Improving performance and giving parents an easier balance? At first glance – and if we take all that we are told without thinking too hard about it – this seems like a no-brainer. Using the successful schooling systems in Asia as his example, Gove illustrated how high expectations combined with longer school days and shorter school holidays leads to higher achievement for pupils. Sounds good so far. And there’s no doubt that these changes would be useful for working parents; jobs which easily fit in with the traditional school day are few and far between , and many families struggle to arrange childcare during the long summer holidays. At first glance, then, Gove’s suggestions seem brilliant.
But if one takes the longer view, we can start to see inconsistencies within Gove’s claims. We should, we are told, lengthen the school day in order to emulate the aforementioned high-achieving Asian schooling systems. But, in the same week, we read that these do not necessarily produce high-fliers at university level. ‘Why’, asked a Guardian headline, ‘aren’t Chinese students getting top degrees in the UK?’
Furthermore, in a survey published before Gove’s proposals were announced, a high number of secondary level staff said that the school day was already too long – and of these education experts, 87% believed that the long day was already detrimental to pupils’ ability to concentrate.
There’s no denying that an increased school day would make working parents’ lives easier. But Gove’s policies shouldn’t be designed to be vote-winners – not if it is detrimental to the pupils whose education he is overseeing. Our children deserve a robust education system that will not alter itself for political gain, nor yield to external interests. Our education system needs to focus on the needs of its students, specifically their educational needs. Anything else would be doing them a disservice.