Michael Gove made some controversial remarks this week which caught my attention. He proposed that schools have longer days and shorter holidays partly to make working parents’ lives easier. There was obviously a very negative reaction to this idea, and I think given the way the idea was presented a negative reaction was more than justified. But when I hear this sort of idea floated in this way I get more upset that it’s actually made it harder for these sorts of changes to happen, but for the right reasons.
I actually think that a more flexible school year might be beneficial for both students and staff. We all know that our holidays are not entirely spent doing what’s shown in the picture above. I believe we have a relatively unhealthy working pattern which involves periods of high stress interspersed with fixed holidays which are spent feeling guilty for not getting more of the stuff done that you can never get done in term time.
However, it’s not just the staff that might benefit. I was very lucky to attend the Scottish Summer School on School Leadership a few years ago. It was a three-day event involving a large number of education folk from across Scotland led by the Innovation Unit. It was a fantastic three days with really challenging input and each group had to finish the event by producing a kind of rethought education system based on the practices of a company or charity. You can see the products from my group here, but what surprised me most was the almost unanimous themes from all the groups. There must’ve been a good 150-200 people in the room and we pretty much all came up with a more flexible approach to schooling. For example, our group wanted to do things like make better use of the web to allow some self-directed learning, have schools open for longer hours but students and staff only attend/teach classes for a proportion of the time that the school is open etc. It was really surprising that if you started with a clean sheet of paper and the needs of the learner at the forefront of your thoughts that there was a consistency of opinion across the room – and it wasn’t for the status quo.
Obviously these would be quite radical changes, which would therefore be hard to achieve at the best of times. And so it’s frustrating that our ability it have what I think is a valid discussion and debate about these sorts of ideas are diminished by the remarks made this week. It’s yet another of those occasions when an issue which should be being debated positively by the profession itself is instead hijacked by a politician. I do wish we could take the politics out of education, as suggested by Mick Waters, which would allow us to positively discuss the merits of ideas such as this.
Just remembered about this video which perhaps says it better than I ever could…