School considers continental-style day

By Ted JeoryA TEACHERS' union voiced its concerns last night over a school's proposal to radically change its working day.St Helena School in Colchester is considering adopting a continental-style working day, under which lessons would start at 8am and finish at 2pm.

By Ted Jeory

A TEACHERS' union voiced its concerns last night over a school's proposal to radically change its working day.

St Helena School in Colchester is considering adopting a continental-style working day, under which lessons would start at 8am and finish at 2pm.

The plan, which could be introduced in the next academic year, would also see the lunch break reduced to 20 minutes.


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School headteacher Clive Waddington will outline the proposed new working day to parents at a meeting on Wednesday.

He said the school's governors had decided the idea was “worth floating” and added other headteachers had indicated interest in informal discussions.

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Mr Waddington said the proposal had the broad backing of teachers and “overwhelming” support of non-class staff, but a teachers' union leader voiced last night his concern.

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex branch of the National Union of Teachers, said the idea would need to be closely examined, but he was worried it was part of a steady erosion of teachers' free time.

“I am deeply concerned about this. It's all very well saying students have to be in at 8am, but teachers would have to get there 10 to 15 minutes earlier,” he added.

“Shortening the lunch break to just 20 minutes is not in my view the 'sufficient' time as laid down in guidelines. There could be a negative impact on health and family. There's a reason for continental hours - and that's climate.”

Under the St Helena School proposal, pupils would start their lessons at 8am, 35 minutes earlier than at the moment, have their lunch break reduced to 20 minutes and finish lessons at 2pm instead of the current 3.15pm.

Special catering facilities would be installed so students could start continental breakfast time classes on full stomachs, with food also available after lessons.

Mr Waddington recognised there were possible childcare issues for parents over the proposal, but insisted the idea had advantages.

“It's well-known children learn better in the mornings than in the afternoons. The new hours would free up more daylight time in winter months for children to take part in more extracurricular activities, such as sport,” he said.

“We want to put extra effort in here. What we propose is to run sports, homework clubs and drama, for example, from say 2pm to 4pm when the children have more energy than a full hour later.”

Mr Waddington said he would also be talking to the police and school bus companies about the proposal.

“I do accept there will be a change in the way of life for a lot of people, but they are not that significant when you think about it - we'd just be starting 35 minutes earlier,” he added.

The proposal drew a mixed reaction from parents and pupils outside the school gates yesterday.

One mother, who asked not to be named, said: “As a parent, you do know your child does learn better in the morning, that's true, and you do want to get the best out of them.

“But they need to think carefully about childcare - it's okay when the children reach their mid-teens, but for parents with 11 or 12-year-olds, it might be a bit of a problem.”

Linda Armitage whose daughter, Alisha Riseley, 12, goes to the school, added: “Overall, I think it is a good proposal, but I'm not in favour of the children losing 25 minutes of their lunch hour.

“They need that time to unwind. What if they want to see their teachers about any problems they have with their work? I think it will help reduce the congestion, though.”

But her daughter said: “Most of my friends don't agree about having to get up earlier.

“I play in netball clubs and do other things that start after 4pm, so finishing at 2pm would not make any difference to what I do out of school. Anyway, I can't eat breakfast at 8am.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said as St Helena School was a foundation school, it did not in theory have to have council approval to alter its working day, although the authority would need to be consulted.

“We know there is a Government drive for schools to be more flexible in when they do start so they can be more efficient in contacts with bus companies,” he added.

“If there is a cost saving, it would be a good thing. Clearly schools are becoming increasingly creative in providing a working day for students. But we would have to look at the implications.”

An Essex Police spokesman said: “This is a council matter - it's not really for the police to comment.”

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