Longer school days risk 'eroding childhood', says teaching union

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Teachers have warned that extended school days and longer terms are detrimental to children.

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The ATL has warned that extended school days risk the 'erosion of childhood'

According to a survey carried out by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), children as young as four are spending ten-hour days at school in breakfast and after-school clubs in what may constitute ‘an erosion of childhood’.

The majority of teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders surveyed said parents and carers used before- and after-school services as childcare.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents believed children today spend less time with their families than 20 years ago.

One respondent, a primary school teacher in Kent, said, ‘Many of our parents are commuters into London and therefore work long hours. We have children as young as four who are at school 8am-6pm, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.’

The ATL conducted the survey of 1,343 education staff last month ahead of its annual conference in Manchester this week.

The ATL union will debate the issue at the conference, where a motion has been submitted claiming longer school days and extended terms are a challenge to family life and risk ‘eroding childhood’.

Earlier this year, education secretary Michael Gove announced plans to make all schools open for ten hours a day to reduce the ‘Berlin Wall’ of separation between state and private schools.

But the announcement was met with criticism from many in the sector.

An early years teacher in a state school in North Yorkshire, surveyed by the ATL, said, ‘Some children are placed in before- and after-school care from 8am to 6pm. These children walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers.’

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said, ‘Proposals by the Government for children to start school at an earlier age, along with proposals for flexibility for schools and colleges to change the length of the school day and school holidays do not put young people first.

‘It’s really important for children to have time to be children, to play with friends and spend time with their families. However, increasing living costs mean that for most families it is now unaffordable for only one parent to work.

‘Parents in the UK are working some of the longest hours in Europe and this puts a huge pressure on family life. Parents are coming home exhausted having worked from 7am to 7pm, and frequently the children are tired too if they’ve spent all day at school or with childminders.

‘We are the ‘poor man of Europe’ when it comes to unpaid overtime and more needs to be done to support families and children so that they can spend more time together.’