Thursday, 30 January 2014

Do our children really need longer school hours?

Paul Kirby's recent proposal to increase schooling to 45 hours a week, 46 weeks of the year, has got me dusting off my soapbox and clearing my throat. I apologise that this argument is not especially well structured. It actually started off as a comment in response to an online news article about it, but it got so long I thought I'd better post it here instead.

If you haven't heard it in the news, the full details of his proposal are here.

Longer school hours won't equal a better education, as other countries aptly demonstrate. This is effectively proposing that schools become creches so parents can go back to work. It's certainly not in the best interest of the child, especially younger children who need more time to relax, sleep, and enjoy other activities than this proposal would give. 9-6pm is longer than many adults spend in their workplace each day. Any party with this as their manifesto would certainly not be getting my vote.

I had to read this quote twice because it is so dismissive of children and families. "The average working day would give most parents the chance to do a full time job, in between dropping off and picking up their kids." So we drop them off and pick them up and in between we go to some mythical well paying job that's just crying out for a woman to fill, feed them a quick dinner and put them to bed (my youngest is in bed between 7-8pm). Where does family life fall into this? Only in the proposed holiday time? There's also the bit about longer days preparing children for the world of work. Children don't need to be prepared for the world of work because, in case it's escaped your attention, they're CHILDREN. Besides, I know school leavers who would give their right teeth for the chance of a full time job where they can put their education to good use but the jobs simply aren't there!

You can find information to support anything by saying that "studies in America have shown". The UK starts its children at school a year earlier than most other European nations - two years in the case of Sweden and Finland - yet fall behind when children in objective studies such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) where Finland has been found to have the best school system, excelling in key subjects such as maths and science. These figures are mentioned in Kirby's article and dismissed, yet I can't see why they are any less credible evidence than his examination of the US.

Kirby states that "The perfect 2015 Election promise needs to tick the following boxes:"

Address the cost of living crisis, especially that faced by hard working, but low income families
As a hard working, low income family I can testify that this does not address  the cost of living crisis because wages are stagnant yet the cost of living is rising.

Capture the imagination of women voters, especially those aged 30-45.
That's me! It's captured my imagination alright. I now imagine you sitting in some office in an affluent area of the country, completely isolated from the people you propose this will appeal to

Show that the political party is on the side of ordinary families against vested interests
I'd class ours as ordinary, yet this policy undermines family interests. I chose to have children because I actually wanted to spend some time with them, not have them forced to stay out of the house for more than 9 hours a day, then be exhausted on the weekend.

Reverse the view that the next generation will not have it as good as their parents
I am not sure how this will create jobs to enable the current generation of school leavers to be able to afford to dream of owning their own home or having a decent pension

Produce a trump card that shows we know how to win the global economic race
This doesn't even make sense. It's like it was put in for a bit of padding.

Prove that politicians can do big things that matter in the real world, and quickly
Making fast, significant changes is only good if the changes are beneficial. 

He finishes his manifesto by suggesting we tell if it's a good idea by pretending that it had already been in place for 20 years and the proposal was to change it to the way it currently is. What? That's ridiculous. It hasn't been that way for good reason: the idea is absurd.

The party who will get my vote in 2015 will be the one who shows a credible commitment to improving the standards of education for all children and increasing the employment opportunities for parents so that  there are a) jobs there and b) salaries which reflect the increase in the cost of living so that childcare for those who need it is more affordable.

I made the decision to work fewer hours and take a lower salary so I can be there for my children, to nurture, parent and support them as they grow. That is the role of a parent, not a teacher. It is not in their best interests, or the interests of my family, for them to be in school from 9am-6pm. After school and wrap around care already exists in most primary schools for working parents and it is subsidised by tax credits and the councils. Putting my kids in school for 9 hours a day is of no benefit to them or to me.

What do you think? Am I missing something in my interpretation? Would you vote for this policy? Let me know!