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Education: Schools hours questioned.

Byline: JENNY REES

SCHOOLS should be looking at longer days and lessons over the web if they are to keep up with the modern world.

This is one of the messages from Estyn, the schools inspectorate in Wales in a new report called Excellent Schools: A Vision for Schools in Wales in the 21st Century.

The report is intended to promote debate about schools of the future and their role in helping children and young people face the challenges of the new cent ury.

The report says levels of attainment nationally, and in the great majority of schools, are higher than ever, yet the gap in performance between schools remains as wide as ever.

Although most schools show good practice in individual subjects or aspects of their work, the proportion of excellence reported in inspections remains small - commonly fewer than 10% of classes inspected across the coun t ry.

The debate centres around the idea of modernising schools, and questions why schools of the 21st century are only open 200 days per year, with a working year based on the child labour demands of the 19th century agricultural year, with a crammed time schedule at certain times of the year depending on when Easter falls.

It also questions the built-in inflexibility with peaks and troughs of activity caused by variable length fixed holidays and term times, a cycle of activity that starts in September when people's body clocks are beginning to slow down, rather than in the spring which would tie in better with the planning and finance cycles.

Practical questions are also raised, such as why tests and examinations are set during long periods of the nicest, warmest part of the year in rooms that are not usually air-conditioned, as well as why everyone has to be in work at the same time every day and take their holidays at the same time, even though parents increasingly have to take their children away at other times because of their work schedules or financial reasons.

The six-week holidays during the summer are also criticised for being inefficient, as they result in learners forgetting much of what they have learned and teachers take a few weeks to get back into their stride.

The transition period for primary children moving on to secondary school is talked of as being a confusing time for children who have to adjust to having 11 teachers or more after having just one teacher for everything.

The fact that training is considered to have a lower status to education is also raised, with the report stating that education is ``acknowledged to be failing many of our young people''.

The report also sees the need for schools to be more aware of and actively encourage local business by spotting the local weaknesses.

It gives an example of some parts of Mid Wales where schools have focused on courses in leisure and tourism, or construction, engin-eering and catering in the south-east, where there is a need for more skilled staff.

A need to adopt more modern learning techniques was also highlighted, especially in the light of e-learning and the fact that many of the learning structures in our schools are much as they have been for centuries.

The report says, ``The scope for distance learning and e-learning will make us question the need for daily on-site attendance at school, or attendance within a particular building at fixed times.

``It will also raise questions about the role of the teacher in an increasingly ICT-driven world.

``We live in an increasingly 24-hour day, 7 days a week environment. Yet schools amongst many of our public services are not yet attuned sufficiently to these changes.

``There is a world famous institute in America that is to put all its learning packages on the internet making them freely available to browsers. In a few years from now, we may see others doing the same and this may call into question the notion of school as never before. '' To read more about the topics covered in the report, log on to www.es t yn . gov.uk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 6, 2002
Words:683
Previous Article:Education: Estyn report highlights.
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