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Leave timetable alone, says poll

Government internet debate rejects reverting to a five-day school week

MOST people who took part in an internet debate on possible changes to school timetabling want things to stay as they are.

While key topics such as shortening the summer holidays (balanced by lengthening other ones) or axing the four-day week generated opinions for and against, a majority opposed change.

Five thousand took part in the consultation organised by Education Minister Luc Chatel, of whom 49 per cent were parents of pupils, 22 per cent were teachers and 11 worked in education in other capacities.

The length of the summer holidays was the topic that drew the most interest (2,000 comments collected); however, only 46 per cent thought they should be reduced.

Those in favour said some children forget what they have learnt over the summer and that the All Saints and Christmas holidays were too short in comparison.

However, arguments against shortening included problems with attending school in hot weather or the fact that the current arrangements fit with business closures in July or August and immigrant families take advantage of the long break to visit relatives abroad.

Only 33 per cent of people taking part wanted to change the controversial four-day primary school week (brought in two years ago), which has been criticised as tiring by some parents’ and teachers’ bodies, the national Academy of Medicine and a recent parliamentary report.

Those in favour of five days thought the current arrangement compressed the lessons into too short a period (with both overly long days and excessive breaks from work), and did not “respect the children’s natural rhythms”; others thought it benefitted them to rest on Wednesdays.

Some opponents said the four-day week suited families who could afford to provide a range of activities for their children, while in poorer families they often spend their time off in front of the television; five days is therefore better overall, according to this view.

Another topic creating discussion was homework, with 45 per cent saying children’s personal work should be integrated into the school day at primary school.

Many people said there was too much homework, tiring children unnecessarily, and that it is a burden on parents, who end up having to help. A majority felt homework should remain, though some said there should be less handed out.

“There should be a reasonable amount, not too much,” said one mother, who added the amounts given at present “affect family life”.

Some respondants felt the four-day week had resulted in teachers giving more homework to compensate for the shorter week.

While the government will continue to consider timetabling this year, another priority will be violence and harassment in schools. An inquiry into the problem is being launched next month, to be repeated every two years. Seventy per cent of heads of the 184 schools identified as having the worst problems have now had special training, and the rest are to receive it during the first few months of this year. By the end of the year, all trainee teachers will be given new training in class management.

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