Voice General Secretary Philip Parkin took part in a discussion on BBC Radio 4's You & Yours (0:19:21) about The Free School Norwich, which:
"is open for 51 weeks of the year, providing an extended school service specifically designed to enable parents to work. Squirrels [Extended School] is open to all children who attend the school and operates both during term time and throughout the school holidays from 8.15 am until 5.45 pm. It is closed on Bank Holidays and for one week at Christmas only. Squirrels is chargeable, but charges are kept to a minimum for parents."
Also taking part were the school's Principal, Mrs Tania Sidney-Roberts, who was interviewed first, and Anastasia de Waal from the Civitas think tank.
From Voice's point of view, the brief time limit on the discussion meant that the debate was not able to include wider issues, some of which were touched on briefly and others not at all. These included:
- Voice's concerns about free schools in general. The Norwich ones seems to be run along the lines of an independent school and this is not necessarily applicable to the wider state model.
- The principle of extended school hours. While many state-funded schools already provide 'extended schools' facilities, such as childcare and activities, and many have nurseries attached, there should be a time limit on them for the sake of the children. Schools shouldn't take over parental duties for longer and longer periods. Schools are there for the benefit of children, not parents. It is what is best for the children that should be the most important principle.
- Do we really want children to spend that so much time at school? Many of us enjoy our work and time with our work colleagues, some of whom are friends too, but we don't necessarily want to spend most of our leisure time in the workplace with those colleagues/friends as well. Children need time away from school to relax and spend quality time with family and friends. It may not be in the best interests of children to be attending school for long days during term time and then continuing to attend school albeit for childcare for significant periods during vacations. In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, more than 200 academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders, including Philip Parkin, Voice's General Secretary, raised their concerns that children's well-being and mental health is being undermined by the pressures of modern life.
- Concerns about funding. It is important that there should not be a direct or indirect subsidy of the private childcare facilities at this or others schools by state/taxpayer-provided education funding intended for the school. The childcare facility should be fully and separately funded, either from parental fees or Extended Schools money. We would not want to see the school fail because of any issues with the business model of the childcare side.
- Changes to the school term. Voice has for a long time been open-minded about the current school year. We would always give consideration to proposals for varying the current terms and holidays provided that they met children's educational and welfare needs and took into account the well-being of teachers that is crucial in order for them to do their job effectively. We mustn't forget that children are required to work intensively during term and they also need holidays to recover and prepare for term time. However, five or six term models are not new and are operated in a number of local authority areas.
Do let us know your thoughts…