Plans to reform the school day and year in Wales is not backed by evidence and is unlikely to help children’s learning recover from the effects of the pandemic, the bodies representing headteachers have warned.
The trial to extend the school day in Wales came under fire as it gets underway in 13 schools and one college across five of the 22 local education authorities.
The Association of School and College Leaders Cymru said research behind the idea was “flimsy in the extreme” and questioned how representative such a small trial would be. No Welsh medium secondary schools are taking part.
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The National Association of Headteachers Cymru said the plan appeared to be more to do with childcare than learning while the National Education Union Cymru warned it must be adequately funded were it to go ahead after the trial.
The pilot, announced last term, met with enthusiasm from children and teachers taking part, but the NAHT Cymru said the Welsh Government should be “honest” about the reasons for it.
More than 1,800 children are taking part in the pilot with five hours of extra activity each week over 10 weeks. The Welsh Government insisted it was not about childcare.
The move follows a Welsh Government commitment to looking at reform of the school day and is focused on supporting disadvantaged pupils and schools particularly affected during the pandemic.
Questioning the validity of the trial ASCL Cymru Director Eithne Hughes said: “Since we learned the trial was going ahead several months ago we have been challenging the Welsh Government to provide the research behind the reform of the school day and year that backs up its thinking and how that affects learner attainment, their welfare and wellbeing, as well as on the workload of education staff.
“We have now seen that research and it is flimsy in the extreme, offering little sound or reasoned evidence for believing that reforming the school day and year can have the desired effect of helping learners to recover from the debilitating effects of the pandemic.”
She said the government had shown determination to “think outside the box” but the reasoning behind extending the school day and the way the trial is being conducted “will quite rightly be questioned by everyone with an interest in education in Wales”.
While ASCL members supported any plans to help disadvantaged learners recover from continuing pandemic disruption to education she pointed out the trial involved less than 1% of the schools and colleges in Wales and fewer than 0.5% of the 407,000 pupils – that meant any conclusions would not be representative.
Laura Doel, Director of the NAHT Cymru said “we have yet to be provided with any evidence that supports extending the school day”.
She claimed the focus from government has been on the school day fitting in with family life and working patterns, with no mention of education benefit.
“All the evidence available suggests that there is little or no data that supports keeping learners in school for longer because longer periods in school does not increase a child’s capacity to learn,” Ms Doel added.
“If the government’s plan is to support working families with a national childcare offer, then they should come out and say that. Schools are not childcare providers and our profession of dedicated school leaders, teachers and support staff should not be expected to take on additional work and responsibility to do this.
“We urge the government to be honest and clear with the profession about the motivation behind reforming the school day. If it is about childcare, then they need to direct that conversation with those who work in that field and allow school leaders to focus on their core business of teaching and learning.”
David Evans, Wales Secretary for the National Education Union Cymru, was more supportive, but warned funding was an issue.
He said: “NEU Cymru members will welcome that the Welsh Government is putting additional funding into some extra time for arts and cultural activities. We know that specific interventions can help support learning, and this builds on the activities already undertaken by schools through the Pupil Development Grant.
“However, NEU Cymru members will also be cautious at a time when they are struggling with huge workloads: trying to make sure that they are engaging children in learning. We know schools are under immense pressure. Covid-19 has sadly not gone away, and levels of staff and pupil absence are high.
“NEU Cymru members are clear – they are doing everything they can to support children and young people. This fully-funded WG pilot is welcome, and those taking part should be paid appropriately. But we can’t have a situation where schools are expected to do this in future without the funding, or any situation which increases workload.”
The trial is a commitment of the Welsh Government’s Co-Operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru and results will be considered with Plaid Cymru as part of that Agreement.
The Welsh Government responds
Announcing the trial was underway in 13 schools and one college Education Minister Jeremy Miles said: “We know from research that young people can gain in confidence and well-being from this approach, especially disadvantaged learners.
“Programmes which provide enriching and stimulating additional sessions and support learners to re-engage with learning can have a greater impact on attainment than those that are solely academic in focus.
“The trial is a great opportunity to gather further evidence on how we use and structure time at school and how that might evolve in the future. We will be learning how these additional sessions might improve well-being, academic progression and increased social and cultural capital.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We want to understand the impact of additional time, activities and experiences in the school day, which research shows can have a positive impact on attainment, confidence and well-being, particularly for disadvantaged learners.
“We have been clear with the schools who have volunteered to take part in this trial that we don’t want to place a burden on them, the workforce or the learners.
“This is a small-scale trial offering extra activities outside of the school day, and there has been flexibility for the volunteer schools in how and when they deliver the sessions.
“This is not about childcare. We are asking whether the current way of doing things works best for learners, the workforce and families. We know that many of our learners have been disadvantaged by the pandemic, and we have an opportunity through this trial to directly support them.”
The schools and one college taking part in the trial
Eastern High and Cardiff and Vale College
Windsor Clive Primary School
Abertillery Learning Community 3-18 school– across three sites
Ebbw Fawr Learning Community
Neath Port Talbot
Cefn Saeson Comprehensive
Melin Primary School
Rhondda Cynon Taf
Darrenlas Primary School
Glenboi Primary School
Vale of Glamorgan
Pencoedtre High School
Cadoxton Primary School
Colcot Primary School
Holton Primary School
Oakfield Primary School
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