Does a longer school day raise achievement?
By Laura McInerney Policy Development Partner
Beyond students, the longer day led to a teacher shortage and increased reported discipline issues in schools. Though it is convenient to believe that the reason for poor performance at GCSE is the cruelty of teachers locking knowledge-seeking children out at 3pm, the reality is that some students can barely self-regulate for the 6 hours we currently ask of them. If increases to the school day go ahead these will arise and solutions must be sought ahead of time.
A more recent longitudinal study of the Chilean change supports Bellei's positive findings and shows that the longer-school day: improves exam scores, reduces anti-social behaviour and lowered the number of adolescent mothers. But the authors note these improvements did not translate to greater employability or increased wages, putting to bed Twigg's ideas that a longer day improves one's job-getting abilities. However, the research unequivocally states that the longer days best helps students with uneducated parents, as the longer day provides more time with educated role models and greater access to educational materials than is available at home. On the down side where students have highly educated parents the longer school day can be more negative for their cognitive scores than being at home.
Interestingly, in both papers the differences shown in exam outcomes are small. Though the results are 'significant' in the scientific sense of showing the longer day is the main cause of the change, the size of the difference in scores are not massively significant. It looks like the difference of only a few marks per student.
Giving students more access to schooling is surely a good thing - this is why I was a fan of the 'Extended Schools' agenda. But it does cost a lot and it is not solving several of the problems Gove and Twigg purports it does. If the politicians keep onwards (as I hope they do) then they must consider what it will take to make these reforms work well and have the desired outcomes, otherwise it will be a very expensive way to not get very far.