Fifty-six per cent of teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders believe children spend a lot less time with their families now compared to 20 years ago, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). It found 74% of education staff think families spend less time together now than five years ago and 57% think they spend less time together than two years ago.
More than nine in 10 (94%) of respondents believe the reduction in the time children spend with their families is a result of parents and carers working, and 92% feel an increase in the use of technology is to blame. Other reasons included changes to parents’ and carers’ work-life balance, mentioned by 75% of those surveyed, and changes to family dynamics, such as family break-down (70%).
The main reason for children using before-school services was to provide childcare for parents and carers who work or have other responsibilities, according to 90% of education staff. Meanwhile 19% feel these services provide an opportunity for young people to eat a proper breakfast.
And 84% of respondents said parents used after-school services for childcare. Other reasons for pupils using the services included the opportunity for them to improve skills, mentioned by 45% of those surveyed, and study and homework support (39%).
A peripatetic musician curriculum and instrumental teacher in Warwickshire commented: “In some schools breakfast and after-school clubs provide an essential part of the child's nutrition. Parents rely on before- and after-school childcare, since both are usually working longer hours than the school day and schools provide cost-effective and trusted care.”
Ninety-eight per cent of those surveyed said it's very important for children to spend time with their families or carers. In addition, 79% of education staff said it was very important for children to do outdoor activities, 69% felt they should spend time with their siblings, and 64% felt time with friends was important.
There was little enthusiasm for children to start their formal education at an earlier age, A head of department at an independent secondary in Conwy stated: “I think we start formal education and learning far too early in this country. By the time children reach secondary school, they are fed up with learning. The pressure is too much, too soon.”
When questioned over the number of hours a young person should spend in timetabled education, 50% of education staff stated that five hours per day at primary school was enough, with 28% saying it should be less than five hours. At secondary level, 38% of education staff said a six-hour day was suitable, while 45% said young people should spend no more than 5.5 hours per day in timetabled education. For sixth formers, 37% said a six-hour day was right, 26% thought it should be no more than 5.5 hours, while 33% felt more than six hours per day was suitable.
Seventy-seven per cent of those surveyed felt that for the majority of the pupils they work with, the timetabled day was about right. However, 18% of respondents believed it to be too long, affecting the pupils they work with in terms of tiredness (93%), difficulty concentrating (87%) and an increase in disruptive behaviour (67%).
Holidays are seen as an important time for both education staff and pupils to recharge. The current set-up, with a six-week summer break was considered by 49% as being the best for the young people respondents worked with. However, 34% of education staff felt a shorter summer break of around four weeks, but with longer holidays during the rest of the year, would be better.
Dr Philip Dixon, Director of ATL Cymru, said: “Any proposals to start formal learning at an earlier age, or proposals to lengthen the school day or shorten school holidays do not put young people first. Children need time to learn through play and spend time with their family and friends. UK parents work some of the longest hours in Europe putting huge pressure on family life. Parents are often exhausted by these hours and children too are experiencing long hours at school or with childminders. A civilised society would ensure that parents and children spent more time together.”