Image for The school that shortened its working week (and what happened next)

The school that shortened its working week (and what happened next)

Amid growing interest in shorter working weeks, a school that rejigged its timetable is now consulting on adapting its week further

Amid growing interest in shorter working weeks, a school that rejigged its timetable is now consulting on adapting its week further

Few can deny the positive energy of a Friday lunchtime finish, kickstarting weekend travel plans and leisure activities. 

After three years of four-and-a-half-day weeks, it’s a feeling familiar to staff and pupils alike at Forest Gate community school in Newham, London. 

And now the results are in on its bid to improve wellbeing and boost academic excellence: higher grades and more contented staff to boot. 

Recent studies have pointed to burnout in Britain’s overworked teaching staff, with one poll by Survation suggesting that almost two-thirds of teachers feel at breaking point. 

Simon Elliott, CEO of the Community Schools Trust (CST), which runs Forest Gate community school, has been on a mission to create a “happier, more productive” environment since 2019, when – as headteacher – he made Friday a half-day. 

The move was achieved by cutting two pastoral periods from Friday’s timetable and bumping four other lessons into the preceding days. 

Education

Children used the free time to play and catch up on homework. Image: CDC

Staff use the time for their hobbies, for training and to ease the burden on their own childcare routines. Pupils welcome the chance to catch up on homework or meet friends, and have landed higher grades since the change was made. Students of families with no childcare provision in the freed-up time are welcome to use the school’s gym or take part in supervised sports. 

The model has been rolled out to other schools under CST management, and Forest Gate is now considering reducing its week further, to four days. 

The sky didn’t fall in… if anything, results went up

Elliott’s vision was bolstered in January by the publication of a report by the thinktank Autonomy, titled A Four-Day Week for Schools. It found that 75 per cent of teachers supported a 32-hour week, and 61 per cent believed that it would improve their teaching. 

Autonomy researcher Jack Kellam wrote: “The experience of Forest Gate … shows that direct reductions of working time are not only desirable in UK schools – they’re readily feasible. Teachers and senior leadership in UK schools should feel empowered to make changes that would benefit staff and students alike.” 

As Elliott remarked: “The sky didn’t fall in … If anything, results went up.”

Main image: Monkeybusinessimages

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