Columnist: Educating Yorkshire’s Jonny Mitchell

Our new columnist Jonny Mitchell, headteacher at Thornhill Community Academy.
Our new columnist Jonny Mitchell, headteacher at Thornhill Community Academy.

It’s not all education, education, education!

Thornhilll Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell, who showed the world what life in the classroom is really like through the award-winning TV documentary Educating Yorkshire, is writing exclusively for the Reporter Series.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown of Dewsbury.

The best days of our lives...And now it seems clear that Mr Gove wants to make them the longest ones too. I could write reams on the pros and cons of extending the school day until 6pm every day.

I could offer reasoned argument for the status quo and the proposed change.

But I think this is one of those issues where reasoned argument is pointless. If you have a view on this, you should just let people know what it is. Whether you’re a parent, a child, a teacher, a reformist, a philanthropist, it doesn’t matter. Say what you think – I am going to.

It’s an awful idea, on every conceivable level. “Of course it is!” you cry. “You work in a school, and you don’t want to work another 15 hours a week looking after other people’s kids.” That’s not the issue, by the way, and never will be. There is so much more wrong with this idea.

Firstly, it’s a reaction to the wonderful education systems around the world, including those of Shanghai and Hong Kong, amongst others. Where kids get home from school, having spent nine hours in the classroom, to chomp down on some food to be bussed off to after-school classes where they learn even more.

What this proposal fails to address is that Shanghai and Hong Kong are not all of China. Outcomes across the whole of the country demonstrate wide variance. Just like in the UK, it would seem.

Secondly, kids find it hard to learn anything new in the afternoon. They’re tired. They’re fractious. They’re wandering. Just like most adults. It’s a fact.

So, the response would be to subject them to further pressure and risk degradation in behaviour standards. Very sensible.

But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for me, is the quality of a child’s life. Kids get home from school, the vast majority having worked really hard, and their brains hurt. They want to relax (before they do the two-three hours of homework for the following day) and spend time with their families.

And if they don’t, they ought to. Because family life is every bit as important as the structure and rigour of school. Oh yes, some kids have to travel for an hour to actually get home as well. I do not want my daughters to come home from school at 6pm, do their homework, eat and then go to bed without the chance for me at least to ask them how their day has gone, albeit fleetingly. Especially as for four nights of the week, they also have an active social life, with clubs and sport and music.

Where will the genuine “all-round” social and cultural development fit into this?I suppose it doesn’t matter if you were used to boarding, because you were never at home during term-time anyway, but we cannot all afford to do that, can we?

I can’t see a logical argument rooted in evidence to suggest that more time at school will raise attainment or progress. If they don’t get it first time, say it more slowly and a bit louder. Guess what, they still won’t get it. What we need is the continued drive to improve teaching and learning. And that is best left to those in the education system.

Naturally, I won’t mention the necessary 30 per cent increase in taxpayer funding of schools to pay the increased wage bill. Now that would be a political statement. And quite cynical too, I think.