HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc181-2
3. Mr. Nicholas Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what information he has as to the length of the school day and year in 1989 and 1959.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth)

Under the Education (Schools and Further Education) Regulations 1981, as amended, schools—nursery schools and classes excepted—must meet for 380 half-day sessions in a school year and provide at least three hours of secular instruction for pupils under eight years and at least four hours for pupils of or above that age. The equivalent provisions in 1959 contained no significant differences.

Mr. Bennett

Is my hon. Friend aware that 25 to 30 years ago the average school teaching day finished at about 4 o'clock? In most secondary schools now the day ends at about 3 o'clock—an hour earlier than 30 years ago. As many schools claim that they do not have time to teach the national curriculum and optional subjects, is there not a case for the secondary schools' teaching day to be extended?

Mr. Howarth

We all sometimes feel the temptation to be nostalgic. I doubt whether my hon. Friend means to contend that in general teachers work less hard than they did in what was, no doubt, the golden age when he was a teacher. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the hard work and professionalism of teachers today. However, he has made an important point. The performance of schools as they organise themselves to teach the national curriculum will depend on management policy. The disparity in the number of hours of teaching offered to children from one school to another is striking. In that context, last May we put out a draft circular for consultation, inviting governors and head teachers to review the balance of time spent on teaching and other activities.

Mr. Madel

Does my hon. Friend think that the present school day should be extended so that those young people who find it difficult and unsettling to do their homework at home would have the option of doing this work at school?

Mr. Howarth

The organisation of the school day and the duties undertaken by teachers in directed time are matters for the head teacher to decide. Most schools organise themselves to deliver the national curriculum successfully, but some find it more difficult. Some schools offer up to three hours more teaching per week, with the same length of school day. Head teachers are anxious to be flexible, imaginative and sensitive to the needs of their pupils, but it is at their discretion.