Why would anyone question the benefits of more teaching time for resits?

The benefits of setting minimum teaching hours for resits should be evident to all – and the government isn’t asking for much in return

The benefits of setting minimum teaching hours for resits should be evident to all – and the government isn’t asking for much in return

9 Jun 2024, 5:00

It is extraordinary to me to hear educators question the relationship between teaching time and outcomes. I first encountered it when working on the Department for Education’s review of ‘Time in Schools’ in 2021. Boris Johnson later used the doubters’ arguments to justify not investing sufficiently in education recovery. More recently, the setting of minimum teaching hours for GCSE resits has rekindled the debate.

The thing that’s extraordinary is that I can’t imagine any other sector or industry disputing the benefit of their core activity. Are GPs suggesting that shorter patient appointments would be better? Are there police who believe that time on the streets detracts from important back-office admin? Is McDonalds provoking a public debate about whether we eat too many cheeseburgers?

And although I deeply admire the societal value of all three of those callings, neither doctors, nor police, nor any number of ‘Have a nice days’ can open up the world and opportunity for young people like teaching can.

I could point to the abundant academic evidence on the benefit of increased teaching time, such as Battistin and Meroni 2016, or Bellei 2009, or Huebener 2017, or Kikuchi 2014, or Lavy 2015 & 2020, or Rivkin and Shiman 2015.

In a few of those cases it was only a sub-group who benefitted, such as economically-disadvantaged students or women, but that is perhaps why it hasn’t moved the Treasury to pick up its cheque book.

But it doesn’t matter, because the sad truth is that we already don’t get enough time.

“Our 16-19 year-olds spend less time in classrooms than their international peers”. Those aren’t my words. That’s from Gillian Keegan’s foreword to the Advanced British Standard proposals.

Study programmes in England are not funded for adequate teaching hours to equal the experience internationally. Failing to make the case for more hours fails our young people.

There was a small step forward in 2022 with the additional forty hours in study programmes for maths. Then, if I may say so myself, a rather progressive move was announced in 2023 to reform the English and maths premium.

Failing to make the case for more hours fails young people

Previously, that little-known pot of funding was mostly benefiting school sixth forms while FE did the heavy lifting on resits. Now it will add a cash boost to FE coffers, in recognition for doing an inspiring job of the most important policy in education.

I have seen some rubbishing of the new funding because it is perceived as coming with new asks from “busy officials” in Whitehall. But they are not really new. Most of us had three hours with our resit students before Covid, and the extra hour for maths was funded two years ago.

Officials were indeed busy. And what they were busy doing was listening to teachers and students in the minority of outlier providers, desperate because the one hour per week or less they have timetabled doesn’t give anyone a fighting chance.

The case for linking new funding to some minimum expectations seems more than reasonable when you put learners first.

Anyway, there’s a relatively quick way to prove the case. Two things happen in 2025/26: The headline performance measure for English and maths finally returns after its Gavin Williamson hiatus, and the DfE will start collecting data on English and maths hours in study programmes.

By the end of 2026, we can prove once and for all whether more teaching hours makes a difference.

(I’ve actually always wondered why DfE doesn’t do this for study programmes generally. They already know which colleges offer the expected 640 hours versus the minimum 580. It would take about thirty seconds to run some analysis of that against outcomes.)

Right now, we are heading into an election where only one party has plans to increase contact time for 16- to 19-year-olds, and the bookmakers are pretty confident they’re not going to win.

We need the next government to invest in FE, so let’s please start shouting about what a great investment it is.

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One comment

  1. CrawfordS

    Our college group- CCG -moved from three hours a week (two 90min lessons) to a 1x two hr lesson for English and Maths this year. Trying to condense teaching material down and working out which skills/content to sacrifice has been challenging. Also really hard to get to know learners, their prior knowledge, SENs and to bond with them/gain trust.
    Typically, our cohorts have lower-than-average attention spans so the two hour lessons have been a drag and have had a negative impact on attendance. The six hour teaching days have been intense for lecturers.
    SLT have no intention of returning to 3hrs a week and will continue breaking government guidance by delivering just 2 hrs of E and M. They claim no funds – we have even been asked to bring our own lunch to the upcoming E&M conference. TBH I don’t think they really care whether students pass or not – low resit results won’t impact their funding nor trigger an ofsted inspection as is the case at Secondary schools – don’t think results are even published.
    Labour have kept quiet about their proposals – I really wish we could increase from 15hrs teaching to something like 20/24hrs a week -as is the case in nearly every other developed country – then there would be decent time for 4 or 5 courses.