UK

Government delays expectation for schools in England to run 32.5 hour week

In recognition of the pressures facing schools, the requirement for a 32.5-hour week has been pushed back to 2024 (David Jones/PA)
In recognition of the pressures facing schools, the requirement for a 32.5-hour week has been pushed back to 2024 (David Jones/PA) In recognition of the pressures facing schools, the requirement for a 32.5-hour week has been pushed back to 2024 (David Jones/PA)

The Government’s plan for all state schools to deliver at least a 32.5 hour week has been pushed back by a year.

The Schools White Paper, published in March 2022, set out an expectation that schools should be open for at least 32.5 hours a week, which equates to six and a half hours per day on average, by September 2023.

But the Department for Education (DfE) has announced that state schools in England will now have until September 2024 to meet this expectation “in recognition of the pressures facing schools”.

DfE guidance says Ofsted inspectors will assess whether a school is meeting the Government’s minimum expectation of a 32.5 hour week and they will want to know what plans are in place to lengthen the school week.

If a school is not meeting the minimum expectation – and it affects the quality of education – inspectors will expect schools to “set out a clear rationale for this,” according to the guidance on the length of the school week.

But school leaders’ unions said the delayed guidance was “unacceptable” and disrespectful to schools – and one union chief suggested many schools will slightly lengthen break times to meet the expectation.

The 32.5 hour minimum week includes breaks, but the DfE said schools should “first consider prioritising lesson time above breaks” when increasing hours.

The guidance adds that schools looking to extend their week should consult parents, reach out to local authorities about any proposed changes to transport, and explore any “financial implications”.

It says: “The minimum expected school week of 32.5 hours is the weekly average (as at July 2021) for mainstream schools and most schools already deliver a school week of at least this length.

“We therefore expect mainstream primary and secondary schools that are not currently delivering this minimum, to do so by September 2024 at the latest from within their existing budgets.”

The guidance was published on the same day that the DfE said that schools in England will receive their highest ever funding rates in real terms in 2024-25.

State schools in England will receive an average of around £6,000 for each pupil from next year through the National Funding Formula (NFF).

James Bowen, assistant general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Many schools already have a 32.5 hour week, but those that don’t may face significant financial and logistical challenges.

“Schools may be forced to use already stretched budgets to extend the hours of lunchtime supervisors and other support staff, while others, especially in rural areas, may face a logistical nightmare when it comes to transport where buses are carefully timetabled around the end of the school day.”

He added: “We finally have confirmation that this has been pushed back to September 2024, but it is unacceptable that the government left it so late to issue this guidance.

“Schools had been left uncertain whether they needed to implement changes ahead of next term.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is petty government tinkering masquerading as meaningful policy-making.

He added: “In many cases, the only thing these schools will realistically be able to do to meet the expectation is have slightly longer break times.

“However, in order to implement these changes they will have to consult parents, notify staff, and adjust transport arrangements. It is the government that is wasting time, not schools.”

Mr Barton suggested the Government had been forced to defer the deadline “as a result of their own dithering”.

He added: “This is yet another example of the lack of respect schools have, sadly, come to expect in the government’s dealings with them.”

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb said: “As part of our ambition to give every pupil the opportunity to succeed, we announced an expectation for all mainstream state-funded schools to deliver at least a 32.5-hour week by September 2023 in the Schools White Paper.

“Whilst the majority of schools are already delivering this commitment, schools will now have until September 2024 to meet this expectation.”