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Longer School Day

Volume 575: debated on Monday 10 February 2014

I would like to see state schools offer a school day that is nine or even 10 hours long, enabling schools to provide character building, extra-curricular activities and homework sessions. I look forward to working with schools to ensure that they have access to the resources necessary to provide these activities.

Does the Secretary of State agree that lengthening the school day in this way will give more children the chance to benefit from a greater breadth of studies—an opportunity that too often has fallen only to those who can afford to pay for it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we need to do is close the unacceptable gap in attainment between those who are fortunate enough to have parents who can pay for them to be educated privately and those in the state sector. The very best state schools recognise that a longer school day with additional extra-curricular activities is just one way of ensuring that all our children can succeed.

These plans would strengthen children’s education, ensure time for music, sport and other extra-curricular activities, ease the time pressure on teachers and help out working parents. I urge the Secretary of State not to allow the narrow vested interests of the unions to block the delivery of these plans.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These plans will ensure that a broader range of culturally enriching activities are available to young people. I am sure that the teaching unions will recognise that this is in their interests, and I hope they will embrace and support these changes.

I know the Secretary of State sees himself as a big beast at the Cabinet table championing educational reform, but is he aware that most of us who wish well for our education system want the big beast to be controlled by good information, good research and good evidence? What is the evidence for the longer school day?

The evidence is there in the gap between, for example, the performance of independent fee-paying schools and state schools. If one looks at those children who get the best results at the end of primary school and what happens to those who go on to independent schools and those who stay in the state sector, one sees that at the moment those who go on to independent schools are more likely to get good GCSEs and A-levels. A longer school day is one of the ingredients that we believe will make a difference. Great state school heads—for example, Greg Martin at Durand academy—have already come out and explained why, in their schools, a longer school day definitely helps children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to catch up with their peers.

I support the Secretary of State’s wish that school nurseries extend hours beyond the statutory 15 hours a week. Is he aware, however, that 21 local authorities, including my own in Manchester, already provide full-time nursery provision, but that this is being put at risk by funding changes from his Department? Is this not another example of his actions failing to match his words?

I am delighted that so many schools and local authorities provide additional hours, and I work with schools to ensure that more can do so. Where local authorities experience difficulties in ensuring that parents receive the support they need, I want to ask tough questions about the leadership of those local authorities to make sure that they devote the same amount of care, attention and resource to helping disadvantaged children as my Department does.

On the basis that there is more to education than the classroom, will the Secretary of State tell the House what discussions he has had with various organisations—scouts, guides, cadets and so on—on how a longer school day would impact on the out-of-school activities that our young people undertake?

I would hope that our voluntary organisations will play a part in making sure that more young people can enjoy the sort of character-building activities that those organisations believe in. Many scout troops already work closely with schools, and cadets certainly are an integral part of the success of schools in the independent and state sectors. I want to do everything possible to ensure that children can enjoy those activities, and, in particular, that children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have not had the chance in the past, now have that opportunity.