Why longer school days and shorter holidays will not make up for lost learning time

Olivia Miller
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This comment was first posted on 19 February 2021

During the Covid-19 pandemic pupils at all levels of primary and secondary school education have lost valuable learning time. To regain this lost time, the UK Government are considering the option of playing catch-up, with pupils and teachers seeing longer school days for the remainder of the 2020/2021 academic year, and shorter school holidays. Dr Suzanne Cogswell, a research associate specialising in low-level classroom behaviours, at the School of Psychology has commented on how this approach may not necessarily be the most effective to resolve the loss of learning time in recent months. She said:

‘The impact that the pandemic has had on pupils learning time across the world is without question. However, the proposal of playing catch-up with longer school days and shorter school holidays may not be without its own set of problems for both pupils and teachers.’

Longer days

During the afternoon of a typical school day primary school pupils, some as young as five years old will already experience mental fatigue and failing attention, leading to a reduced ability to retain all the information that is being presented. Compounding this, over-tired pupils will display more low-level classroom disruption (LLCD), such as swinging on chairs, whispering to peers, and fidgeting. Individually these misdemeanors seem minor. However, even pre-pandemic, LLCD is consistently named as the number one behavior issue across all levels of education. Extending the school day, and the expectance of pupils to concentrate on academic learning for longer periods may result in the opposite effect to that desired. With an increase in overtired pupils and LLCD having the potential to reduce teaching and learning time.’

Shorter holidays

‘A more favorable option than longer school days may be to designate some school holiday time as learning time. The debate over shortening the summer break has been transpiring for many years, with pro campaigners citing: allowing children to help harvest crops, and families travelling the world on a ‘Grand Tour’ as outdated reasons for not reducing this long holiday. However, with UK teachers experiencing one of the highest workloads in the world, would it be beneficial to allocate them extra work days, thus more workload?

‘40% of teachers are already carrying out over 21 extra hours of school related work each week during their evenings and weekends. The consequence of this is that teachers are experiencing the highest level of work-related stress in the UK, with work-load cited as the biggest cause of retention issues in the teaching profession. Shortening the summer holiday with the expectance of teachers to accept a heavier work-load and risk increases to their stress levels may be counter-intuitive to increasing pupils learning time.’

Dr Suzanne Cogswell’s research interests include low-level classroom behaviours among primary school students, investigating the influential processes cross the developing individual’s bio-ecological systems. She is especially interested in the influences of screen time, both quantity and content, pupil self-perceptions of behaviour and gender stereotyping within the classroom.

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