An open letter to Mr Gove

Dear Mr Gove,

Yesterday I read your speech on education reforms. Much of it is laudable, for example the desire to improve behaviour by granting  more freedom to teachers in terms of discipline. However the thing which most concerns me, is the last section.

So a future Conservative Government would help state schools – just like independent schools – to offer a school day 9 or 10 hours long – allowing time for structured homework sessions, prep, which will be particularly helpful for those children who come from homes where it’s difficult to secure the peace and quiet necessary for hard study. A longer school day will also make time for after-school sports matches, orchestra rehearsals, debating competitions, coding clubs, cadet training, Duke of Edinburgh award schemes and inspirational careers talks from outside visitors, just like in independent schools.

This statement in itself seems positive, trying to improve state schools and allow them to offer opportunities to those who lack them at home. Wonderful. I think that children whose parents are at work and struggling with childcare would benefit greatly from this, as would children who struggle to work at home due to their family’s circumstances. If this proposal is to be implemented by funding after school clubs it sounds great. However, after listening to your interview on This Morning today it appears that you do not intend to make this an optional extra for those who would benefit from it. Instead you mean to enforce 9 or 10 hour days on all children because that is what you experienced as a child. You seem to be overlooking a large portion of the population, families who have chosen to have one parent at home or working part time so that they can spend time with their children. If you asked these parents I think you would find that the majority of them (like the majority of most parents in general) want to spend more time with their children not less. Let’s be clear, I am talking about parents who help their children with their homework, who take them to after school activities like dance or music lessons, run by independent professionals with a high level of expertise in their fields. (I could go on to discuss the destruction of their businesses because their pupils would still be stuck in school receiving a lower standard of tuition but that’s a separate issue).  These parents do not need their children kept in schools for an additional 3 hours and I suspect their children would get more 1 to 1 help with homework and a better quality of extra curricular activities than schools can – in reality – provide. I was distressed that in your interview today you lumped everyone in the country into two groups. Those who put their children into private schools and everybody else who could not afford to do so. There are many many parents who would not choose to put their children into private schools (although this may change if these plans come into effect), parents who move to good catchment areas to get into good schools. Those schools are not private but are excellent. You belittle them by saying that children cannot get a good education unless they are in a private school.

When asked what your qualifications are to be Education Minister your response was that you are a parent. Well so am I, in fact I’m a parent and also a qualified teacher. I know parents who have been head teachers and have actually chosen to leave your improved education system in order to spend more time with their families. Maybe we should job share with you? The thing I found most amusing about your answer was that your reforms, which you admit yourself are geared towards working parents will actually penalise those parents who chose to be at home for their children. Unless we have suddenly become a communist state while I wasn’t looking surely all children should not have to experience 10 hour days because some have to. You cite countries with long days as having excellent academic success, they also have oppressive regimes and high suicide rates amongst school age children. Is that something we hope to emulate? There are other successful models of education out there, such as the Netherlands where they have a play based curriculum until their 3rd year.

Finally you have avoided the question of what this would mean for teachers. You spoke of offering support for them but unless there are to be split shifts they will still be in school from 8 till 7, then their children will be in care even longer until they can be collected. A child dropped off at 7 so their parent can get to work and collected at 8 when they can go home will not benefit from this life. Even if they are put to bed the instant they get in they would get a maximum of 10 hours sleep before being woken to go out again. The european working directive states that workers should have:
· A maximum working week of 48 hours
· A rest period of 11 consecutive hours a day
· A rest break when the day is longer than six hours

Your plans would contravene these rights, and this is for adults, the children would also have a school week above this limit.

Please reconsider plans which will lead to parents like myself removing their children from state schools and instead help those who you yourself say need the help, working parents who need to place their children in after school clubs and children who need a place to focus on their work. Fund optional after school and extracurricular activities to enrich those children’s lives. But don’t try and force everyone to lose what precious time they have with their children.

Kind regards

Jenny H

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