So Micheal Gove wants to increase the school day and shorten holidays. Specifically he would like the school day to run until 4.30 and to have a four week summer holiday instead of six in an attempt to “catch up” with East Asia and be “family friendly”. Good job I was on the train when I read this or I would, once again, have choked on my cornflakes. It’s rare that I agree with a Union but on this occasion I have to agree that he seems to be making this stuff up on the fly. So let’s take the reforms one by one.
Firstly running the school day until 4.30. For older children, especially those doing GCSE and A levels I can actually see this making sense. It gives the children more time in a focussed environment to concentrate on study and revision rather than relying on them doing it at home. But as soon as the children are younger than this then it does seem to be, well, monumentally stupid. Very little children certainly cannot study until 4.30. Boy is in Year One at the moment and he is regularly shattered and pale when he’s picked up. In reception some of the kids are still 4 at the end of the summer term and, when I did the pick up as I do once a week, you could see that at 3pm they were on the verge of meltdown.
Finishing at 4.30 for little ones would see them going home in the dark every day in the winter whereas the current day end allows them to get home before dark even in winter. Whenever a proposal is made to get rid of the idea that our clocks change one argument is that children further north would have to go to school in the dark. Now we seem to be quite happy to send them home in the dark. Is it more dangerous or not?
But the worrying thing about this is the desire to emulate East Asia. The exam focussed learning there goes back to the 1890s and before – exactly the reason Gove says the school day needs to change. In Imperial China your best chance of a good job in the civil service depended on your ability to pass exams, each one harder than the next, that you could in theory take unlimited times. Long after Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek’s revolution the Chinese culture of cramming remains but is it healthy? I lived in Taiwan for nearly three years and the children there, while ostensibly focussed and studious, are actually only that. They are not children. Huge pressure is put on them to succeed so that the stress of their education and a lack of role model has led to a notoriously high teenage suicide rate. Not having a role model may not seem connected but, of course, if your thinking is purely based on cramming and how to pass an exam, you may not have the creative ability to understand what it is that you want to do with your life. This is something they are starting to understand in Singapore for, ironically, as Gove wants to make us more like Singapore, Singapore wants a more creative and holistic education system.
Ultimately though, and most importantly, I think that children should be children rather than little adults. To have time to play, explore and be with their families.
Now the holidays. Do you like going away to somewhere foreign and sunny in the summer holidays? Because under Gove’s proposals you’d pay a lot more for doing so and have less chance of having your leave approved. In my day job I manage a team of three people and all of us have school age children. Every summer there is a balancing act that needs to be done between ensuring the staff have a break with their family and that work continues without the quality suffering. This is hard enough to organise in six weeks. Trying to cram four people’s trips away in to four weeks would be harder still. Your two weeks in the sun, if you have school age children, may be about to become one.
That may be ok though because it will also become far more expensive. We all know how much more expensive flights and hotels are in the summer holidays right? Well now that demand is going to be spread over not six but four weeks if Gove gets his way. The simple law of supply and demand dictates that the price will rise.
So a more competitive society with cleverer kids? Or a more rigid and tired society, prone to depression, and with a government supposedly committed to wealth imposing another indirect cost rise as a result of policy?
I can’t help but think that if you thought about it for more than five minutes you can see that this reform is not about the children at all and as such loses any claim to be ‘family friendly’. So if it’s not for the children who is it for?
I am sure that deep down many Tories think of teachers as lazy, militant public employees working 8.30 to 3 and doing nothing in their huge six week holiday than rolling out of bed late and catching up on Jeremy Kyle. How UNFAIR they cry when employees in the private sector are pulling 13 hour days EVERY DAY for the love of it! Taking aside the fact that teachers are actually marking and lesson planning, and preparing and hosting parents evenings, again what is so healthy about the alternative? You’ve watched The Apprentice right? Where in a rush of testosterone and duty (especially the girls) the teams roll their sleeves up and pull an all nighter for the good of the task. The task of course goes horribly south because it’s being carried out by people who are tired, inexperienced and unnaturally competitive. They all head back to the boardroom to remark on what a spectacular failure it’s been and to turn on each other like savages. Not quite how I want my kids’ teachers to behave.
But I don’t even really think this is the motivation behind the changes. I think the real reason is that Michael Gove goes home at night and imagines people in ten years time referring to ‘the Gove reforms’. He’s after fame, not improving your children.