Why are school break times shorter now than 20 years ago?

May 10, 2019 Published by

For most children, school break times are the highlight of the school day.

But according to a long term study carried out by UCL, the length of school break times have reduced in the last 20 years. It is believed that primary school students in England are now having 45 minutes less break time a week than they would have in 1995.

Dr Amanda Gummer was invited to share her thoughts on Sky News on these new findings and explain why we should be looking to increase break times and not reduce them…

 

Why is this happening?

I think it comes down to the pressure that schools are under to get on with the curriculum and ensure ‘official learning’ takes place within the classroom.

 

But I would say it’s misguided – children learn better when they have that opportunity to play by running around, exercising and having a mental break.

When you look at healthy child development you have to consider holistic development, mental health, fitness levels, activity levels, as well as developing all the soft skills such as compromising, negotiating, teamwork, empathy, collaboration. These are all really important skills that you get through play and not when you’re sitting down inside a classroom.

It is sad to hear that the school break times are being cut and I think we should be looking at better ways to incorporate these in a normal school day and not reducing them.

Primary school students in England are now having 45 minutes less break time a week than they would have in 1995.

 

Currently, we have an obesity epidemic, and if children don’t get out and play, then they are not going to get any exercise, do you agree?

Absolutely, but it is also about habits too!

If you are used to being active and running around, and then you are in a classroom being sedentary for long periods of time, then it’s going to be harder to keep those activity levels up. Which in turn, contributes to the obesity epidemic.

 

One of the reasons cited for the shrinking break times is discipline. Teachers need some way of addressing (bad) behaviour in the classroom, so they take it off break time

Child playing on swing

Again, this is where it is misguided. The children who are misbehaving in class are often doing it because they’re struggling to concentrate and they haven’t had a chance to run around to get rid of that excess energy and clear their heads. That’s how (teachers) will be able to alleviate behavior issues in the classrooms.

 

82% of secondary schools say lunch-times are less than 55 minutes long and a quarter of all secondary schools reported lunchbreaks of being 35 mins or less.

This can absolutely have a knock-on effect.  Shorter breaks lessen the opportunities for children to participate in extra-curricular clubs, for example, they cannot join sports clubs during their lunch break, which is a really good way of keeping them active and giving them that time to make friends and just be kids.

 

Ultimately, Schools get to make their own decisions about the structure of the day, about the timetable and the length of breaks.

Does that then need to be changed in the light of these figures? And do we need to have mandatory breaks of a certain duration?

 

I don’t think it is helpful to legislate things like that, we need to trust the teachers and give the headteachers the ability to do what’s right for their schools and their pupils.

In my experience, coming down with a heavy-handed approach seems to disempower people, so I think it’s better if we provide the evidence to show what the benefits are for children of having extra play time and being given that freedom to exercise.

If we can present the evidence, teachers and headteachers alike, will take that on board and do what is right for the kids.

 

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This post was written by Oomar Mauthoor

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