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Long school days exhaust children

Teachers and parents say the policy of four-day weeks in primary schools must be reviewed

TEACHERS and parents say the policy of four-day weeks in primary schools must be reviewed after medical research shows it is leaving children exhausted.

The general secretary of teachers’ union SNUipp, Gilles Moindrot, said the timetable had been hurried through and must be reconsidered - a view echoed by one of the largest parents’ association bodies, FCPE.

The calls come after the National Academy of Medicine said the four-day week harms children’s attention and performance.

Mr Moindrot said: “The academy’s conclusions match the teachers’. The four-day week makes the day too long. The children are too tired. We think they don’t learn as well.”

The academy said children on four-day weeks were out of step with their body-clocks on Mondays and Tuesdays compared with children in a minority of French schools or abroad who have four-and-a-half days or five. Children should have no more than five hours teaching a day, compared to a current six or six-and-a-half, it added. Ideally a half day on Saturday, which was axed in 2008, is best to avoid impairment of memory, said researchers.

Mr Moindrot added: “Teachers, parents and local authorities need to consult to find the best timetable for schools, to put in place a five-day week with shorter days.

“In each case the best solution will vary according to factors like school transport. Nothing is forbidden apart from working on Saturdays, and you shouldn’t go over a certain quota of hours a week.”

However he said it was too late to go back to Saturday morning school.

“Stopping it fitted in with the way society has evolved and most of the teachers and parents don’t want to bring it back. It is true that after the longer weekend the children take slightly longer to get back into their studies, but I don’t think we can go back on it now.

“It was removed because it was what families wanted, but it was done in a hurry, without consultation or reflection about what the best pattern for the week would be.

“Schools had about a month to consider alternatives to four-days and most went onto the new routine by default. We want the Education Ministry to go back to the drawing board, study effects of different hours and consult with all the interest groups.”

One of the largest parents’ unions, FCPE, says the four-day week is a “learning and health aberration” and is calling for the ministry to organise a conference about it.

Its president, Jean-Jacques Hazan, said the government should make it easier for schools to change.
“Scientists have confirmed four-and-a-half days is best. Why should schools have to make up a complicated opt-out dossier? I think they should all switch to it.”

French schools that have more than four days (2,500 out of 50,000) are usually those that already had Wednesday morning school instead of Saturday and got permission to retain it. Others can choose it but opting out of the default four-days involves considerable administration.

Historically Wednesday was a day off so children of religious parents could attend Catholic catechism since RE was banned from state schools.

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