The reply is here! Just don’t get your hopes up…
When I sent my letter to Michael Gove (Dear Mr Gove…) last month, I was fairly certain I would get some form of reply – they have to really, don’t they? My expectations of the content were, I’ll be honest, low. Have my expectations been met? Well, yes. Which should at least, I suppose, win them some points if they were being inspected by Ofsted.
So here, ladies and gentlemen, is the presumably standard information that the Department of Education is sending out to people who write to them about longer schools days/shorter holidays. As expected, it entirely fails to engage with any of the content of the letter that I sent them. Instead, it tells me the content of Gove’s speech (I already knew that. I’d read it. That’s why I wrote to him); trumpets about academies and free schools (I’m not a fan); and talks about what they have done and are doing to enable schools to bring in longer school days/shorter holidays (Oh good. Because I’m all in favour of that). No mention of why they’re not encouraging employers to be more family-friendly. Funny, that.
Their hope that the letter “is helpful” to me? Well, no, it’s not really. I took them up on their invitation to give them my comments on their response – shame I don’t believe that they are really “interested in hearing” my views…
Dear Ms W,
Thank you for your email of 19 April, addressed to the Secretary of State, about media reports on the Secretary of State’s views on the length of the school day and year in England. As you can appreciate the Secretary of State receives a large amount of correspondence and is unable to respond to each one personally. On this occasion I have been asked to reply.
In his 18 April speech to the Spectator conference, the Secretary of State encouraged all schools to seriously consider making changes to the length, structure and content of the school day. He also pointed out that the structure of the current school year has not changed significantly since agricultural times and may not reflect the needs of today’s pupils and working parents. We have a responsibility to make sure our children get the best education possible to equip them to compete in the global market.
We understand your concern about the length of the school day and year. Some of the best schools in the country recognise the benefits of a longer school day and of changes to the structure of school year as well. Such changes can really assist children, particularly the most disadvantaged who are more likely to lose out over the long summer holidays. Academies and free schools, such as the David Young Community Academy in Leeds and the Free School Norwich, are already making changes in the best interests of their pupils.
Academies and free schools have the freedom to set the duration of the school day, and to set the length and dates of school terms as they see fit. In September 2011, the government removed the prescriptive process that maintained schools had to go through when changing their school day. All maintained schools now have the freedom to set the duration of their school day as they see fit.
Maintained schools are bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), which sets out that teachers should work for 195 days (including 190 for teaching and 5 for training). The Secretary of State wrote to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) on 17 April asking it, among other things, to make recommendations on how the non-pay conditions of service in the STPCD could be reformed, including provisions relating to teachers’ working time. The STRB will consider a range of evidence before reporting in January next year. Teachers’ conditions are one of the factors that restrict schools’ ability to make use of their freedoms to vary the length of the school day and year.
I hope this is helpful to you.