Dacorum headteacher hits back at calls for longer school days and shorter holidays

Kings Langley School head teacher Gary Lewis
Kings Langley School head teacher Gary Lewis

A headteacher has hit back at the latest attack on school life after a former Number 10 policy advisor said days should be longer and holidays shorter.

Kings Langley School leader Gary Lewis dismissed the proposal and is frustrated by the constant criticism of schools, teachers and children.

“I think there is this constant association of school with the working world but these are children and they are developing in all sorts of ways,” he said.

“There is this whole concept that somehow they are cheating the system as schoolchildren and not doing enough, which I don’t hold with at all.”

Former top advisor to David Cameron Paul Kirby hit the headlines this week for suggesting that the average school day should run from 9am to 6pm and holidays should be slashed to seven weeks.

But Mr Lewis, who is also the chairman of the West Herts Secondary Heads Association - a group that sees Dacorum’s nine secondary school leaders regularly meet up - said students and teachers are already under more pressure than ever.

“I can say with utter certainty that I have been teaching for 30 years and as a teacher starting out now it is twice as difficult as it was 30 years ago.

“We are working our Year 11 students to death. They are responding brilliantly but I worry about the stress they are under and the anxiety we can sense building up inside them as exams approach.

“They are watching the news and reading the newspapers. They see this constant call that they have got to get better and I think it creates ridiculous pressure.”

He said exam results in UK schools are often compared to those in countries like Korea where attainment is much higher but where children are constantly sitting exams, attend day and night school, where there are high suicide rates among the young. Surveys also rank Korea among worst nations for personal wellbeing and happiness.

Exchange students from the country regularly visit Kings Langley School and Mr Lewis said: “Quite frankly most of them don’t want to go home.”

“I see too many youngsters who are almost drilled into getting these very high grades at the expense of developing personal skills, which is wrong.

“It is important to protect childhood. Childhood isn’t just a training for adult life, it is about enjoying that part of your life for what it is.

“I feel really aggrieved that we are putting more and more pressure on youngsters.”

The school day at Kings Langley runs from 8.30am to 3.25pm, but students often take part in extra tuition at lunchtimes and after school as well as sport, art and other clubs. The school is currently setting up Saturday morning catch up sessions and an Easter revision school.

Mr Lewis said: “There is no doubt about it we have got rising academic standards, results are going up every single year but I do worry about at what cost.”