Best of both worlds: Estelle’s journey in a pioneering role - June 21

Author: Estelle Ashman, Curriculum Content Developer

Give them authentic educational experiences!

June 2021

Earlier this month it was leaked to the press that the Government was thinking about extending the school day as a way of catching students up after the school closures caused by the Covid pandemic. In this months blog I wanted to talk a little about my thoughts on this.

Firstly, there is the question of comparison - the main reason given for these extended teaching hours is that these students will be behind - but behind compared to whom? This wasn't a closure in one small part of the country or even just the UK - the pandemic has effected the whole globe! Every child across the world will be behind in some way! If everyone is behind is anyone really behind? Is there really a need for them to catch up if no-one is racing ahead? I have heard one argument that it is the students from poorer backgrounds that have fallen the furthest behind (which begs the question, what happened to the extra laptops and WIFI dongles that the Government pledged to support these students?) and I would agree with this - unfortunately it is the students from the poorest backgrounds that are historically always the furthest behind. These students are the ones who will have struggled to get on with their school work for a variety of reasons however this blanket approach to catch up will not help them to catch up with their peers - if everyone is doing this extra time then everyone will be making improvements. If academic improvement is the key outcome of this extra investment into schools (as these extra opening hours need to be paid for after all) then maybe paying for focused tutoring for specific students or small groups of students would be a better use of the money. However, there is also a lot of evidence that suggests that authentic educational experiences are actually much more valuable to a student from a poorer background - experiences such as drop down days where they get to develop and use a variety of skills, educational visits and work experience. When you speak to older people who have bucked the trend of coming from a poorer background often it can be traced back to one of these kind of educational opportunities. Would we be better to spend money on providing experiences for students that are falling behind to open their eyes to the opportunities available to them?

Secondly, there is the question of mental health. It has been widely reported that the pandemic has effected a large portion of the country's mental health - this decline in mental health isn't due to people falling behind in their education, if it was then only school / college / university aged people would be effected, it's due to the reduction in human contact and interaction. 

This decline in mental health isn't due to people falling behind in their education, if it was then only school / college / university aged people would be effected, it's due to the reduction in human contact and interaction.

Over the last 15 years there has been a pressure from the Government down for schools to offer a more restricted curriculum - with some schools that I have worked in narrowing this even further focussing mainly on English and Maths and dropping many of the Arts subjects such as Drama and Music. In my experience, I have seen a decline in the mental health of the students in my care as the scope of their educational experience has narrowed. With that in mind surely we would be better to put money into supporting schools in providing more opportunities for students to work together in fun, engaging, collaborative ways that support positive mental health rather than put further pressure on catching up with others that might not even be ahead!

Thirdly, students have just come out of a time in their life when they have been forced to be far more sedentary then they normally are. Before the pandemic there was already an issue with obesity, this has only increased with the reduction of movement caused by the lockdowns yet the Government suggests that their extra finding provide more classroom time. Most reports suggest that the extra funding will mean that schools would extend their day by around 30 mins - allowing for extra teaching time and therefore more sedentary time sat in front of a teacher. It's a shame that there hasn't been more of a call to think outside of the box, this would have been a great opportunity to provide opportunities for students to explore movement and exercise in a new and interesting way. 

In conclusion, this extra funding could be used in much more innovative ways that would have a far larger, long lasting impact rather than just providing an extra 30 mins of English and Maths lessons that, lets face it, students would rather not have!

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