What is it?
Research has focused on three main approaches to extending school time:
- Extending the length of the school year;
- Extending the length of the school day;
- Providing additional time for targeted groups of students either before or after school.
There are examples of the school year being extended by up to five additional weeks or the school day being extended to 12 hours long. This summary focuses on extending core school time and the use of targeted before and after school programs, particularly to support disadvantaged or low attaining students. Other approaches to increasing learning time are included in other sections of the Toolkit, such as Homework, Early Years Intervention and Summer Schools.
How effective is it?
Overall, the evidence indicates that, on average, students make two additional months' progress per year from extended school time or the targeted use of before and after school programs. There is some evidence that disadvantaged students benefit disproportionately, making approximately two and a half months’ additional progress. There are also often wider benefits for low-income students in terms of attendance at school, behaviour and relationships with peers.
After school programs that support and encourage children academically while providing stimulating environments and activities are more likely to have an impact on achievement. To be successful, any increases in school time should be supported by both parents and staff, and extreme increases (e.g. more than nine hours of schooling per day) do not appear to be as effective. The research also indicates that attracting and retaining students in before and after school programs is harder at secondary level than at primary level.
In an Australasian context, there remain very few published studies examining the effects of extending school hours on student learning and outcomes, with this intervention strategy generally occurring in combination with other approaches, such as phonics-based reading lessons happening after school. While there have been some calls to extend the school day in Australia, this is mostly in response to the increased number of parents working. Australian students already spend more hours in school than OECD averages, which may contribute to the lack of interest in, or academic discussion about, extending school hours in Australia.
How secure is the evidence?
The evidence is moderately secure. Decisions to lengthen the school year or school day are often one component of wider approaches to school reform. This makes attributing any learning gains to additional time difficult. Gains are not consistent across studies, indicating that additional time may be used ineffectively. Discrete or targeted programs are more likely to have been evaluated robustly, though even here there is substantial variation in impact.
What are the costs?
Overall, costs are estimated as moderate. The average cost of teaching a student is about $37 per day in primary school and about $45 per day in secondary. Extending the school year by two weeks would therefore require about $370 per student per year for primary schools and about $450 per student per year for secondary.
Some schools currently offer before and after school care programs with costs ranging from $10-$25 per student per session. A weekly session would therefore cost $1,000 over the course of a school year. The use of well-qualified and trained staff may increase these cost estimates.
What should I consider?
Planning to get the most from the extra time is important. It should meet students’ needs and build on their capabilities.
After school programs with a clear structure, a strong link to the curriculum, and well-qualified and well-trained staff are more clearly linked to academic benefits.
After school programs could give the opportunity to carry out some more intensive tuition (see entries for one to one or small group tuition).
Enrichment activities can have an impact on achievement, but the link is not well-established and the impact of different interventions can vary a great deal (see entries for sports or arts participation).
Have you explored how the quality of teaching and learning during school time can be improved? It might be cheaper and more efficient to attempt to use existing time more effectively before considering extending the school day.