Tinkering with the school week won’t help education

On 17 July 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) in England published non-statutory guidance and case studies for schools in England wanting to increase the length of their school week, including those delivering below the minimum 32.5 hours.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told Parliament:

“In March 2022, the Government announced in the Schools White Paper, ‘Opportunity for All’, that to give every pupil the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential, all mainstream, state-funded schools would be expected to deliver a minimum school week of 32.5 hours by September 2023.

“Most schools already have a school week of at least this length, and others will have plans in hand to meet the minimum expectation by September 2023. However, in recognition of the pressures currently facing schools, the Government has decided to defer the deadline to September 2024.

“The Government is encouraging schools that are planning to increase their hours from this September to continue to do so.”

In other words, schools have the next 12 months to implement this.

Even though it is ‘non-statutory guidance’, Ofsted is required to comment on it in inspections, so the DfE is effectively imposing a requirement by the back door.

Ever since this commitment was made by DfE in 2022, we have been calling for guidance from them to explain exactly what the ‘non-statutory expectations’ will be.

The delay of over 12 months in producing this guidance has meant the only option for the government was to delay its implementation from September 2023 until September 2024.

Despite there being no official guidance or advice until now, a number of schools have, naturally, spent the last 12 months putting plans in place, meeting with bus companies and transport providers, and negotiating with parents and with wrap-around childcare and other out-of-school providers, to be able to be able to meet this expectation.

According to research last year, 80% of schools in England already offer 32.5 hours in school each week, so this new ‘guidance’ will affect only 20% of schools.

It is worth pointing out that many of the 20% that don’t, have good reasons for this – for example, they have shortened the lunch break or have special provision for SEND pupils.

It is not necessarily a bad thing for children to be in schools for 32.5 hours, but that time has to be purposeful.

The 32.5 hours includes registration time, breaks and lunch time, but many schools have reduced these periods so they don’t have to pay dinner supervisors etc.

Therefore, this proposal really distracts schools from their main purpose, which is education, and focuses it on time – which may not have any benefit to the pupil but will have a cost implication for the school.

Not a member? Join Community today

Community represents and supports people working in all sectors of the early years and education. Our dedicated education and early years team have the training and experience to help guide you through any challenges or issues you are facing at work.

We’re proud to secure better pay and conditions for our members. Click here to find out more about our member-exclusive benefits and join today.

Join Community

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at help@community-tu.org or on 0800 389 6332.

Get protection at work, join today!

Do you have insurance on your car, home and phone? Making sure the things you care about are protected against unknown risks is important.

Not a member?
Let’s get to know each other.