Gavin Williamson rules out making school days longer

24 February 2021, 20:42 | Updated: 24 February 2021, 20:44

Gavin Williamson has ruled out making school days longer
Gavin Williamson has ruled out making school days longer. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Gavin Williamson has ruled out making school days longer, saying it is "not part of the plan" to help pupils catch up on lost learning after the coronavirus pandemic.

The education secretary told reporters at the Downing Street press conference that instead, he hoped the extra £400 million funding announced on Wednesday - as part of a new £700 million package for England - would allow schools to organise classes and wellbeing sessions during the summer holidays.

Earlier, Mr Williamson had refused to rule out that the government was considering lengthening the school day, telling Sky that ministers are "looking at how we can boost and support children in a whole range of different manners".

However, when asked during Wednesday press briefing whether the measure would be introduced, he said: "It is not part of the plan."

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It comes after unions responded angrily to the education secretary's response earlier in the day when he said the government was looking at a broad range of options.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The government has not discussed with us the idea of extending the school day, and the only mention we have seen of this idea is in media reports.

"We would not support a mandatory extension to the school day. Schools may want to put on some tailored after-school provision for groups of children who would benefit from this support.

"But the notion of forcing all children to sit through extra classes at the end of the day is not necessary and making tired pupils do more work is not effective.

"We need to focus on quality, not quantity."

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Pupils are set to return to school on 8 March. However, some may go back a few days later to help schools meet testing requirements.

Secondaries will offer children face-to-face teaching over the holidays and the government hopes to implement summer classes for new Year 7 pupils.

Sessions over the holidays will be funded by £200 million of the support package. Meanwhile, each primary and secondary will get £6,000 and £22,000 respectively as part of the £302million Recovery Premium.

On top of this, another £200 million will be put towards the National Tutoring Programme and other similar schemes that can be spent on extra activities, clubs and teaching for those who have fallen behind.

However, throughout the day, Mr Williamson did not appear to rule out shortening the summer holidays.

Asked at Wednesday's Downing Street press conference whether summer holidays could be trimmed, Mr Williamson said: "On the summer holidays, what we have done in terms of a £200 million programme is we want schools to be putting on great activities, whether it is education-led or even wellbeing-led, so we'd be hoping that schools can be offering that, draw down that funding in order to be offering that to children.

"Yes, we'd hope that schools are offering time in schools for children and that's why we've put the funding there."

He also told LBC's Westminster Correspondent Ben Kentish that he is "absolutely sure unvaccinated kids will not be banned from enjoying their freedom.

"As a dad myself with two daughters, I think the novelty of going for walks with me is starting to run a bit thin now, and they want a slightly more enhanced entertainment.

"So I think, as a dad's point of view, I'm very desperate to make sure that they're able to enjoy the benefits of opening up, society opening up, different parts of the economy, and being able to get out there.

"So I'm absolutely sure we're not going to be disadvantaging our young people to be able to enjoy the benefits of stepping out into the world so much more than they've been able to."

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