You’ve probably heard about the government proposal to extend school hours to 45 hours of education per week. Apparently it is designed to allow ALL parents to work full time without resorting to additional childcare. You can read more about it here.
My view is that whilst I agree that an extended school day could benefit working parents and those who need help with bringing up their children, it won’t work for everyone. There are many reasons why I think this. Disability, health issues, bullying and other social difficulties can make school a difficult experience for some children and therefore it seems harsh to expect them to endure an even longer day. My son and daughter are an illustration of this. Their autism spectrum disorders mean it’s difficult for them to cope with the multitude of sensory, social and learning demands being made upon them. Even with support in school, there is only so much that their brains can cope with without becoming unwell. For them they need to have a chance to relax at home in order to recover from a school day. Without that break their ability to learn becomes compromised and the risk of further health problems and school refusal/absence increases.
Unfortunately the government does not appear to have considered the needs of children such as mine. There again, as we’ve seen with this Tory government time and again, the needs of those with disabilities or illnesses don’t count for very much; neither do the needs of their carers who incidentally save the economy billions of pounds per year (calculated by Carers UK to be £119 billion per year). Their preoccupation is with the economic contribution of individuals, particularly women who they believe could be working more and contributing to the economy if childcare was made more accessible. I don’t deny that childcare isn’t a problem; I know myself how hard it is to combine work with looking after children.
However I also know the importance of spending time with my children after school and this brings me on to another reason why an extended school day is problematic. Time after school provides opportunities in which a parent can help their child with homework, teach them life skills such as cooking and enjoy activities together such as watching television, playing games and chatting over a family meal. These are important opportunities for interaction, socialisation and learning and for bonding between family members. An extended school day would eat into and this bothers me because it implies that family is not important in nurturing children. The family unit is a vital source of unconditional love and support that cannot easily be replicated in the school environment or in after school clubs.
Indeed for those of us with disabled children, the practical and emotional support that we provide cannot always be provided by people who run after school activities. Knowledge of disabilities (particularly hidden disabilities) can be lacking even in the school environment let alone sports and social groups. As I have experienced, my children have been unable to access after school clubs due to inexperienced staff who didn’t know how to support them. This led to them becoming confused and distressed and eventually they refused to join in. If this is the sort of thing that happens now, what will the repercussions be if the school day is extended? Has anyone in government considered the impact of this proposal on the sick and disabled?
It seems that disability has not been part of this debate and yet it should be. If the government want to improve female participation in the workplace, if they want to improve the standard of living for families and lift families out of poverty then they need to consider disability and illness. It is not enough just to focus on working parents or those who struggle to bring up their children and to find a solution to meet their needs. To do so overlooks the needs of a great many other families out there who, for whatever reason, do not want to pass their children over to the state for 9 hours a day.
I’ve added this post to the Britmum’s linky (click here) on longer school hours. Please check it out if you can; there are some great reads. Alternatively join the discussion and add your views.