Does extending the school day make any difference to pupil outcomes?
I’ve taken a look at two pieces of research. One is a systematic review of research between 1985 to 2009. The other, a new paper analyses administrative data from 2,815 English secondary schools over five years (2010 to 2014) to consider ‘how best to allocate curriculum time’.
What are we ‘catching up’ on?
As a result of the pandemic, educationalists and politicians have been scrambling together to figure out how pupils can ‘catch up on lost learning’. What I am trying to distinguish, is what exactly is it that pupils are catching up on. Time away from school? A dip in maths and English performance (when compared to other year groups) or social interaction with their peers and generally good mental health.
It should be all of these, but I suspect ‘catch-up’ is attributed to a comparison in literacy and numeracy scores.
Last term, Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report which compared the education catch up plans of the four UK nations, and examined how they previously approached the reopening of schools. The headline conclusion was that there was insufficient support for pupils which was unlikely to address the scale of learning loss following the pandemic.
Again, what has been lost? You need to dig deep to find the details…
Are we investing enough?
In terms of investment, if we look at school funding per pupil over the last 10 years across UK nations, it looks like this in a research paper published by EPI. This doesn’t appear to be levelling up…
- Scotland (up 5% in real terms than in 2009-10)
- Wales (down 5% in real terms)
- England (down 9% in real terms)
- Northern Ireland (down 10% in real terms).
Today, the strongest opposition to extending school comes from middle-class and affluent parents who value the summer vacation for their children and question the value of additional school time (Silva, 2007)
There is a debate to be had…
Catch-up and funding have all been headline news throughout 2021 – rightly so. One solution pitched has been the idea of extending the school day from 8 AM to 6 PM for pupils. Secretary of state Gavin Williamson came out of hiding to say ‘there was a debate to be had‘.
With lack of investment in all of our state schools, we have to ask the question, where is the money coming from? Who will be teaching pupils throughout these extended hours? Which age groups start in and different points of the day? Teaching unions have rightly criticised the plans; nobody can say it’s a brilliant idea without the ‘devil in the details’ being clear.
Let’s now turn our attention to the two research papers on this topic.
Research on extending the school day
For years, politicians have speculated about at extending the school day. In 2013, former education secretary Michael Gove recently pitched extending the school day and reducing the summer school holiday. All these ideas can work if we factor in funding, increasing the number of teachers and also considering how much a young pupil can cope with during the academic year. Little and often we know is a more sensible approach…
In the systematic review (1985 to 2009), researchers found 15 empirical studies which revealed weak casual inferences with outcomes other than achievement scarcely studied. However, extending the school day could be an effective way to support student learning, particular students most at risk of failure.
I think it’s important to define failure here.
You and I both know this will be defined as examination outcomes, rather than mental health, positive wellbeing, attendance and/or participation in sports clubs to name a few aspects of successful school life.
After years of debate among educators, policymakers, and researchers and numerous natural tests in which schools have extended time and observed later outcomes, there is still little consensus regarding (a) the relationship between the length of school days and years and academic achievement… (Patall et al, 2010)
Instruction time and attainment
In a new paper, Can less be more? (Connolly, 2021) “this article makes a distinct and new contribution to the literature by examining the association between additional instruction time and English secondary schools’ KS4 value-added performance in national GCSE examinations.”
Connolly explores the relationship between instruction time on GCSE attainment and value added scores for 2,815 English secondary schools using data from 2010-2014 publishing the School Workforce Census.
I have already been privy to Connolly’s research in an earlier blog post published at the peak of lockdown in 2020. Connolly writes: “Although not yet empirically investigated in England’s secondary schools, the issue of ‘time in schools’ has long been debated.”
- These result do ‘not indicate that the absence of any instructional time would still result in GCSE success.’
- Other explanations may link to variation in pedagogy and student motivation E.g. Ofsted ratings
- There may also be a benefit to students having less contact time, if this enabled more productive use of non-contact time
- During COVID, if schools are not able to manage ‘normal’ levels of teaching, small reductions in time are likely to have small impact on GCSE attainment at a cohort level.
- Schools may find it more productive to consider carefully the range and quality of activities provided, as opposed to the quantity.
- Does extending the school have a negative effect? If so, on who?
- If we extend the school day, what specific outcome do we hope to improve?
- How could our teachers work with disadvantaged pupils (differently) during the current school day?
- If there is already a decade of underfunding, why do we assume one or two years of ‘catch up’ will make any difference given the detrimental effect of COVID?
- What difference does extra maths English and science have on outcomes, and what difference does this make to disadvantaged pupils?
We need to try and consider a wide range of options during this emergency situation. Extending the school day should be tabled, but we must start with significant investment beyond what our schools currently spend, and a huge push on the recruitment of a new generation of teachers to support the ones we already have.