Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

MARIE PENMAN: School days should be the best of your life – not the longest

Hands up if you want a longer school day. Anyone?
Hands up if you want a longer school day. Anyone?

Teenagers get a bad rap, don’t they?

Too often, they’re dismissed by older generations as lazy, self-obsessed wastrels who are permanently attached to their phones.

And now, as they stumble into their first attempts at SQA exams, after two years of Covid-related misery and disruption, politicians are suggesting the school day should be even longer.

The idea is part of the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto for the upcoming local government elections.

Douglas Ross’s party says children should be kept in the classroom for longer to make up for all those hours they missed during lockdown.

Ah, come on now – haven’t they suffered enough?

There’s no denying that the current crop of students have missed out months of teaching time.

But the solution to this shouldn’t be the kneejerk response of calling for a longer school day.

Young people bore the brunt of lockdown restrictions

We have all struggled over the past two years – particularly during that first rigorously-policed lockdown.

But it’s my firm belief that young people suffered more than any other age group.

With no school to go to, they lost contact with their friends.

They missed out on all social interaction and had to sit back and watch, powerless, as an endless stream of events were cancelled.

School proms, graduations, music festivals, end-of-term parties and first holidays abroad with their pals were all called off. And that was just in my household.

Add that to the rollercoaster of emotions that puberty brings at the best of times and it made for a pretty devastating time for teenagers.

Youngsters spent months trapped in their rooms, unable to go out and socialise or play sports.

So why would any politician think the best thing for them now would be to be locked up in a classroom for additional hours?

Longer school days don’t lead to better results

Apart from anything else, there is no conclusive evidence that longer hours in the classroom deliver better academic results.

According to the latest research, EU countries with longer school days (Spain, Italy, France) all score lower than the UK in reading and maths.

Spanish schools already have a longer day. But their results aren’t markedly better. Photo: Shutterstock.

And actually, Scottish pupils already spend more hours in school than children in most other advanced economies.

Meanwhile, Finland delivers consistently world-beating results in education, despite its children spending fewer hours in the classroom. Go figure.

It’s all down to the processing power of the brain – how it learns.

This decreases over the course of the day due to falling energy levels in the body.

The academic term is ‘cognitive fatigue’ and it affects how much time children can spend in ‘active learning’.

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you there is already a noticeable disadvantage with afternoon classes.

Finnish school days are shorter, yet their education system is the envy of the world. Photo: Shutterstock.

Pupils simply have diminished energy reserves and lower attention spans, and lengthening the school day would only make this worse.

Young people need understanding and compassion

So how can schools make up for all those lost hours of teaching and ensure that pupils catch up on everything they missed?

The short answer is, they can’t.

The SQA has acknowledged as much by cutting chunks out of this year’s exams.

The volume of assessment has been reduced, along with the number of topics, in an effort to take the pressure off children whose education has been disrupted.

And that’s what politicians should be focusing on here – how to help the thousands of children who, post-Covid, are now struggling to cope with everyday life.

A report published by the UK government just a fortnight ago confirmed there has been a huge impact on the mental health of young people over the past couple of years.

Symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder have all significantly increased since the pandemic.

If politicians really want to make things better, they should lobby for all schools in Scotland to have trained mental health counsellors on site, offering individual or group therapy sessions to children to allow them to talk through their feelings post-Covid.

Exam results aren’t everything

Many young people feel angry, frustrated and cheated by what has happened over the past two years.

They need nurturing and support at this difficult time in their life.

So rather than worrying about whether kids can do quadratic equations or recite long pages of literary quotes, let’s pay more attention to their health and wellbeing.

And let’s accept that, following the unprecedented disruption of the past two years, some young people are going to have occasional gaps in their knowledge.

And that’s OK.

What’s more important is that they are healthy, happy and getting back to normal.

School days are supposed to be the best days of your life, not the longest.


Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]

Conversation

[[title_reg]]

Please enter the name you would like to appear on your comments. (It doesn’t have to be your real name - but nothing rude please, we are a polite bunch!) Use a combination of eight or more characters that includes an upper and lower case character, and a number.

By registering with [[site_name]] you agree to our Terms and Conditions and our Privacy Policy

Or sign up with

Facebook Google

[[content_reg_complete]]

[[title_login]]

Or login with

Forgotten your password?

[[title]]