How to ruin education in the UK

I write this post not as an education expert, teacher or politician. I have no professional experience in schools and haven’t studied the education systems of other countries around the world. But I am a parent, and that has to count for something, right?

In just over seven months my daughter will begin her school career. I already have qualms about my only-just-four year old starting full time education at such a tender age, but that’s for another post. I also have fears about the increasing use of data and statistics to measure children’s attainment, with much emphasis being placed on league tables and numbers that don’t show the whole picture. But I digress. What I’m really worried about, beyond any of that stuff, is the fact my daughter may end up in an education system on the cusp of being perfectly ruined. 

I have read numerous articles today about a former Conservative advisor who thinks he has the ideal Election promise for 2015. In his blog post on the subject Paul Kirby boasts that his idea is a guaranteed vote winner. Apparently, it is so dripping with brilliance that the Party to take it on will also win the General Election in 2020.

His idea? “From September 2016, all state funded schools will, by law, provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year”.

That’s right. Kirby wants kids to be in school from 9am to 6pm – or 8.30am until 5.30pm – for 45 weeks of the year. He wants longer days and shorter holidays. His argument is a long one, but the main thrust of it (the one he uses to open with, anyway) hinges on the economy. In short, longer school days will equal cheaper childcare meaning more parents will work full time. Kirby says this plan will, “Capture the imagination of women voters, especially those aged 30-45”.

Well, hang on a minute Paul. With that one sentence you’ve captured something, but it’s not my imagination.

The thought of my daughter sitting in lessons between 9am and 6pm, for five days a week terrifies me. I can already see it: the rushed tea in the evening, no time to see her parents before bed, later bedtime, exhaustion the following day… and that’s just the week. Imagine the weekends. Saturdays would be a write-off, as she’d be tired, still catching up from the week before. And Sundays would, inevitably, turn to preparing for another long week ahead. She’d have to power on through for far longer, because there wouldn’t be the regular holidays. So life would, basically, consist of school, school and more school.

Where’s the time to play, Paul?

Yes I know this grand plan allows for “creating a lot of space in the day for play, creativity, relaxation, exploration and exercise”. Supposedly. But all of that would have to take place at school, wouldn’t it? Where’s the time for play at home? Trips to the park with friends? Sunny afternoons in the garden after school? Of course these activities may not contribute to my daughter’s academic learning and they may not give her that extra grade which would lead to another point on a league table, but they’d make her happy. Content. Free to grow and, well, be a child and enjoy her childhood. Playing – outside of the confines of school – it’s what kids are naturally good at, you know?

I know it’s tricky for parents to juggle school hours with work. I have many friends who have children at school and already do battle with organising holiday childcare and pre and post-school pick-up. But school is not about offering free childcare. Schools aren’t there to make it easier for companies to demand their workers put in the hours. As convenient as longer compulsory school hours may be to the heads of these companies, if we really want to address the issue of getting more women into work, why don’t we look at creating more options for flexible working?

Then there’s the issue of the teachers. I want my child to be taught by enthusiastic, valued professionals who feel appreciated in their job and motivated to inspire their students. It’s no secret that a happy workforce does a better job. I can’t help but think that sentences like “[this plan] gives teachers the same sort of working week and annual holidays as other hard working professionals” suggests something I’ve been suspicious of for a while: that many politicians and political advisers a) don’t appreciate what a tough job teaching actually is, and b) think all teachers are lazy. Way to motivate your work-force and make them feel all warm and valued.

I happen to be married to a teacher. I was raised by teachers. I know how hard they work. My husband, like my parents before him, leaves the house at 7am Monday to Friday. He doesn’t get home until 6pm. When he’s home, he has half an hour for something to eat (he doesn’t have time to eat at school) and then he regularly works anything between four to six hours in the evening. He also works much of Sunday. So it’s not like he’s work shy.

But I said I wasn’t writing this from the point of view of a teacher, so let’s not allow my husband’s job to bias me against this brilliant Paul Kirby plan.

Instead, I’m going to imagine my daughter is taught by an equally hard working teacher. My daughter’s teacher is keen for her students to do well, feels the pressure to push up levels of attainment, wants to stay true to her original reasons for going into the profession in the first place – to inspire children and make a difference to young lives.

But my daughter’s teacher is exhausted. She’s teaching (albeit in a more “relaxed” environment with less “stressful” lessons) all day. She doesn’t get home until gone 7pm and then she has to plan another full day of classes, with the time until her next holiday stretching out before her like an acre of forever.

I can’t help but imagine my daughter’s teacher isn’t going to feel motivated, valued and enthusiastic. I think she’ll feel knackered. That’s not what I want for the person who is going to be with my child for nine hours every day, playing such a huge part in shaping her future.

It’s not what I want for the journey into education that my daughter is about to embark on. I want her to love school as much as I did. I want her to enjoy it without being exhausted. I want her to have time away from school to play and grow and learn skills that can’t be picked up in a classroom or a playing field.

I want my daughter to have time to enjoy her childhood, not be robbed of it, which is what this Grand Plan would inevitably do.


  1. says

    play is soooo important for children the thought of this just makes me weep. can’t imagine how strung out the teachers would be too which isn’t in the interests of the children either. fab post x

  2. says

    he’s just alienated and hacked off women voters on a massive scale, clearly he has no understanding of children, education, parenting or love.
    I love my child, I want to spend time with him, he grows too quick, I value all the time we spend together. School is exhausting and yet we squeeze in reading time together. Together we have taken a journey towards him as a reader and it’s been wonderful, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
    excellent post.

    • says

      With these increased hours it would put enormous pressure on families – time is squeezed enough as it is, there would be none to spend any time together. I know it’s hard to juggle work with school hours, but surely there has to be another way?

    • says

      THIS. Without my support at home, my son would not be writing averagely well for his age. He needed one to one support and regular focus, which he was not getting at school, because there just isn’t time to give that to him there. Will an extra 3 hours give him that level of care and support. No, of course it won’t. Instead of attempting to find funds for the extra hours for all children, government need to find funds for the extra attention needed by those children who aren’t making the grade, and the extra attention that more able children could use to gain even better grades.

      It’s blindingly obvious, and atrociously ignored.

  3. says

    I am so against this. I would hate my boys to be at school ti8ll 6pm, it would mean them not getting in till 6.15 and what would happen to football practice, beavers and Cubs. They just couldn’t do it. My boys went to bed at 7pm until last year. They need their sleep, they need to play even at 7 and 8.

    As a family we made sacrifices like most do so that I am at home when the boys get home from school. So that we get time as a family and so weekends are free for family adventures.

    Longer school hours, no taking children out of school in term time. This is not an education system for me. It goes against my every instinct for my children.

    • says

      Many parents are in an increasingly difficult position having to juggle work with expensive childcare. But I really don’t think increasing school hours is the answer. Making longer hours mandatory just removes any element of choice. Crazy, if you ask me.

  4. says

    Education is not meant to be for childcare though is it. Pushing people out to work – what to jobs that do not exist? I went to school 8:15-4:30pm on Wednesdays at secondary and that was hard enough (4pm on other days). I guess if they were putting in play/after school type activities then I could see where they are coming from as a lot of children aren’t able to access these things. And if all the “homework” was done in this time. But it prob wouldn’t be. And yes what about the teachers – a lot find all the red tape hard enough as it is. Great post.

    • says

      Absolutely. I have no problem with after school activities – I did enough of them myself as a kid. It’s the notion of compulsory hours that annoys me. There’s a big difference between choosing to stay for netball after school, or some kids going to after school club, and ALL kids having NO choice as to whether they stay or not.

  5. says

    I think there is a real desire to push state schools into the private school model. I think in the tiny minds of people who come up with this drivel they think “hey private schools are open all the hours that god sends so why can’t state schools do that too?” But councils have sold all the schools outdoor space so they can’t facilitate 2 hours of sport in the afternoon and state school primaries have one main teacher – lessons are not divided up into subjects to give staff the necessary breaks for marking and planning in such a long school day, catering is run on a shoe string and can’t stretch to provide children with an afternoon light supper or tea (the list goes on). As a society we have to decide whether we want to take the responsibility for parenting or whether we want schools to parent our children. I know what I choose and I also think that a government that says you work full-time or you have no value is not going to get my vote.

  6. says

    Fab post! And this whole topic freiks me out. Would 9-6 school days make me home school? Hell yeah. When will people clock the fact that the best results in the word are achieved in Norway, where kids don’t start school till 6/7, THEN we might get somewhere. The irony is, it’s the KIDS who should be prioritised in any school discussions and it’s precisely kids who are forgotten in this new ridiculous proposal.

    • says

      Isn’t it just? The first argument is all about making it easier for parents to work longer hours, rather than what’s the best thing for the kids. The fact he opens his argument for longer hours with a lengthy paragraph on childcare and working is very telling for me.

  7. says

    This seems so much like a sticking plaster solution to the bigger problem of childcare in this country being so expensive. They’re children. They shouldn’t be having to “work” a longer day than civil servants do! Since getting involved at my local school I now realise just how much teachers have to do outside of their contact time with children. Increase that teaching time and it’ll only squeeze their remaining waking hours. They’re going to be shattered and it will only put yet more people off the profession. What a stupid idea.

  8. says

    Oh and I notice Paul Kirby says in his post that children only need 8 hours sleep a night. Does he have kids? Does he know anything about children at all?

  9. says

    oh my goodness I can just see a classroom of 15 yr old boys really happy to be studying this long. Oh the days will include a ‘relaxed feel’ have they ever been in a classroom with teenagers?? Behaviour Management is a huge part of my job – we are already keeping some students at school years longer than they want to be there now we are adding extra hours and weeks to that mix. What a sad day for Education.

  10. says

    What an absolute amazing idea…not!! He says its to help the economy but in one massive swoop he’ll making a whole host of childcare professionals out of work and also forcing teachers out of work who don’t want to or can’t do the proposed extended hours. He should be looking at places like Finland who excel in the education system and don’t do it by making children work longer hours. But he doesn’t seem interested in children or parents themselves does he? Makes me so mad!! I really really hope they don’t get in at the next election….actually I think they’re successfully handing it all on a plate to another party with promises like this.

  11. says

    I’m grateful my children are out the other side of the education system to be honest! As for the effect it’s going to have on my marriage as my poor hubs works himself into the ground – I’m too scared to consider!

  12. says

    Well I sure pray this does not come to pass. My 6 year old twins are tried enough when they get home at 3.45pm let alone any later.

    Surely this is a way to remove a child love and thirst for learning, to much of a good things always turns sour.

    Thanks for a great post Mol. Mich x

  13. says

    I can’t imagine a single woman aged 30-45 who would welcome this plan. Mothers want to spend time with their children and children need downtime to relax and play – and go to ballet and Cubs and whatever other after-school activities they choose.
    There is a place for affordable childcare for families who choose to or need to work and it makes sense for it to be based at school. But that’s very different from actually being at school learning from 8-6 for 45 weeks a year.

  14. Grandma from the north says

    This is ridiculous suggestion. Do we want the Singapore model with greenhouse education – children studying 20 hours a day. No. A child grows from having a happy home with lots of experiences and love.
    Has this person got children?

  15. Sue says

    Fantastic post! I am a mum and a part time teacher, married to a principal. We are New Zealanders. I had not heard about this proposal, but am flabbergasted…of all the changes that could be proposed…this?????? It shows a lack of knowledge on many levels…family life…child development…and definitely the life of teachers. I hope it all gets thrown out at the first hurdle. (And I think the worries you touch on in paragraph two are perfectly valid as well.)

  16. Phil Dance says

    What will happen to the children of teachers? Will babies have to go to daycare from 7-7 then? So, basically if you are a female teacher you can’t go back to work until your kids are at school? So you miss out on 4 years of professional development and are so far behind when you go back that you’re kinda unemployable? Plus, how ever much would 12 hours of baby care cost a day – more than teachers earn I bet! This is ridiculous, but not surprising from a government/party who seem hellbent on destroying the education system. I’ve worked in both private and state schools – you get a more dynamic education in state (perhaps this is why politicians have a cock eyed view of education – they’ve rarely been within 100 miles of a state school!). Private schools, in my experience, teach in the style of the 50’s (I’ve seen staff turn their backs, literally, during an INSET session on using iPads in class as they thought it was not educationally viable – all my colleagues in state would give their ight arm to have a class set!). Not really a great model. I agree that the system needs reform, it is not fit for purpose. But this is because we seem to be increasingly focused on squeezing everyone through academia and it isn’t fair – my car broke down yesterday and I was really glad that we aren’t a nation of astro-physicists! There needs to be more diversity of options for children earlier on, more focus on skills and frankly, a bit more trust of professional people who have spent 4 years training to do a job they usually love. Gove wants us to be more like China – hmmmmm what a wonderful country to model ourselves on (some schools in Briatin, private, who have a lot of Chinese students have to have special suicide watches for these kids if they get a B grade – not really what I’d want for my child). Further, his constant focus on learning facts by rote means we will have a generation of kids who are unbeatable in a pub quiz but have no idea how to find, assess, evaluate or analyse information – which skills are more important in the modern world of iPad’s and smart phones where you can find out who Henry 8 was married to in less than 20 seconds. What I wish is that the teaching unions would stop the focus on performance related pay (not a problem if you do your job properly) and pensions (whose hasn’t taken a bashing?) which loses public sympathy and focused more on making the public aware of the absolute car crash that British education is heading for under Gove.

  17. says

    As a teacher and a mum this is an idea that loses on every point. Teachers really recognise that the one-to-one time that parents manage to give their kids (even if it isn’t every night) is a key support to the time they get in class. Parents want to see their kids – even if it is a bit of a struggle to balance that with work – taking our kids away is not the answer!

  18. Ghislaine Forbes says

    Very eloquent my dear Mols! The product of a brilliantly creative, liberal state primary school and MP which was full of enthusiastic hard working teachers. Between your dad and I and other members of the family plus friends we could put together a wonderful “school” for F. There would be lots of play and NO BLOODY HOMEWORK, let alone long school days. Love ma x

  19. says

    I can only hope that these grand and foolish plans are not meant for primary aged children. My two are completely shattered by 3.15 and in need of a big hug.

    I just can’t see how it would work without completely alienating teachers and where is the extra money going to come from to pay for the extra staff and facilities needed?

    On different note, don’t worry too much about little Frog starting school. Year R is rather lovely, certainly in my experience there is plenty of time set aside for play. xx

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