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Cutting the school day

Increasingly schools are choosing to cut the school day as a response to government funding plans.

Although the amount of money pledged to the school system by the government has been rising, some schools have found their income per child taught falling. This has been because of three factors: the growth in the number of pupils and students in school, the diversion of some money into the proposed grammar school programme, and the diversion of another chunk of money into the Free School system.

Although some of this looks like changing in the coming months, there is still going to be a shortage of funds - at least until the austerity programme comes to an end.

But also there is a growing shortage of teachers. Young teachers from the EU who previously have welcomed the chance to work for a few years in English schools are no longer coming to the country, and generally there is a declining interest among UK citizens in teaching because of the continuing cap on salaries.

Schools have been looking around for a response to this double problem - and many have found the same solution - to close the school one hour earlier.

The benefit of this approach can be seen in this simple example.

Imagine a school that had ten classes and ten teachers. For simplicity we imagine that each working day there are six lessons. In this simple case everyone is fully occupied all the time.

But teachers also have an entitlement to 10% of their teaching time as non-contact time to prepare lessons. So these teachers are teaching 30 lessons a week, meaning they are entitled to 3 lessons each week to prepare.

Which means 3 lessons x 10 teachers (30 lessons) are now not covered each week. In fact they need one more teacher.

However, these 30 lessons can also be found by ending the school day one session earlier three days a week. The ten teachers don’t teach the final lesson on these three days and thus everyone gets their non-contact time together with the school shut.

Of course, the larger the school the more often this could happen, and there are now schools that are closing early five days a week. Indeed students from homes which do not have a computer can be given work to undertake on a computer at home. Or a large IT suite can be built so that a large number of students can stay at school after the last lesson but not be subject to the normal one teacher to 30 children rule.

This is just one example of the imaginative way in which schools are coping with the crisis - but it is having an interesting side effect. Where schools are giving the pupils and students more time to work on interactive IT sessions they are finding that the lack of teaching time is not harming the pupils and students at all.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has debated this point at its annual conference, and it has been noted that some schools in some areas have (as reported in the Guardian) floated the idea of a four day week.

Indeed, since 2005 schools in Edinburgh have operated what they call the “asymmetric week”. The time spent in the classroom remains the same for pupils but the hours are spread over 4 ½ days, with a lunchtime finish on Fridays.

In an ASCL survey 82% of respondents said that class sizes had had to increase, with 20% of them saying there were between six and 10 more pupils per class. This is probably about the maximum that can be squeezed into a conventional classroom in most cases.

A similar survey by the Mail on Sunday found schools cutting up to 150 hours of lesson time a year.

These developments mean that it is vital to understand how schools are changing, as changes like this always affect buying patterns.

Indeed it also suggests that any materials that can help students work without a teacher, outside of lessons, are going to be increasingly desirable in schools.

It also emphasises once more that schools are increasingly open to receiving well-prepared sponsored materials for use in the classroom, on-line or at home, as a way of coping with the funding crisis.

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