IT is awfully decent of the Prime Minister’s former policv chief Paul Kirby to volunteer for the role as the UK’s number one hate figure among children and young people.
Up and down the land, harassed parents battling their moody teenagers over homework, and trying to put feisty six-year-olds to bed early, because they have to go to school in the morning, can now deflect their kids’ ire simply by saying:
“You think I’m horrible? Just wait until you hear what Paul Kirby has got in store for you!”
This statement will be met with one of two responses, depending on the age of the errant child.
Younger ones will merely ask: “Mummy/daddy, who’s Paul the Furby?” Teenagers will shrug, make a face like they have bitten into a chilli pepper, and mumble something along the lines of “uh?”
Then you will be able to inform them through a satisfied smile that the nice Mr Kirby is proposing that they all be made to stay at school for nine hours a day.
The younger ones will not really understand the implications of this. They will probably just think that Paul is an odd name to call a Furby
But the teenagers will be outraged and project their disgust and disagreement with – and hatred of – Paul Kirby onto you.
Doors may be slammed. Music may be turned up loud(er). Friends may be texted furiously with the news – “Omigod, I don’ belieeeve i’, d’you!?!”
“Nah, ‘s no’rappnin’, ri’? ‘m norravvin ‘at, ‘s ou’rageous.”
Or mangled words to that effect.
But wait kids, there’s more. Nasty Mr Kirby is also proposing that school holidays be cut from 13 weeks a year to just seven.
Cue more angst.
Seriously though, while this is a proposal aimed specifically at England, its implications for education across the rest of the UK if it comes to pass cannot be ignored. And, while nine hours is a bit steep, the idea of a longer school day has its merits.
For instance, crowded school timetables can make it increasingly difficult to provide pupils – especially those going into Key Stage Three - with many choices concerning the subjects they are able to study, due in no small part to the introduction of vocational courses alongside academic studies.
Too many children have to drop too early what they and their parents see as fundamental subjects, due to the accommodation of more vocational subjects.
An increase in the length of the school day would of course have to be backed by billions of pounds of investment, but assume that were a given. Then there would be more time for lessons and therefore in principle the capacity for a greater choice of subjects.
Some might like the idea of a reduction in school holidays, but that may be down to making things easier for them, rather than being regarded as a boost to children’s education.
And that is where I have reservations over Mr Kirby’s radical vision.
Much of the commentary in favour of the proposal this week has focused as much if not more on the wider benefits to 'society' rather than to children: The increased capacity for parents, mainly of course, mums, to go (back) to work, or work longer hours than they are currently able; an increase in economic growth and tax-take due to the former; a big reduction in child care costs; keeping children off the streets in the late afternoon/early evening, when youth crime apparently peaks.
All laudable stuff, but this really should be all about the benefits to children. Of course, there may be spin-off advantages, but the educational positives should be what the debate focuses on.
Some commentators have likened a longer school day to the stealing of childhoods. That is extreme, but were the idea to be pursued - in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, or combinations of these - a balance would have to be struck.
Education is vital but, like adults need time away from work, children need time away from the classroom.