By Amelia Shallish
A controversial trial to extend the school day by one hour has begun in Wales and will run for ten weeks despite concerns from the unions.
The pilot is taking place in 13 schools made up of primaries, secondaries and one college and includes a total of around 1800 children.
The size of the trial, which includes less than 1 per cent of the schools in Wales, is a cause for concern for NASUWT teachers union.
Neil Butler, a NASUWT national official for Wales, said: “It’s a very small trial and we’re worried about what the outcomes of that will be.”
It appears there was no prior communication from government and Mr Butler believes “it’s the wrong time and it has been done in the wrong way” in relation to the already strained work environment for teachers.
To match the rate of inflation, increased class sizes and staff shortages teachers require at least a 17 per cent pay increase according to the union.
Mr Butler claims that if the extra hour was put into place across the whole of Wales it could cost the government around £22 million.
Schools within the trial are able to access up to £2 million funding from the government to fund the creative and physical opportunities for students within the extra hour.
The plans for changes to the school day and school year came out of the manifestos of both the Labour party and Plaid Cymru in December.
The proposal involves extending the school day by one hour and shortening school summer holidays to 4 week as a way to provide children with more physical and creative opportunities specifically for disadvantaged students.
Ken Skates, a Member of the Senedd representing labour in the Clwyd South Constituency, said: “The more you can engage children within the school setting, not just in formal academic learning but in play is a good thing and we should be trialling it.”
Mr Skates, who is on the Children and Education Committee also spoke about the beneficial impact this could have on “working parents, specifically single working parents” in alleviating some of the pressures to provide childcare.
Sharon Yates, a working mother of three young children commends the proposal and believes it would benefit her children.
She said: “I really feel that they have missed out over the last two years and we owe that generation some additional support.
“My son is nine and I would say he has had sporadic learning for the last two years.”
Both Mrs Yates and her husband worked from home full time throughout the pandemic whilst also caring and teaching their children aged; three, nine and eleven.
Since March 2020, due to Covid lockdown restrictions school children have swapped classrooms and playgrounds for home learning.
A report from Kindred Squared and YouGov found that on average 43 per cent of children were reportedly not school – ready upon entering reception in Autumn 2021.
Kim Fisher, headteacher at Windsor Clive Primary School, believes the impacts of the pandemic on children are only now becoming visible.
The Cardiff based primary school was successful in their application to be a part of the trial and Mr Fisher hopes the trial will help schools become “places the community feels safe in”.
Mr Fisher said the 60 children involved from year groups two and three have “had a lovely time” in the first two days of the trial.
The activities are being run by external providers such as; Cardiff City football club and Cardiff museum and teacher involvement is optional according to Mr Fisher.
Across the whole trial, It is currently unclear what the requirements of this extended hour are and who is expected to run the activities.
Former Deputy Head Teacher Julie Walker is concerned over the logistics of the trial for teaching staff and those who work in schools.
Miss Walker said: “if it’s raining and you can only have one class in the hall or If there’s lots of sports where do you put it all and […] for cleaners it would mean an add on for their day.”
Miss Walker currently works as a business manager in a childcare provider for children aged two to eleven.
She confirmed there is risk a loss of income for those working within the childcare sector if this afterschool care is provided within school.
She said: “I don’t think for the moment anyone is clear of the purpose of it.”
The trial is planned to run for 10 weeks and then the evidence will be assessed by Plaid and the Labour party.