Extended school time

Low impact for moderate cost, based on limited evidence.

Cost Per Pupil Cost estimate: Up to £720 per pupil per year. cost per pupil
Evidence Rating Evidence estimate: At least one meta-analysis or review. evidence rating Average impact: 2 additional months. Impact +2 months

What is it?

Internationally, two main approaches to extending school time have been implemented and evaluated: 1. Extending the length of the school day; 2. Extending the length of the school year. There are examples of the school day being extended to up to 12 hours and the school year being extended by up to five additional weeks. Specific approaches to increasing learning time are included in other sections of the Toolkit, such as Summer School, After School Programmes and Early Years Intervention; this summary is limited to extending core school time.

How effective is it?

Most of the studies find evidence of improved learning compared to shorter days or school years, but this is usually quite small and gains are not consistent across all studies. Unsurprisingly, the amount of improved learning appears to depend heavily on how the time is used and which aspects of teaching and learning are increased. Evidence suggests that it is likely to be cheaper and more efficient to focus on using existing school time more effectively before considering extending school time.

Overall approaches to increasing the length of the school day or the school year add on average two months' additional progress to pupils’ attainment over the course of a year. Research based on international comparisons, looking at average times for schooling in different countries, is consistent with this finding.  However, it should also be noted that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit by, on average, an additional half a month’s progress relative to their peers, suggesting that extending school time can be an effective means to improve learning for pupils who are most at risk of failure. 

Caution should be taken to ensure that any increase in school time does not reduce time for other positive activities either for pupils (e.g. activities which support overall development and well-being, or time to complete homework) or for teachers (e.g. lesson preparation time). To be successful any increases should be supported by both parents and staff, and extreme increases (e.g. above nine hours per day) do not appear to be effective.

How secure is the evidence?

Most of the evaluations of initiatives to extend school time come from the USA and are from wider evaluations of school reform or school improvement models that incorporate an extended school day as one component among a number of changes. This makes attributing any academic gains to either an extended day or an extended year difficult, though what evidence there is suggests that both extending the school day and extending the school year can improve academic attainment, particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. More analyses have been undertaken on extending the school year so there is more evidence in this area, but given the current state of the evidence it may be better to invest in the quality of teaching and learning in schools in the first instance, rather than the quantity.

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

The costs of extending the school day or the school year are rarely explicit in the studies reviewed. One US study which aimed to increase school time by 30% worked on a budget of $1,300 per student, per year (about £800). Average costs per pupil in primary schools are about £2,500 and for secondary about £3,500, which is about £13 and £18 per pupil per day. Extending the school year by two weeks would therefore need about £260 per pupil per year for primary schools and about £360 per pupil per year for secondary, if the same spending model is used. The costs are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • In terms of a longer school day there are indications that smaller increases are associated with greater gains, and with more than three or four hours a day the benefit decreases.

  • Staff commitment is vital, otherwise any changes may increase staff turnover.

  • It may be necessary to do things differently with the extra time, rather than provide more of the same teaching and learning activities.

  • Have you considered what pupils and staff will stop doing because of extended time?

  • 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.