I recently had a conversation with the Headmaster of the local non-selective Free School –Sir Thomas Fremantle Secondary School. Part of their USP is that all children must take part in the extended day programme. Although formal lessons finish at 3pm, as they do in most state secondary schools, there is a compulsory enrichment programme that runs until 430pm. As a result over half of the children learn a musical instrument, the after school sporting programme is extensive, children have the opportunity to learn Italian, Spanish or Mandarin or to use the 3D printers and iPad to take part in various art, design and technology activities. Additionally teachers offer homework clinics for those who need a bit of extra support with their learning.
In summary, that is 7.5 hours extra time per week where children are engaged in structured in-school activities to grow self-esteem, develop social and communication skills or to just extend their creativity and knowledge.
In contrast to a commonly held view that the extended day is unpopular with pupils, the children appear to thrive on meeting the challenges of these additional opportunities. Proof, I suppose, that children will work at the level of the challenges you put in front of them. Setting the bar and hence expectation higher means they will strive to participate and achieve more. This type of culture brings them up with the belief that accepting average or just ticking over to deliver the bare minimum is not an option, particularly where boys are concerned. A sound lesson for success in future life, in my view.
Parents on the other hand have the advantage of a guaranteed longer working day during term-time, leaving more quality family time at the evenings and weekends. Less parent taxi service since activities are offered in situ. There are no concerns that mum’s day may suddenly have to be rearranged due to a cancelled sports fixture or after school club, since this is all delivered as part of the compulsory timetabled school day.
So how can parents with children at other schools learn from this model? My advice would be to take a refreshed look at the optional after school programme offered by your child’s school. Discuss what is on offer and encourage your child to get involved in something new. Enthuse about the value of an all-round education, highlighting the benefits they will reap when it comes to making a higher education or job application upon leaving school. It might mean taking a different approach to the school run or lift shares, but these are only logistics which are easily solved with a bit of creative thinking.
Come on parents, let’s commit to encouraging our children to put their smartphones down for a few hours and make an effort to engage more fully in some of the hugely valuable and extensive extra-curricular opportunities offered by our schools. Whether optional or compulsory, let’s get children more involved!