Former Tory advisor Paul Kirby has suggested that the future for national greatness is to increase the length of school days and cut school holidays.
He believes that a 45-hour week and a 45-week year would be just the ticket to economic success and academic greatness. It would instantly do away with the need for additional child-care, allowing everyone to be able to rush back to work.
Mr Kirby was the head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, thankfully he isn’t any longer having returned to his role as partner of KPMG.
Writing on his blog, he claims his “45/45 model” would transform the lives of most households in the UK within two years by curing the cost-of-living crisis and capturing the imagination of women voters.
Hmmm. He thinks that poor down-trodden mums who can’t get a job because of the price (and hassle) of childcare would leap at the scheme, rushing off to the 9 to 5 without a backward glance.
Of course, he’s right that it’s shocking that although women are half of the workforce, 42 per cent are part time compared to 12 per cent of men. Part-time women earn on average £8.12 per hour as opposed to £12 full time. He’s also right that the money we do earn doesn’t go anywhere near as far as it used to and that childcare costs a bomb.
However, solving the problem by shoving kids into schools for long days isn’t going to help women – or their families for that matter.
For decades women have struggled against a work-place culture that didn’t make room for the flexibility needed to properly use the skills and abilities of parents. Despite equality being locked in legislation, it’s only now that a culture shift is beginning to happen in some areas.
Mr Kirby’s long school-hours scheme would set equal opportunities back many years as employers would no longer have to adapt and accommodate those with other responsibilities. Day-long office attendance would become the norm again as there would be no need for flexitime, home-working or, even, job share.
It’s hard to see how working parents would consider this a good thing. Of course working women are vital to the nation’s economic success, but the way to have more of them working, is to make more workplaces amenable to the things that really work – like compressed hours and flexible schedules.
And the notion that lengthening the day and year would have a dramatic improvement in academic results seems somewhat flawed, like the idea that you can go twice as fast in the marathon simply by doing longer training runs.
More of something is rarely the solution when the situation requires better, cleverer and more focussed answers.
But Mr Kirby’s long-hour schools would also “create a lot of space in the day for play, creativity, relaxation, exploration and exercise”. Much like they get after school at the moment then?
It would take as long as one of his brave new school days to go through all the flaws in the scheme – from the lack of teachers to the apparent army of volunteers he perceives will turn up to help. However, apart from what it does to role of women in society, the biggest loser under Mr Kirby’s scheme would be the family.
Perhaps he doesn’t consider it important, but most families like to spend time in each other’s company for a while every day. With kids at school for nine hours while their parents go off to earn themselves out of the cost-of-living crisis, there isn’t much time left over for simply being together, sharing ordinary experiences or, even, having a chat.
It’s clearly escaped Mr Kirby, but that kind of time is the glue that holds families – and therefore society – together. Without it we’d be in far bigger trouble than we are now.
Thankfully, Mr Kirby no longer has an influential position at Number Ten so, with a bit of luck, his “45/45 model” will soon be nothing more than an attention-seeking blog post.