Trial could lead to a longer school day being introduced permanently
A number of schools in Wales are extending their day by an hour to try to help youngsters catch up after Covid lockdowns.
The Welsh government will invest up to £2m on the trial, allowing 14 primaries and secondaries across south Wales to open for groups of children for an extra five hours a week.
Schools can choose what they do with the time and may put on sessions such as art, music and sport or academic lessons.
If successful, the trial could lead to a longer school day being introduced permanently and school leaders, children and parents are also to be asked to think about whether the shape of the academic year should also be reformed with, for example, the summer holiday being made shorter.
Earlier this week the head of the Ofsted schools inspectorate in England, Amanda Spielman, said almost all children had felt the impact of lockdowns and struggled with a “hokey-cokey education”.
The Welsh scheme is designed to try to find ways to address issues such as children falling behind with lessons and experiencing mental health issues. The government said the trials will be focused on supporting disadvantaged pupils and schools particularly affected during the pandemic.
Headteachers will decide on how and what is delivered in each school during the trial period, which is due to start in the new year and run for up to 10 weeks.
Jeremy Miles, the Welsh education minister, said: “We are funding trial schools so that they can provide exciting activities around the school day, which can develop personal skills and resilience which will also impact on academic attainment.
“We will be working closely with schools and local authorities to evaluate the impact on learners and on staff.
“Over the coming months, I’ll also be talking to young people, education staff, families and people working beyond the sector – in areas such as tourism and public services – to seek their views on reforming the school year.
“Reforming the year could help to narrow the disruption caused by the long summer holiday on learners.”
Staff and children at one of the schools involved in the trial, Cadoxton primary in Barry, expressed enthusiasm.
The head of school, Rhian Milton, said it planned to offer year six pupils four after school sessions and, on a Friday, a breakfast time activity.
It will put on cooking, gardening and DJ clubs, weaving in literacy, numeracy and digital skills. Milton said children felt they had missed out during lockdown and social skills as well as learning had been affected.
Ten-year-old Seren said she was excited at the prospect of a longer day. “Lockdown was really rough for me,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, sitting in my bedroom wondering why I wasn’t at school.” Another pupil said her head “went weird” during lockdown.
There was a mixed response from teachers’ unions. Neil Butler, the NASUWT national official for Wales, said the trial was “sprung on us without consultation”.
He warned: “There are implications for teacher workload and, indeed, health and safety as schools still struggle with Covid mitigations.”
Dilwyn Roberts-Young, general secretary of UCAC, a Welsh teaching union, said it was open to discussion about changes to the school day and the school year.
He added: “Our education system needs to be in tune not only with the current needs of the education workforce, but also of learners and families.
“Naturally, as a union, we will want to ensure that there is no detriment to teachers’ terms and conditions.”