Previously, we have explored the changes to School Summer Holidays, but recently I read about a school who has taken the power to change the school day much further than might have been expected. Great Yarmouth Primary Academy has begun opening until 6pm for children aged seven to eleven.
The school, which was failing in 2010, was taken over by entrepreneur Theodore Agnew and became an academy. This comes hot on the heels of Elizabeth Truss MP’s call to arms while speaking to a group of professional parents “CityFathers” and “CityMothers”.
“Next time you are in your child’s school,” she said, “if they don’t already, ask them whether they’re planning to offer 8 to 6 provision – ask whether they’re going to extend their age range downwards, and welcome 2, 3 and 4-year-olds to be part of the school family.
“We all need to be asking those questions of our schools. We know that the world has changed since we were children – and parenting has changed along with it.”
She called for “a culture change” in the long held belief of the purpose of schools. Michael Gove has already sanctioned longer school days, and as we’ve previously mentioned, shorter school holidays, so how is this working in practice?
At Great Yarmouth, the timetable is not without controversy. With school starting at 8.55am and closing its doors at 6:00pm, the hours are longer than a full-time working week. However, the children aren’t in lessons for the whole time. At 3.30pm, classes end and those in infant classes go home.
Pupils aged seven and over stay at school for what used to be called extra-curricular activities such as horse-riding, cookery, cello lessons and even trips to Cambridge University.
From 5pm, pupils in years five and six do their homework at school.
The chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference says this type of extended timetable undermines a ‘proper childhood’, but it is not uncommon to find after-school enrichment activities at independent and boarding schools, particularly at secondary level. Ofsted’s last inspection report noted that the timetable was improving its pupils’ life skills and commitment to education.
When I was at school in Bolton, I was in the school choir and took part in school plays. This feels like a logical extension.
It is also important to consider that, with much of the funding for the activities coming from Pupil Premium, it is likely that the many of the pupils benefitting from this extra time at school are already at a disadvantage. They might never get the chance to ride a horse or learn about how to cook a healthy meal without being given the opportunity at school. The schedule also gives working parents a safety net – their child will be safe and looked after until 6pm.
Margaret Hodge MP said last week: “The sensible policy direction would have been to locate more and more of our childcare offer in schools rather than build other buildings partly because it would be more sustainable, partly because it would make better use of valuable community assets and [is] where people feel comfortable, and partly because it brings the influence of the education community to bear on the quality of childcare provision.”
And surely that is the point, when schools get involved in childcare, children benefit from a truly ‘joined-up’ approach to their education.
For information on registering as an Early Years Provider or joining the Childcare Register, take a look at our dedicated topic.