Wide Curriculum – a longer school day – more time to work, rest & play

When people talk about a school’s curriculum, they are usually referring to the topics that are taught in timetabled lessons in a formal way. As most children don’t live with a mathematician, scientist, historian, or linguist, this kind of important knowledge is best taught in school, where pupils can be brought together with subject experts and taken on the learning journey in well-structured and creative ways.

However, as we have said before at PTE, if children are to flourish and receive a genuinely knowledge-rich education as they grow up then they need to experience a Wide Curriculum, one that goes well beyond the formal and ‘academic’.

Much of this will naturally come from a child’s day-to-day interactions with their family or local community, but there are lots of ways that schools make a big difference to this aspect of education too – for instance, organising activities that bring pupils together for experiences that they may otherwise not come across. Just as most of us don’t live with academics, so most of us don’t know an opera singer, piano teacher, brain surgeon, football coach or politician.

There’s also drama, competitive sports, trips to the theatre, museums and galleries, concerts, clubs and electives, guest speakers, residentials… The list goes on. If schools are going to organise these vital opportunities, then the time for it all has to come from somewhere.

And given how much essential and exciting stuff schools already have to teach young people within the “formal” curriculum, finding time for all these other equally essential and exciting opportunities isn’t easy. It’s why great schools are so clear about their priorities, in order that they can decide what they will – and won’t – cover in the time available, to make the most of it.

But it’s also notable that even with strict priorities many of our best schools run a slightly longer or extended day for most or all of their pupils. They think that a “normal” length day doesn’t allow enough time for everything they want to do with their young people. 

Recently there has been much discussion about a longer day as part of the national post-COVID “recovery programme”. Much of the media focus was on time being carved out to allow pupils to “catch up” in their academic studies. We recognise the importance of this, but think that the biggest thing going for a longer day isn’t more maths and English, but the chance it gives for all children to experience a Wide Curriculum in a focused, positive fashion.

And let’s be clear: if we ask children to be in school for longer, what they do in that time must be worthwhile and of high quality. Family life is so important, and so if we take any time away from this for school there is a moral imperative to make best use of it. This is especially true for younger pupils who get tired more easily and are off to bed earlier, and so have fewer waking hours with their parents already. Also, anything done should be in ways that fit in with and support families.

We can see this thinking in how great schools organise and use their longer days – like Dixons Trinity Academy, Bedford Free School, King Solomon Academy, and Michaela Community School. Some start earlier, some finish later, and some do a bit of both.

Yes, some of the extra time is allocated to the academic side of things – core lessons or catch up – but most of it is used for enrichment and electives or co-curricular activities. They’ve made the extra-curricular, well, curricular, so that every pupil benefits from it – not just those who can stay back after school or afford club fees. A longer day means more school time to work, rest, and play!

Of course, how each school creates and uses the extra time will vary. We must recognise that some will find it easier to adjust than others. Urban schools may find it easier as pupils make their own way in and out; rural contexts where pupils rely on school buses might face more logistical hurdles in this regard. The challenges are not insurmountable though, and the rewards potentially high.

People will understandably wonder how to fund the extra time. Extra funding would certainly make the shift easier! But in many cases much is achieved by simply recognising all the additional things schools and teachers already do, and getting more pupils to take part in these. It is a rare teacher who doesn’t run a club, organise a revision session, or arrange for a guest speaker to visit – get more pupils along and you’ve lengthened their day in a powerful way.

Having the time to enable an ambitious Wide Curriculum is one of the most inclusive things a school can do. Combined with a powerful knowledge-rich academic core, it puts every child on a level playing field in terms of social and cultural capital, and sets them up for a fulfilling life. With clear priorities, some extra cash, and careful planning, a longer day for many more pupils is possible, and we hope many more schools will grasp the opportunity to do this.