Beyond the headlines: Education
Four-day week proposal given short shrift
Rarely has a proposal been shot down as quickly as that of a four-day school week. The prospect, floated by North Ayrhsire Council, was immediately attacked from all angles.
Politically, the proposal was never going to be a runner. While other councils might have considered it amongst a range of saving measures, none would have taken it beyond that. The outcry from parents could be anticipated. In any case, it would probably require legislation, making it neither popular nor particularly viable.
But across the Atlantic the policy is not considered so off the wall – there 20 US states have school districts that operate a four-day week. Indeed, the practice dates back to the 1930s in the US. While it provokes mixed opinion, there are some merits worth thinking about.
Research shows that a four-day week can boost attendance amongst teachers and pupils and improve morale in schools. Some studies point to better pupil behaviour and a reduction in drop-out rates. Evidence on the educational impact is patchy but existing studies have found either no change or improvement in pupils’ attainment under the model. Another advantage is flexibility; so if a school has to close during the year due to weather, the day can be made up without having to lengthen the school year.
Of course educationalists are not united on the benefits. Some argue that longer weekends can lead to a regression in learning and that the longer school day is overly tiring for pupils.
On the financial side, the model is unlikely to reap major savings as staff working hours are simply squeezed into four days. Savings in transport and building-running costs would be made but at the same time some form of alternative provision for pupils would surely be needed on the fifth day.
A four-day week is clearly a non-starter in Scotland but, in the current economic context, radical proposals do need to be debated. Indeed, Education Secretary Mike Russell has said he is open to new ideas for more flexible delivery of education, including changes to the school day. And if politicians are serious about maintaining education quality in the face of cuts, the range of possibilities needs to be explored.