Finishing at lunchtime on a Friday afternoon would sound just dreamy to most; however, when the impact is on the education of our students and the reasons are budgetary, alternative solutions need to be found. Scott Warrington, director and co-founder of School Lettings Solutions, considers the implications and how additional income-generation can help
Concerns have been raised over recent months about the possibility that some schools may have to finish the school week on a Friday lunchtime – a result of tighter budgets and overhead costs continuing to rise. Unfortunately, the situation looks set to worsen given that the school spending plans outlined in the 2017 Conservative manifesto could lead to future budgets being cut by seven per cent in real-terms. Worryingly, shortening the teaching week is being seen as an effective way to save money without cutting teaching staff.
What will a shorter week mean for students?
If we look at the figures, cutting the school week would mean that children lose the equivalent of 30 minutes in the classroom each school day. This equates to the loss of around three weeks’ worth of education over the course of a school year – over a child’s school life this could be an entire year of education lost.
Undoutedly, this will have an effect on students academically and, perhaps, even socially. Recent government research estimates that children at Key Stage 2 who miss out on up to 14 school days a year are a quarter less likely to achieve level 5 grades in their SATs – a factor that could impact their future education and career prospects.
How might these cuts affect teachers?
The major fear is that reduced budgets will mean less money for teaching staff. This is extremely concerning as not only does it suggest job losses, it may also result in larger class sizes as schools attempt to stretch their limited teaching resources even further. Increased student numbers will mean more marking, more preparation, more planning, more students to assess – more work for teachers and support staff.
Add to this the posibility of a shortened school week and you get more students per teacher, less time in the classroom and a decrease in the attention that individual students will receive from their teachers. Not a great prospect, particularly for those students who may already be having difficulties and need more one-on-one assistance to keep up with their classmates.
All of this just piles more pressure onto our schools – pressure they could really do without. Schools should be focusing on preparing students for exams, maintaining high educational standards and settling new groups of students into the next academic year – not deciding whether to close earlier or to cut back on an already overworked staff.
So, what can schools do to future-proof their finances?
Rather than having to take drastic action by closing schools early or reducing teaching staff, budget cuts can be offset by efforts to supplement incomes. In other words, there are ways for schools to generate an additional source of finance, such as letting out their facilities to the local community.
Schools are much more than just a set of classrooms; most have amazing facilities for sports, leisure, performing arts and education – in fact, many schools across the south of England have better facilities than their local leisure centres! But these fantastic facilities are just lying empty and unused an estimated 55% of the time, particularly during evenings, weekends and school holidays.
By opening their doors and renting out these unused facilities to local sports clubs and activity groups – who are often desperate for quality, affordable facilities to make use of – schools can reduce the impact of budget cuts. Even better, there are services that schools can partner with so they can let out their facilities without having to worry about logistics such as administration, out of hours staffing or managing the financials. Instead, they can focus their efforts on what matters most – the academic wellbeing of their students.
The UK education system is facing a number of pressures at the moment as a result of crippling budget cuts. To ensure they can continue operating for the full five-day week, and are able to maintain quality levels of education, schools are being pushed to find ways to generate additional sources of income. Letting out their facilities is one effective way to ease some of this pressure (at no cost to the school) while ensuring that younger generations are not losing out on precious hours in the classroom.