COVID-19: Gavin Williamson says there’s ‘a debate to be had’ over extending school day for children to catch up

The school day could be extended after the pandemic with extra learning time and longer lunch breaks, Gavin Williamson has said.

The education secretary said there was "a debate to be had" over whether some pupils should be exiting their school gates before 3pm and questioned whether the midday break had been "condensed" too far.

But, while agreeing that schools should be given more funding to extend their learning provisions, shadow education secretary Kate Green warned that "children won’t learn well if they are tired and if it has been a long day".

The debate over classroom time came as ministers announced post-COVID catch-up plans worth £1.4bn for school pupils in England, with the extra funding to be spent on tutoring sessions to make up for learning time lost during the pandemic.

Plans to add half an hour to the school day, extending it from 8am to 5pm or 6pm, were omitted from the government’s plan unveiled on Wednesday after a reported Whitehall row over the cost.

But during the morning broadcast round, Mr Williamson said a review was ongoing in terms of classroom timings and hinted that he wanted to see "further changes".

The education secretary told Sky News: "Longer-term we do though want to see further changes and further improvements.

"That’s why we’re doing a review in terms of time within schools and how best we can use it.

"I think there’s a debate to be had as to whether children should be exiting the school gate, as they do in some schools, at 2.45pm – or whether they should be in school later.

"Have we condensed down lunch time? It used to be an hour, sometimes in schools it’s half an hour.

"It’s right that we work with schools and teachers, as well as parents and children, as to what delivers them the best benefit."

Labour’s Ms Green said she agreed schools should be given resources to extend their facilities beyond the end of designated teaching time through extra-curricular activities, but warned that formally extending the academic day could have a "diminishing" effect.

She told Sky News: "We could use time now at the end of the school day and, indeed, at the breakfast clubs to offer a wider range of extra-curricular activities – sports, music, drama, art.

"If you ask parents or teachers, they will say children get tired. The idea you could extend the school day for lots of additional teaching of academic subjects – you get a really diminishing return, children won’t learn well if they’re tired and if it’s been a long school day.

"But I do absolutely want to see schools being supported with the resources to extend their facilities beyond the end of the day for, perhaps, local sports clubs, youth groups to come in and use those facilities.

"So that we can offer those broader activities for children and young people that are so crucial for their social and emotional development and, indeed, for their learning."

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