Friday 19 April 2013


I hesitate to admit it, I hardly dare say it – but I actually agree with Michael Gove!

The trouble is that, even though his latest proposal might be a good idea, the reasons he gives for it and the spin he puts on it are spurious and illogical and the way he announces it is inflammatory and divisive.  Politics being what they are, the other side has to object and oppose; so they do so on the basis of the reasons, not the substance of the proposal.  Then the media get hold of it and also make an issue out of the reasons, not the substance – and then the teachers themselves and their unions do likewise – and all we get is pointless arguments based on misinformation, false premises, anecdotal evidence and distorted statistics.

There is absolutely no reason why the school day should not be extended – nor why holidays should not be reduced.  There is, self-evidently, absolutely no doubt that this would enable children to learn more and to achieve more.  That doesn't mean that all teachers would have to work longer hours (but they could if they wanted) and it doesn't mean that every child would have to spend more time in school (but they could if they wanted).

When I was at secondary school, I can hardly remember ever leaving school before 5.00 pm.  I was involved in sports, choirs, orchestras, plays, cadets, debating society and various other clubs or after-school activities pretty well every day of the week – and, if I wasn't,  I usually did my homework in the school library, with access to all the books and other resources.

Yes, that was quite a while ago, but I don’t remember any law being passed or any directive from the ministry stating the schools must close at any particular time.  Many schools do open in the evening for community and other activities and many schoolchildren do attend these evening activities.  Where does this daft idea come from – that children’s education can only happen during “school hours”?

Extending the school year?  Well, first of all, our ridiculous system of public examinations already means that those pupils sitting GCSE or A level exams spend most of the first half of the year swotting (i.e. re-learning stuff they should have learnt the first time), then missing several weeks of school whilst the exams take place, then having an early holiday once the exams have finished.  Even if it is beyond the capacity of our educational experts to invent an exam system that is meaningful and fit-for-purpose, we could at least let candidates sit their exams during holidays or at week-ends, so that they could actually get on with learning something during normal school hours!

The problem that really needs to be addressed is that far too few schoolchildren really want to learn!  Funnily enough, most teachers do actually want to teach.  Why not let them get on with it?  Why not let (and encourage, and help) teachers and schools to find and develop ways of stimulating children so that they want to be in school?

I know this sounds barmy (and I’m not really recommending it) – but why not simply allow every child to attend school as and when they want – and then base school league tables on the number of hours that the pupils actually attend?  Now that really would sort out the good schools from the bad!