Evidence for Learning: Extending school time

Extending school time

A summary of the research evidence on extending school time in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of extending school time on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on extending school time. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of extending school time that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

This Australasian Research Summary was generated by Melbourne Graduate School of Education in 2016. 

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 (e.g. phonics-based reading lessons after school). This makes it very difficult to assess the value of this intervention for student learning. A general internet search revealed that 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 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) averages (Gromada & Shewbridge, 2016), which may contribute to the lack of interest in, or academic discussion about, extending school hours in Australia. In their study of student learning time in OECD nations, Gromada and Shewbridge (2016) found that while schools in a number of other countries are extending or adapting their hours, broader research on the topic indicates that extending schools hours does not necessarily improve students’ learning outcomes. Furthermore, increased time at school can have a negative impact on student learning, by increasing fatigue and boredom, with some researchers arguing that school hours should reflect students’ sleep patterns. Additional school hours would also increase teacher workload, which may lead to poorer teaching, as well as increase the costs of education. However, other researchers have claimed that increasing school hours will encourage educational equality, with reports showing that students from lower Social-Economic Status (SES) backgrounds make the most improvements when given additional opportunities to learn.

For specific groups of students, extended school hours may be beneficial. For example, Naidoo’s (2008) ethnographic study revealed that an intervention program involving African refugee students receiving additional after-school tutoring was effective in improving their learning outcomes and confidence. Over the course of the school year, the students completed two hours of tutoring two days per week, with sessions run in small groups by pre-service teachers. However, the claim of effectiveness needs further validation because there was no comparative control group. Additionally, the tutoring was only one facet of the intervention, which involved other strategies such as small groups.

Goodyear, Cuff, Maybery and Reupert (2009) examined a peer-mentoring program aimed at assisting children of parents with a mental illness. Two versions of the program, involving the same number of total hours, were compared: one took place after school, weekly or fortnightly in two-hour sessions; the other was an intensive school holiday program. On several measures of individual wellbeing, such as problem-focused coping, school holiday program participants showed significantly greater improvements than those in the after school program. The findings suggest that certain skills are better learnt through an intensive intervention schedule.

In an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context, the Cape York Aboriginal Academy (CYAA), an intervention program based on extended school days, an alternate curriculum and direct instruction operating at three schools in Northern Queensland, was found to have mixed success (McCollow, 2012). Utilising personal observations, interviews with staff, and students’ NAPLAN results, McCollow (2012) found significant improvements in literacy and numeracy at one school, but no significant gains in the other two schools, possibly due to variability in teaching quality. Because the intervention involved a number of strategies, it is impossible to isolate and evaluate the actual effectiveness of extending school hours in this instance.

Goodyear, M., Cuff, R., Maybery, D., & Reupert, A. (2009). CHAMPS: A peer support program for children of parents with a mental illness. Australian e‑journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 8(3), 296 – 304.

Gromada, A., & Shewbridge, C. (2016). Student Learning Time: A Literature Review. OECD Education Working Papers, 127.

McCollow, J. (2012). The Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy Three Years On: What Is the Evidence? What Does It Indicate?. Paper presented at the Joint Australian Association for Research in Education and Asia-Pacific Educational Research Association Conference (AARE-APERA 2012) World Education Research Association (WERA) Focal Meeting. Sydney, NSW: Australian Association for Research in Education.

Naidoo, L. (2008). Supporting African Refugees in Greater Western Sydney: A Critical Ethnography of After-School Homework Tutoring Centres. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 7(3), 139 – 150.

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