From education to employment

Impetus warns against squandering new education catch up budget on unproven intervention

Existing data fails to support lengthening the school day as a means to boost attainment, according to new report (@ImpetusPEF

Despite months of discussion about the learning loss caused by the pandemic, and with catch up costs estimated at £13.5 billion, the £5bn allocated in the Budget is a significant under-investment in the nation’s school pupils, and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds 

With education catch up high on the agenda, an additional 30 minutes classroom time has been touted as a solution to helping students mitigate the learning lost as a result of the pandemic.  But a report ‘Time Well Spent?’ by education charity Impetus analysed the length of the school day across a random sample of schools across England and found insufficient evidence of its impact on education outcomes to justify a large scale investment in extending it.   

English schools have autonomy over their schedule and the report found that the length of the school day varies by up to 1 hour 45 minutes of teaching time each day – some pupils are receiving 8 hours and 20 minutes more classroom time every week. Despite that, there is little correlation between classroom hours and pupil attainment. In fact, the analysis showed as great variation in outcomes between schools that have the same length of day, as those with different lengths of day.  

The finding was the same when measuring length of the school day and attainment against the socio-economic demographic of the school – calculating the number of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). Again, there was as great variation between schools that have the same length of day than those with different lengths of day.  

While there appears little correlation between the length of the school day and attainment at Key Stage 2 – up to the end of Primary school, it does have a bigger impact at Key Stage 4, for all students including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. But, again, there was great variation between schools with different lengths of school day.  

These findings suggest that, whilst the length of the day may be significant, what schools do with this time is just as important.   

Only by understanding what makes an impact on learning, can effective policy be implemented.  Before the pandemic the attainment gap between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better off peers was 27.1%pts. Following the months of disruption that particularly affected young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, there are very real fears that the gap has widened. 

Eleanor Harrison, CEO of Impetus said:   

“The new Education Secretary has pledged to be led by the evidence and relentlessly focus on ‘what works’.  What is clear from our research is that it is the quality rather than the quantity of teaching time that matters.  

“Catch up funding is vital and should be spent on evidence-based interventions. While an extension of the school day may make policy sense in terms of offering more contact time, extra-curricular activities or improving wellbeing- it should not be hailed as the silver bullet for education catch up.  

“In order to best serve pupils, the Department for Education must prioritise spending the catch up budget on proven interventions that will benefit the most disadvantaged pupils, and invest more in gathering data to better inform policy making.” 

 The cost of proven interventions 

Impetus estimates that the cost of adding 30 minutes to the school day would cost £2.7 billion a year, but the data does not confirm that such a measure would positively impact pupil attainment. 

Rather, the government should focus on evidence-based, targeted interventions to support those who have fallen furthest behind.  

Tutoring: For £848 million, the most disadvantaged students could be provided with 12 hours of small group tuition, which can result in four month’s additional progress over a year. For all pupils in England the cost would be £3.6 billion. 

Oracy: Putting oracy support in all schools would cost £55 million and could support pupils to make approximately five months additional progress over a year. 

Engagement: For £1.4 billion secondary school pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds could benefit from social and emotional learning approaches which can result in four months’ additional progress in academic outcomes over the course of an academic year. 

Related Articles