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Mr Gove, after-school clubs need to learn from family life

20 April 2014

In news to warm Michael Gove’s heart, a new survey carried out by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has found that children as young a four are now routinely finding themselves stuck at school for ten hours a day.

Dropped off for breakfast at 8am and not picked up until 6pm, some primary school children never eat with their family during the week. About three-quarters of the 1,332 teachers who took part in the survey reported that families now spend less time together than they did five years ago.

The Education Secretary’s dream of giving English school pupils some of the longest school days in Europe is on track for realisation. It’s goodbye to playing outside, daydreaming and homemade meals; hello homework club, forced collage-making and alphabetti spaghetti.

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My own memories of attending after-school club aren’t fond. I drifted listlessly around for an hour-and-a-half, longing first for the arrival of the cheese and marmite sandwiches and then of my mother. I was safe but bored, but come 5.30 I was able to return home to the dinner-time conversations with my parents which I credit with the most important aspects of my intellectual development. It must be hard to have a happy childhood when you go straight from school canteen to bath to bed – in the words of one North Yorkshire primary school teacher, “These children walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers.”

After-school care sounds like the place where childhood goes to die, but Gove is right: with more mothers working, the 8-to-6 school day is an affordable childcare solution – and, with a few changes, it doesn’t have to be a tragedy.

If children are doing ten-hour school days, the after-school care model I experienced isn’t going to cut it. The government have recognised the need to extend the range of activities on offer beyond finger-painting, but no amount of clarinet and cricket will compensate for all those lost meal-time discussions.

If childcare and school are to be merged, the emphasis should be on learning through personal relationships. The best boarding schools provide the model: always eating family-style meals with the same small group, as much privacy as possible, and a high staff to student ratio.

Obviously your local state primary can’t compete with Eton, but there are plenty of low-budget alternatives. In sixth-form, a few of my friends were employed by our school to help out at the junior department’s after-school club for a couple of hours a week. Similarly, year six students could easily be paired with younger children who regularly attend the same after-school care slots, and read them a story or play a game of Snap. Such schemes kill two educational birds with one stone – both making childcare more personal and developing teenagers’ much-maligned sense of responsibility.

Even without government encouragement, children are spending more time at school. We should look to family life and successful boarding schools to see how we can make those extra hours as much in the child’s interest as possible.

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Show comments
  • Gwangi

    At school for ten hours a day? Aye, and half of that is playing, eating, nattering and hanging around; only half that time – if that – is studying. And so it’s really 5 hours a day – which, in China, Japan or South Korea would be considered part-time.

    But then, what do people expect in the UK, land of single mum families and working women? Of course if no-one is at home then young kids have to be dumped somewhere; of course many of the metropolitan elite have nannies or at least au pairs – nice and cheap thanks to the mass immigration that has lowers working men’s wages and created a housing crisis. But never mind, coz mummy gets a cheap surrogate mummy from Poland who cleans the house and empties the bins too, while femi-mum is off being ‘strong and independent’ at tax-payers’ expense.

    And we must absolutely NOT subsidise child care any more – we already waste billions on paying maternity ‘pay’ and childcare to rich property owning families.

    ‘About three-quarters of the 1,332 teachers who took part in the survey reported that families now spend less time together than they did five years ago.’
    HOW on earth could they possibly know that? Silly and flawed survey. D minus. SEE ME!

  • rtj1211

    Oh dear, all that free-market dogma which has as its consequence higher house prices, longer-commutes, longer working hours for less pay is revealing its effects on primary school children. What a surprise!!

    Now make your minds up: what is more important – family life or unbounded capitalism which reduces human beings to economic actors?? It can’t be both.

    Those who think it can are political schizophrenics in need of long-term medication (which in this case is being thrown out of office in the next election they stand in, as that is preferable to a peasant’s revolt with widespread death of the ruling classes).

    You can’t have family life for the rich and capitalism for the poor. It’s family life for everyone or no-one.

    Now make your minds up and pay the consequences if you say that 30 years of free market capitalism didn’t bring what you wanted.

    You brought it in, so you pay the price for getting rid of it.

    • La Fold

      “free-market dogma which has as its consequence higher house prices, longer-commutes, longer working hours for less pay ”
      Absolute shoemakers, hysteridcal 6th form debating club nonsense.
      Firstly the property prices rising were absolutely nothing to do with the free market but to do with government interfering in the housing market. In fact they are still interfering with it so the lesson is still not learnt. Governemnt and the banks colluded togethor allowing the banks to leverage cash out and the government promised to bail the banks out when it all went nipples up, which they all know it would. People signing off 7/ 8 times their own salary for a mortgage, that couldnt end badly could it?
      Secondly those who have longer commutes and work longer hours invariably tend to make far much more money, that is why they work longer hours and are willing to make long commutes. One could say that people are forced into this in order to pay for inflated house prices and that is true, but many do it because they can make a lot more money.
      Placing this firmly at the door of capitalism is just adolescent and plain wrong.

    • Gwangi

      Actually, it is more women in the workplace and mass immigration that has led to absurdly high house prices. If more women left the workplace and we had the population of 30 years ago (5 million fewer), life would be better for most people – especially children.
      But yes, I agree – let’s scrap so-called maternity ‘pay’ and subsidised childcare for the rich – defined as anyone who owns property in London, for a start. Let’s also increase property taxes to New York levels. Let’s also get serious about immigration and start sending em back (all illegals and all who claim benefits). Agreed?

  • Realpolitik

    Seems anyone can become a teacher these days, if I couldn’t afford for my children to go to public school; I wouldn’t have children.

    • Gwangi

      And absolutely anyone c an be a teacher at public school – no qualifications or teacher training needed at all. That’s why they employ cheap foreign students as language teachers; or thicko ex-army or ex-professional sportspeople to gaze semi-professionally at children in the showers and do other sporty things.

  • you_kid

    When you internalise the EU Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC there is no conflict regarding time. Boarding schools were established separately and cater for all those who do not love their children.

    • Realpolitik

      Or love them enough to give them the best education possible, best chance in life, free of indoctrination by the state, happy, independent, self-aware breathing clean country air.

    • 2trueblue

      You need to get out more.

  • Liz

    This picture represents a nostalgic, upper-middle-class idyll. But this wasn’t family life for working class people: one harassed mother, old at 40, half a dozen or more kids, bringing one another up, chucked outside after breakfast come rain or shine, to play or work, don’t come home till tea time, father barely conversant, leave school at 14 to face a life of drudgery. Or upper class families: brought up by nanny, then institutionalised in boarding schools where they developed personality disorders.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh Lizzie, you do sound like someone supporting Milipede’s
      little class war. Those frazzled hardworking families struggling to bring
      up the little tribe, working fingers to the bones. Whist those spoilt much maligned middle- classes al have nannies ( you may find that’s upper class
      but never mind ) and hardly work at all – brain work- is not working.
      As for the boarding school remark, I would have thought attending a over -crowded Comp, with parents that ignore you and a school that lets you down
      educationally. As well as been fed a diet of envy and hate will cause more
      personality disorders. And the family in the picture are just middle- class.

    • 2trueblue

      You need to get out more. What a load of prejudices you have collected. Where do you actually fit in to the mix?

  • Kitty MLB

    The picture. Is this how people were in the 50s( I assume its the 50s) The mother doesn’t look old enough to have children of that
    age, the father resembles a cross between Noel Coward and
    David Niven, perfectly attired. Even if children spent less time at
    school, the world has changed from those days, children want
    to be independent from their parents, would still prefer dinners
    to be short as possible, still grunt in ‘their’ own language and
    still would prefer to be attached to the latest gadget, when
    not hanging around shopping centres or dangling from freezer
    compartmens when forced around Sainsburys.
    Both parents tend to work these days, not all jobs are 9 to 5,
    and at least staying longer at school is productive.

    • Alison

      Parents surely have a responsibility to make sure that children do not grunt in their own language and use gadgets at meal times. ‘Those days’ in the picture may never have existed but we have not changed so dramatically as a species that we are no longer capable of enforcing good manners in our own homes. It has merely been unfashionable recently, because good manners were seen as paternalistic and often confused with etiquette, which is something different.

    • glurk

      Im truly concerned that in a model like this children are left without the down-time that lends itself to development of self and exploration of other things that aren’t the product of an institution. When I was of school age, my downtime was spent alone with dog and bike, on the loose with other kids or buried in books and comics. I tried to recreate that independence for my own children.
      Im concerned that the life forced on children by largely inflexible working hours, paranoia, exhaustion, anxiety, officialdom and boredom is far more limiting, particularly when when being organised to death at school, however admirable the regime, than being a latch-key kid ever was.

      • glurk

        Im also truly concerned that Telemachus uses this subject as a forum to expound party politics and greasy pseudo-politik one-upmanship.

  • swatnan

    Its a sad state of affairs when small kids are stuck in school for ten hrs a day. Why?
    Lets get back to basics and have parents and children and the whole family together.
    I’ve been thinking about this and trying to think how we got this way. It may boil down to the Health and Safety Act of 1974 that created a fear of everything and a compensation culture. Scrap that Act and take your chances. Risk is what life is all about.Take a chance and regret nothing.

    • clouty

      Why are children in school for 10 hours a day? Because both parents work. Why do both parents work? Because wages have been driven down by desperation caused by unemployment and ‘welfare reform’
      Why is it that the benefits of ongoing automation and computing power (see unemployment point above) are going to the already wealthy? Because they own politicians and the means of production.
      At least the Labour Party gets some of its funding from the common herd.

  • Magnolia

    We’ll advocate anything, anything at all except for policies which make it easier for one parent to stay at home and bring the children up.
    I was to some extent brought up by other children’s parents and if they had all been too busy working then I do not think I would have made it. Teachers would not have been an adequate substitute.

    • manonthebus

      I suppose the truth these days is that for the majority of families, it is difficult to find a job paying enough for one person to support them. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the change in employment brought about by the computer. Another is the desire to have so many expensive distractions in life. A third might be the downgrading of the value of qualifications. Certainly, a fourth is the change in style of life. It isn’t just teachers who are now child-minders (at least they get paid); grandparents are now the most commonly-found unpaid childminders.

      • saffrin

        Property prices and property prices only.

        • Hugh1

          Which came first, property prices or both parents working?

          • saffrin

            Wimin’s lib.

        • telemachus

          The only survey that matters this week is:

          An overwhelming 94% of those who responded to the survey this week believe the Cost of Living Crisis continues.

          Ed Miliband and Ed Balls feel vindicated. And David Axelrod will exploit to the full.

          • saffrin

            Fat chance.
            Axelrod may be completely in the dark about who caused the cost of living crisis but the average voter knows full well.
            Both Ed’s have proven to be complete fools, both liars and deniers.
            One thing the electorate know is Labour hasn’t learnt a single thing about their past mistakes.
            Labour/NuLabour are has beens.

            • telemachus

              Full well?
              No need for lessons
              We all continue to benefit from the huge investment in public devices including doubling the NHS spend
              Labours time is coming again
              Only Labour have an answer to the age demographic time bomb
              We are already seeing the benefit on GDP of the dynamic young mostly eastern European immigrants triggered by the last administration
              If we vote for Conservative/Ukip we could choke this off to our detriment

              • saffrin

                Proved my point. You don’t even recognise the damage you have done.
                You people really do live in your own little world.

          • Kitty MLB

            Who answered this survey, Telemachus ?
            A few brainwashed Lefties . The 2 Ed’s will never vindicated
            utter balderdash.

            • telemachus

              The electorate does not matter
              It refutes the narratives of yesterday’s papers that Ed’s so called one horse policy does not matter
              Of course it does not matter to the media types who wrote yesterday’s stories
              However the vast majority of folks know that paying £1.45 for a loaf of bread that cost £1.05 ate the start of this dreadful coalition puts a huge dent in the family budget

              • Kitty MLB

                Indeed Telemachus, how much better was life under Labour,
                you never know what you are missing until its gone- where
                is my violin- its around somewhere.
                The cost of living crisis is rubbish- and you still have not mentioned how you would deal with the humungous deficit .

                • telemachus

                  Your first paragraph is laudable and a joy
                  As to your second, I am not surprised
                  Those like you and I that have the leisure time to toil at spreading the word are not unduly affected by the cost of living crisis
                  But if you exist on the minimum wage and the price of bread rises by a third your choice is for your children to go hungry or send those poor kids to school with holes in their shoes
                  As a caring lady and mother you must embrace our message and campaign on our behalf

                • Kitty MLB

                  Well the poor little kids have holes in their shoes. At least
                  its one step up from being shoeless as they were the other day. The minimum wage- which party never made work pay,
                  just keep them poor enough! sounds like a prophecy from Brown.

                • telemachus

                  An almost Dickensian comment
                  Were it not for charity shops they would indeed have no shoes
                  And were it not for food banks starvation would beckon

                • Kitty MLB

                  Indeed, all wandering around in a Conservative Dickensian
                  gloom . The only reason we stopped sending children up chimneys was because of the new EU health and safety rules. starvation will beckon – little Oliver’s will start popping
                  up everywhere,
                  Ah, I am minded of what the brilliant Norman Tebbit stated,
                  when he said people go to food banks for free food and then spend their money on junk.

                • telemachus

                  Our Victorian forefathers Lord Salisbury a great socialist et al ensured improvement while expanding our relations with the world
                  A far cry from your little england self serving philosophy
                  Come over to the movement

                • Kitty MLB

                  Indeed, expanding our relationship with the world. The EU is not the world. We are not geographically joined to the EU
                  and the world is our oyster. Not ‘ little England’ but Great Britain.

                • telemachus

                  Our oyster through the economic power and influence of the eu
                  But this is not about the eu
                  It is about the quality of life in Britain declining week on week under the coalition

                • 2trueblue

                  And their mobile phones etc.

              • Barakzai

                ‘The electorate does not matter.’

                Ah, the British Labour movement’s authentic voice . . .

                • telemachus

                  The demographics of psephology are always opaque
                  They are always questioned by those who do not like the message

                • Kitty MLB

                  I have told Telemachus, the solution to the ‘Labour Movement ‘
                  would be some prunes for breakfast- some never listen .

                • telemachus

                  And I have told you that the benefit of prunes has been debunked

              • 2trueblue

                I can remember when my gas and electricity, and petrol went up massively when Liebore were in power, and they did not go down when the market showed that the prices to the distributers had gone down. What did Bliar and his government do? Nothing.

        • Gwangi

          Yes, indeed. Hard to believe that 30 or 40 years ago a man could support a wife and children and afford to buy a semi in the suburbs, all on a single teacher’s salary, for example.

          Women in the workplace and mass immigration have caused spiralling house prices – and apart from greedy selfish hippy baby boomers who cashed in, we are all worse off for it.

          Yes, there, I said it – life now is worse than it was under Wilson or Heath, despite the power cuts and the rest. The quality of life in the UK plummets year on year for most and has been doing so for decades. And it can only get worse.

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