Is a 3-day school week possible? This question has been a hot topic in the last month as schools continue to be under budgetary pressures in the UK. The rising energy cost with a marginal budgeted allocation has put schools in a tight financial corner. The proposed solution is a three-day workweek to cut down on running costs. It sounds far-fetched so let us consider a few facts driving this thought.
Firstly teachers are currently severely underpaid. One article highlighted that schools risk losing teachers to supermarkets due to being underpaid. The National Education Union of the United Kingdom highlighted that 63% of teachers have considered leaving teaching for better pay. Secondly, a shortage of teachers means an increased workload with large classes or more subjects without assistance from a teaching assistant. How can this be solved?
School heads and head teachers suggest a three-day school week, but it seems impossible with the workload teachers currently have. Is a three-day school week an answer? Perhaps digitalization of the teaching and learning process would be a better solution. Consider the pros and cons of a three-day workweek and digitalization for the following teaching activities: assessment, class content creation, and class discussions.
One article showed that most teachers spend approximately 11 hours a week scoring tasks outside teaching time. This includes daily homework, weekly class exercises, and class tests. As a teacher, I face a similar challenge with weekly assessment tests and homework that assesses understanding of the information taught to students. A three-day work week further makes this challenge worse because there is more school work from the two days off to be scored in between the already cramped three days of work. Alternatively, the teacher may carry it home on the two days called “off days”. Considering that, teachers need a substantial amount of time marking and assessing students the two off days will just turn into two unpaid overtime days. Digitalization tackles this problem with a digital tool for in-lesson and real-time assessment whereby assessment occurs during the lesson scoring the work instantaneously. This automated marking would reduce administrative tasks enabling teachers to get on with more teaching time. A less frustrated teacher is born who is better able to assist the students with learning.
Class content creation
A three-day school week has the challenge of time management to fit the entire syllabus into three days worth of instruction. That would mean that some work has to be online, right? Experience during the COVID-19 period showed that online teaching has challenges, such as few students attending, with a reduced number paying attention. Most students fall behind in class requiring schools to obtain catch-up assistance which may be a challenge to obtain. Online learning also encourages late submission of assessment tasks, and teachers constantly chase students for work and update parents on learning progress. Therefore there would be more work for the teacher to attend to in a three-day workweek. Why not switch to a digital tool for the entire syllabus in a 5-6 day work week? A digital app with pre-created course content based on the course objectives yet linked to previous assessment results of schoolwork would be ideal. The information will be in bite-sized modules determined by how well the students grasp information yet are arranged to fit within the stipulated time required for each lesson. The reduced workload gives rise to a teacher focused more on teaching and less on catching up.
The current teaching pedagogy is mass instruction with minimum in-class interaction. For instance, primary school teachers spend approximately 783 hours a year instructing students averaging 21.75 hours a week. That translates to 7 hours of talking a day in a 3-day school week. Thus, leaving little to no time for class interactions that assess the level of understanding during the lesson. Continuing with a five-day workweek that spreads out the instruction time combined with a day-by-day interactive assessment tool would be a better solution. Such a tool should provide in-class tasks as one teaches so that the teacher gets everyone’s attention. Using a simple traffic light system, the teacher would know what action to take next. Students who pass the digital assessment can proceed to the next section, and students who partially get the concept get extra work. Those who do not understand would receive undivided focus from the teacher. An organized teacher with the opportunity to utilize this tool to the fullest might save the school thousands in catch-up help due to students that are left behind.
Now imagine a teacher who can mark school work immediately upon submission, and the coursework follows the scheme of work while incorporating the assessment progress of students. There are no two days worth of workload requiring attention from the teacher. Instead, there is more time for interactive discussions with all students participating. The teacher receives instant feedback on who understood, enabling them to focus on those still confused or behind. As a teacher, help from digital tools convinces me there may be no need for a three-day workweek, are you convinced as well?