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Half-day Fridays: is this the way forward for over-worked teachers, over-tired pupils and overstretched budgets?

Set in stone for many years has been the school timetable with its start and finishing times over a five-day week. However, more than one school is now re-evaluating its opening hours due to a variety of reasons.

In Birmingham, more than 20 schools are reducing to a four and half day week in order to save money. Bellfield Junior School in Birmingham aims to save £50, 000 per year by closing its gates following Friday lunchtimes from September, however, they will provide childcare until 3.25pm. The staff will use their time for planning purposes which will reduce supply teaching costs and money will also be saved from less electricity usage etc. It is a desperate measure for an overstretched budget in a school where 27% of its pupils have special education needs and 60% of the children meet the criteria to be classed as being disadvantaged.

Another school to reduce its opening hours but for different reasons, is Neyland Community School in Pembrokeshire, Wales who will close at 12.15pm rather than 3.20pm on Fridays. The basis for this decision, according to the school, is the lack of focus that pupils experience during Friday afternoons which renders lessons pointless. The school feels that standards will be better, allowing teaching staff to work the same hours but use their time differently, for example, for training purposes rather than face to face teaching. This will avoid disruption in the classroom and save money as teachers will therefore not miss teaching time through training at other times in the week, which previously would have necessitated supply teachers to cover.

Further afield in the USA, 560 school districts in 25 states are moving to a four- day week to reduce costs and lighten the burden of teachers. The US has similar issues to the UK of underfunding and a decline in teacher recruitment. It is hoped that a 3- day weekend may help attract more people into the profession and retain teachers that are already qualified. Rural communities in the US have run a four- day week for some time due to the shortage of teachers in their areas. Students are taught the same number of hours but start earlier and finish later over the other four days; teachers’ salaries remain unchanged. The regime has proved successful in recruitment but does not save that much money due to the other four days being longer.

Although it may seem a win-win on many levels, a four- day week does leave parents with an added burden of finding childcare for the unschooled hours. Some schools may offer supervision for a fee, but its parents who are funding the school’s savings. Less concern is expressed about the lost taught hours but is this because schools are doing enough to meet children’s needs on the other days that they are in school? Or is there a consensus that being in school on a Friday afternoon is a waste of time anyway? Could it raise standards by maximising quality teaching hours?

Schools are not the only ones piloting a shorter working week. Simply Business, an American owned UK based insurance company is to trial giving its 250 employees an extra day off at the weekend without a reduction in pay to see if it boosts productivity as well as improve staff well-being and morale.

It could be then, a reduction to a four-and-a-half-day week may lead to an increase in well-being for teachers and less stressed staff means better teaching. Teachers will certainly have more time for planning and training, avoiding disruption in the classroom. It will be interesting to see whether these schools will attract and retain staff more than they did on a five-day week as well as whether the children reach predicted targets and learning outcomes.

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