England’s school days could still be made longer in future, the Tory Education Secretary has insisted – despite axing plans to change the timetable now.
Gavin Williamson left radical plans to make days half an hour longer out of his “paltry” scheme for pupils to catch up after Covid.
But today he said a review will look at lengthening school days in future, and he believes there is a “real strong case for doing it”.
“I think there’s real benefits to looking at how we can expand the school day,” he told BBC Breakfast. “Up until this point we’ve not actually pushed it as hard as maybe we should have done.”
It’s thought a decision on school hours is due later this year to “inform” the government-wide Spending Review in Autumn.
Under the Education Secretary’s plan, 6 million, 15-hour tutoring courses will be offered to disadvantaged pupils over the next three years. And the Government said 500,000 teachers will be given “world class training”.
But plans to lengthen the school day will stay on the shelf for now – amid reports Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reluctant to stump up more cash for the programme.
Leaked proposals published yesterday recommended the school day be lengthened by half an hour, to give all children an extra 100 hours of learning a year, in a plan that would have cost £15billion overall.
But Mr Sunak reportedly “balked” at the £15 billion figure – which a Treasury insider branded “ridiculous” – and today’s announcement amounts to only £1.4billion in new funding.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education.”
He added: “There has obviously been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery which the Treasury has clearly won with the result that the settlement is less than a tenth of the £15 billion that was being mooted.”
Mr Williamson today insisted he “absolutely” trusted Sir Kevan and claimed he was “certainly not” doing catch-up on the cheap.
He said “we need to be asking questions about the structure of the school day, how it’s best delivered”, but it would be too soon to rush them into the next academic year.
He told Sky News: “Longer term we do though want to see further changes, and further improvements. That’s why we’re doing a review in terms of time within schools, how best we can use it.
“I think there’s a debate to be had as to whether children should be exiting the school gate as they do in some schools at 2.45pm or whether they should be in school later.
“Have we condensed down the lunch time, it used to be an hour, sometimes in schools it’s half an hour.
“It’s right that we work with schools and teachers as well as parents and children as to what delivers them the best benefits.”
The package announced overnight includes £1bn to pay for up to 6 million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged school children and expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund.
Another £400 million will help give early years practitioners and 500,000 school teachers across the country training and support.
And schools and colleges will be funded to give some year 13 students the option to repeat their final year.
But Dr Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said the offer was “paltry”.
“Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered,” she said.
“The ‘new’ money being offered amounts to £1.4bn – way below the £15bn sum which Kevan Collins, the Education Recovery tsar, judged is needed to repair the damage done to the nation’s pupils because of Covid.
“Where in these plans is the funding for extra-curricular activities to support children and young people to regain their confidence in their abilities and talents? Where is the funding for drama and music, sport and skills development?
“The Treasury has shown, in this paltry offer, that it does not understand, nor does it appreciate, the essential foundation laid by education for the nation’s economic recovery.
“Its failure, on this scale, to fund what is needed for education recovery, is a scar which will take generations of children and young people to heal.
“They, their parents and our nation deserve much better than this.”
Meanwhile, Labour set out their own £15 billion plan to help children catch up, with breakfast clubs for every child, free school meals in all school holidays and small group tutoring for all who need it.
Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Children are excited to be back in the classroom with their friends and hungry to learn.
“After such disruption, we owe it to them to match their energy and motivation, with the support and resources they need to thrive, not just whilst they catch-up, but for their school careers and beyond.
“Our plans deliver this, by funding activities to combine learning and play while investing in our teachers and staff, Labour will ensure that children not only recover, but are supported to push on.
“In contrast, the Conservatives are showing no ambition for children’s futures.”