the First Minister "would explore all feasible options for ensuring that our pupils can catch up on their lost education", Ms Sturgeon replied, "Yes, we absolutely will. We are doing and will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that the impact on children’s education is minimised, and we will consider taking action beyond that which is being taken right now."

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years  experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for womanandhome.com and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.