Most people welcome shorter working weeks. Modern business employers have introduced flexi-time, whilst work-from-home schemes are more likely to be available. Moreover, last year New Zealand famously trialled a four-day work week, with discussions to shorten them even further. If good results continue to come in, fewer employers will care about how long it takes to get them (so long as it’s not too long, of course). But what about a shorter school week?
Nobody cares about results more than schools and their teachers and pupils. Whether it’s for GCSEs or A Levels, those battling it out in their respective academic fields devote an extraordinary amount of time to their studies. In fact, their efforts can easily lead them to become overstressed and wholly burnt out. Last year, the new GCSE caused so much anxiety amongst students and teachers alike that there were calls for it to be scrapped completely. Much of the conversation around wellbeing and mental health takes place in schools and universities. So why aren’t things improving beyond the discussion stage?
Britain also has the shortest school holidays in the developed world, with some calling for them to be longer. French children have 9 weeks off, Canadians have 10, the Finnish have 11 weeks free and Americans have 12 weeks away at their summer camps. Contrast these figures to Britain’s measly 6 weeks. Surely it suggests there’s a very strong case to ease off on the pupils and teachers of today? Why are they all so overworked? Less time in the classroom due to a shorter school week could mean pupils feel more able to perform to the best of their ability every weekday.
The most committed students would undoubtedly use that extra day off to do a spot of revision or homework. It would provide an opportunity to slow down that may just help them be more comfortable with all the high stakes exams hurtling their way. From a teacher’s point of view, it could serve as a pause button, creating the chance to spend an extra day marking and lesson planning. In turn, this would lessen of having to sacrifice precious afternoons and weekends. The idea seems fair for all concerned.
Shorter school weeks are already here in some schools and have been considered recently in others. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. There are a few in Birmingham that send their pupils home at Friday lunchtime, but not to improve mental health or workplace pressure. It is more usually due to a chronic lack of funding. Other schools are also desperately short of teaching assistants and other vital services, and unfortunately, it leads to many of them closing their doors early. In many of these situations, individual timetables won’t accommodate these closure. If so, it means pupils could well miss out on sizeable parts of their syllabus.
Because of these shutdowns, an even bigger game of catch up is facilitated across the board. Teachers and pupils alike now need to cover topics quickly. Some of these are likely condensed into bite-size chunks when further teaching and support is required. It’s a domino effect caused by poverty, not the prioritisation of pupil and teacher wellbeing. In these circumstances, a shorter school week only increases the pressure.
School staff are already overworked, with teachers striking very recently in Thornbury over their excessive workloads. Complaints certainly come from other teachers elsewhere in the UK too. There’s a never-ending to-do list, and staff are not compensated fairly for the number of hours they put in. When teachers voice their concerns few people listen, and even fewer take action. Early mornings and late-night marking and lesson planning are the orders of the day, every day, eroding any chance of a sustainable work-life balance. Sadly, a shorter school week in poorly financed schools will mean they need to do even more work in less time.
Ultimately, shorter school weeks are a possibility, but not for the positive reasons many might immediately assume. Poor funding and overworked staff members mean that schools are limping to every finish line set before them. These kinds of work conditions are enough to put many people off teaching and assistant roles entirely, favouring professions that’re fairer in terms of pay and hours. Consequently, more schools will be understaffed, and will likely start closing early because of these factors.
I'm a freelance copywriter with an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I've written for many different outlets, including but not limited to marketing agencies, graduate recruitment websites, and online training companies. I've even interviewed a few famous actors for student and arts blogs too! Covering a wide span of material has been incredibly rewarding, as I get to turn my experiences in the arts, education and careers into helpful advice. I sincerely hope you'll find something to your liking here!