Graphic: What do you think? Would longer school days help combat underachievement in youngsters?
Longer school days, moves to get parents more involved and incentives to get the best teachers, will help combat the underachievement of white working class youngsters, an influential cross-party committee of MPs has said.
Case study: Great Yarmouth Primary Academy
Great Yarmouth Primary Academy could be just the kind of school MPs have in mind when they talk about the benefits of an extended school day to white, working class children. The school has a high proportion of pupils from a disadvantaged background – and is a coastal town that Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw last year name-checked when raising his concerns about the issue.
The school has a mandatory extended school day for pupils aged seven to 11, and pupils in the two highest years attend study sessions until 6pm from Monday to Thursday.
Last week, it was judged “good” in an Ofsted report which referred to “high quality teaching over extended hours”.
The inspectors found that the attainment and progress of pupils eligible for the pupil premium, which targets funding at children from deprived backgrounds, “matches or exceeds that of other pupils in the school”.
The report added: “Pupils in Key Stage 2 participate in an exciting variety of enrichment activities every afternoon. Pupils say they have opportunities that make a real difference to their lives.
“In some instances, pupils are pursuing the skills and talents they discover to particularly high levels. These activities contribute significantly to their improved self-discipline, enjoyment of learning and physical well-being. Coupled with the study sessions pupils in year five and six attend from Monday to Thursday, these experiences make an outstanding contribution to pupils’ improving achievement, their well-being and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.”
South West Norfolk MP and education minister Elizabeth Truss called for more schools to offer an extended day. She said: “Before and after school care not only can provide enriching activities for pupils, but also has been shown to improve children’s educational attainment.”
In a new report, which claims poor white children in rural and coastal areas like Norfolk and Suffolk have been “unseen” for too long, the education select committee called for a number of steps to be taken or the potential of white working-class children will be left “unlocked”.
The report was welcomed by headteachers in the region, who said much of the report, which looked across the country, rang true in the east. Mark Adams, headteacher of St Nicholas Priory Church of England Voluntary Aided Junior School in Great Yarmouth, said that it was important to “break the cycle” and “raise aspirations”.
He said that the tide was turning and there were a large number of schools doing excellent work. But he added: “I think schools play a really significant role, but they are not the only agency that plays a role. It goes back to the aspirations of parents.”
MPs called for more research to be done into how to get parents more engaged, and called for successful projects to be shared more widely.
The report came as chief school inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said heads should be able to impose penalties on parents who did not make children do their homework.
But Mr Adams said it was a matter of working with the parents.
His school provides a free breakfast for its students before school starts and he said they also had drop-in sessions where parents could come in for free tea and coffee.
“Rather than fining them and making them feel terrible, we need to try to find ways of getting them to bring their children to school on time and welcome them to school so they can play a role in their children’s education. He added: “Often these parents have low skills themselves, so it is providing a way to improve their skills so they can help the children aswell.”
Sarah Shirras, headteacher at St William’s Primary School, said the issues raised in the report were ones that they had been working hard on in Norfolk, particularly through the headteacher associations and a link with Lambeth. “I think the issue is well acknowledged within schools, but possibly not by all those who inspect schools and do not see the challenge that some schools and communities face,” she added.
The report calls for Ofsted to publish a best practice report on longer school days to give schools advice on how extended hours can help poorer children.
But Michael Taylor, senior deputy headteacher at Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, said that while his school was extending term dates and schools days in small ways, it was unsustainable without additional money. Select committee chairman Graham Stuart said: “We don’t know how much of the under-performance is due to poor attitudes to school, a lack of work ethic or weak parenting. What is certain is that great schools make a significant difference in turning poor children’s education around.”
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