What is it?
This summary focuses on extending core teaching and learning time in schools and the use of targeted before and after school programs. Other approaches to increasing learning time are included in other sections of the Toolkit, such as Homework, Early years intervention and Summer schools.
The research focuses on three main approaches to extending teaching and learning time in schools:
- extending the length of the school year;
- extending the length of the school day; and
- providing additional time for targeted groups of students, particularly disadvantaged or low-attaining students, either before or after school.
How effective is it?
The evidence indicates that, on average, students make two additional months' progress per year from extended school time and in particular through the targeted use of before and after school programs. There is some evidence that disadvantaged students benefit more, making closer to three months’ additional progress. There are also often wider benefits for low-income students, such as increased attendance at school, improved behaviour, and better relationships with peers.
In addition to providing academic support, some school programs aim to provide stimulating environments and activities or develop additional personal and social skills. These programs are more likely to have an impact on achievement than those that are solely academic in focus. However, it is not clear whether this is due to the additional activities or to improved attendance and better engagement.
The research also indicates that attracting and retaining students in before and after school programs is harder at secondary level than at primary level. To be successful, any increases in school time should be supported by both parents and staff, and extreme increases (for example more than nine hours of schooling per day in total) do not appear to be additionally beneficial.
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 the additional time itself difficult. Gains are not consistent across studies, indicating that additional time alone is not enough — it must be used effectively. Discrete or targeted programs are more likely to have been evaluated robustly than other ways of extending learning time, and 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 than other types of extended hours provision.
Enrichment activities without a specific focus on learning 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 try introducing more evidence-based programs or practices into the existing school day first.