Education news

Longer school day may give pupils only marginal gains - study

Research indicated that schools may find it more productive to consider carefully the range and quality of activities provided

EXTENDING the school day may only give marginal gains to pupils who lost learning during lockdowns, if the extra time is simply more of the same, a study suggests.

Research by Cambridge University indicated that, rather than adding extra classroom time, "schools may find it more productive to consider carefully the range and quality of activities provided".

The analysis used five years of government data, collected from more than 2,800 schools, to estimate the likely impact of additional classroom instruction on academic progress, as measured at GCSE.

It found that even substantial increases in classroom teaching time would likely only lead to small improvements.

For example, extending Year 11 pupils' classroom time by one hour per class, in English or maths, was associated with an increase of 0.12 and 0.18 in a school's "value-added" score - a standard progress measure.

This increase appears small, considering that most of the schools in the study had scores ranging between 994 and 1006.

The research also investigated the likely effect on disadvantaged pupils, whose education has been hardest hit by school closures.

In keeping with the overall results, it again found that more of the same teaching was likely to do relatively little to improve academic outcomes.

Vaughan Connolly, a doctoral researcher at Cambridge's Faculty of Education, said: "Simply keeping all students in school for longer, in order to do more maths or more English, probably won't improve results much; nor is it likely to narrow the attainment gap for those who have missed out the most.

"This evidence suggests that re-evaluating how time is used in schools - for example, by trimming subject time and replacing it with sessions focusing on 'learning to learn' skills - could make a bigger difference.

"Quality is going to matter much more than quantity in the long run."

A possible reason why extra instruction time may be relatively ineffective is that it would increase the burden on both teachers and pupils, preventing them from being at their best, according to the research.

"Rather than extending the school day to offer more instruction, a successful recovery agenda may well be one that tailors support and makes room for a wider range of learning within it, in line with the recent suggestions made by the Education Policy Institute," Mr Connolly said.

"In that sense, less instructional time could actually be more.

"Certainly, these results suggest that giving children more of the same is unlikely to help if we want to recover what has been lost during the pandemic."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: "The marginal gains that might be possible through extending the school day must be weighed against the costs of such a strategy, including the impact on pupils' mental health, reduced family time, and less time for extra-curricular activities."

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