Time is Precious

How much time in school, is actually spent learning?

I’ve been in the education system, one way or another, for 30 of my 35 years: first as a school pupil, then as a University student, and then as a teacher. Since we made the decision to home educate our children, I started thinking about the typical school day. And how many of the hours that a child spends in school, are actually spent “learning”.

**Edited to add: In this article, by “learning”, I am talking about formal curriculum learning; the type of “learning” that local authority staff sometimes expect home educators to provide details of. I am fully aware, and in agreement, that all kinds of other learning take place throughout the day, such as at playtimes and during assemblies etc, but for the purposes of this article (which was written to reassure home educators that they do not have to sit their child at the table to do “learning” for hours every day) I deduct that time, because it is not “curriculum learning” or “formal learning”. Of course, these times happen naturally during home education as well. I’m not denying that learning happens everywhere. But home educators, worryingly, are sometimes told by local authority staff, that they should be doing 4/5 hours of curriculum learning per day. My intention here is to show that really that is not necessary and unrealistic.**

So here is my take on it.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that I am basing my calculations on my own experience of the UK primary schools I have taught in. The day length, the timetable, the efficiency (or lack of it) in and between lessons is based purely on my own teaching experience. However, the schools I have taught in have been pretty average, middle of the road, state mainstream, Ofsted-rated Good schools, so it’s likely that other schools wouldn’t be wildly different.

Secondly, I want to point out that I am not anti-school, and I think many teachers do an amazing job, under very difficult circumstances. It is not so much that time is wasted in schools, more that a lot of time in the school day is spent on routines and procedures that may be necessary when you have 400 learners in one building and you are charged with providing every one of them with an efficient, differentiated curriculum, but they are simply not necessary in the home ed environment. A lot of my “deductions” below, come from the extra time needed to mass-educate in this way. It’s not the fault of the teachers, or the schools, it is the nature of the education system.

So….. How much time is spent actually learning?

Each school day lasts from 9:00 to 3:15.
That’s 6 hours and 15 minutes.

But not all of that is learning time:

Deduct the 15 minute morning break and the 1 hour lunch break.

Deduct the 10 minute “register and notices” time for morning and again for the afternoon, and the 10 minute end of day “packing up, coat-fetching, giving out letters” time.

Deduct the daily 20 minute assembly, which usually exists to either practise a religion, or encourage conformity with stories based around following school rules (or “values” or something similar), or celebrate the fact that they have complied and conformed and earned their merits or certificates for behaving well and following rules. None of which are necessary if you are educated at home.

Deduct the first 5 minutes of each of the 4 main lessons, because coming in after an energetic, exhilarating bout of relative freedom on the playground takes time, and because children are not robots who can instantly switch from loud, physical exertion and play, to a focused, concentrating, learning mindset at the flick of a switch, or the ring of a bell, or the blow of a whistle.

Deduct the final 5 minutes of each of those lessons, as this is tidying up time, collecting book time, deciding who’s on whose team at playground football time, sitting up straight time, arms folded, legs straight, looking at the teacher, waiting to be dismissed time.

Deduct 10 minutes from each of those 4 lessons for the time simply spent taking a brain break (or more likely a boredom break), because even as adults we can rarely stay fully focused on a task for an hour, unless it is a real passion, so we take little breaks: fetch a drink, have a little stretch or walk about, go to the toilet, ask a friend how they are getting on, or just let our minds wander for a few minutes before getting back on-task. Kids do this too, and it’s natural, until it’s metaphorically beaten out of them in the classroom environment.

Deduct 5 minutes from each session, for the time that is wasted when the teacher has to deal with behaviour issues before continuing the instructions, or the time you spend waiting for an answer from somebody else that you already know, even though your hand was first up, but the teacher always has to count to ten before asking anyone and then always picks someone else because they have to target their questions fairly to all pupils.

Deduct 5 minutes (at least) from the day, for the time spent walking in single file, as the teacher herds the class from one room to another, or to the hall, or the playground.

So far we have deducted 3 hours and 50 minutes from the school day.

Our 6 hours and 15 minutes is now down to 2 hours and 25 minutes. And that’s on a good day.

This equates to 12 hours and 5 minutes per week.

However, in an average school week there are whole time-tabled sessions that are pointless, which serve no purpose in relation to learning, or can be discounted because they simply do not apply in the home ed setting.

For example, the hour spent singing in “hymn practise” – see my thoughts on assemblies above.

And during each of the two PE lessons, 20 minutes (10 mins at start, 10 mins at end) is spent collecting kit, getting changed, and waiting for the slow coaches to tie the laces on their trainers. Also deduct another 5 minutes from each of these lessons for the walk to and from the changing rooms and to whichever sports pitches are being used that lesson.

Deduct the half hour PSHE lesson, because in home education you live this stuff. You don’t sit and learn it in a 30 minute lesson; it is part of your everyday life, running continuously through everything you do.

Deduct the 20 minute “golden time” – the reward for complying all week, and the necessary motivation, fed to children in order to keep classroom-based learning going.

These add up to another 2 hours and 40 minutes, that I’m deducting from my weekly total.

So, in a week that started with 31 hours and 15 minutes, we are now down to 9 hours and 25 minutes.

Averaged over the 5 days in the week, that makes 1 hour and 53 minutes, per day.

In a school year there are 190 days (I’ve already taken out the holidays and the teacher training days).

Deduct 1 bank holiday and 4 (as a rough average) sick days (or occasional sneaky holiday days because going one day before the end of term meant saving £300 in flight and hotel costs – who can blame you?).

So 185 days.

That makes 348 hours and 25 minutes of useful learning time per year. So far.

Just a few more “dead” hours to take off, from across the year…

Deduct 2 hours for sitting as an audience, watching other class’s Christmas plays (also known as final dress rehearsals) and 2 hours watching other class’s End of Year plays (it may be fun to watch, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I’m deducting it for its lack of learning value).

Deduct half an hour for waiting in line to have your school photos taken.

Deduct an hour for the Christmas service, and another for the Easter service. Ok, so maybe your family is religious, but if that’s the case, you’d be doing these things at home anyway, wouldn’t you?

Deduct 2 hours for the assessment tests in maths and reading at the end of term 1, which serve no purpose for learning, other than to obtain a number by which the school can “track the progress” of a child, though it is not really progress it tracks, but rather their ability to answer questions in the way the answer booklet requires to get a mark.

Repeat this for the tests at the end of terms 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (except for a year 6 child, in which case these figures should be doubled).

Deduct 2 hours for the afternoon of the class Christmas parties. And another 2 hours for the afternoon of the Christmas film.

Deduct the entire last day of the school year, which is spent colouring, playing games or watching DVDs.

Deduct 2 hours for time spent traveling on a coach or train or walking, on a school trip day, unless you want to count the game of noughts and crosses, top trumps and I spy that fill these journeys.

Deduct half an hour for each term, for over-running class assemblies or “Achievement” assemblies – please no more assemblies.

Deduct half an hour for the ritual end of year whole school assembly, in which many goodbyes and teacher send offs occur, and which may only be half an hour, but in the late July afternoon heat in a school hall packed with sweaty children and sweatier teachers, feels like a lot longer.

Deduct half an hour for all the times over the year that the head-teacher has to come to your class to have a serious discussion (telling-off) about certain things that have been going on, of such a serious nature that all learning has to stop while he reminds the whole class of those school rules, even though everybody knows full well which one or two people were involved, and why do the whole class always get the blame anyway?

Which takes the total number of useful learning hours throughout the year down to 315 hours and 55 minutes.

Averaging that out over the school year, we are now down to just 100 minutes per school day.

This is what schools class as full-time and efficient education, as set out by law.

Considering that if you home educate, you are in your learning environment every one of the 365 days in the year, this equates to 51 minutes per day.

Just 51 minutes of learning per day, would achieve the same length of time spent learning, as a schooled child.

As I said earlier, I’m not anti-school. 51 minutes per day, actively learning, sounds brilliant to me. But what about all the other hours spent in school?

Our family time is too precious for that.



130 thoughts on “Time is Precious

  1. Hahaha, I love this! I spend about an hour or two a day homeschooling as well, and I’m often asked how long it takes us to homeschool. People don’t know how I manage to blog, homeschool and take care of two preschool kids but school really isn’t a huge chunk of our day. My girls spend more time playing together! (And I think that’s great!) Thanks for sharing this. I also grew up homeschooled and even in high school never spent more than half of my day doing school. That let me babysit lots and write novels. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mona says:

    Well only an idiot would think they are learning for 6 hours straight. Playing, socializing, having a meal together, learning to listen, being quiet when asked to, playing a sport, gardening, having some school duties, are also all part if learning and growing and setting up some real life skills.
    Yes I miss my son everyday when he is in school and for the first 3 months I cried everyday but it is the right decision we made, for him to be in school and not be home with me all day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liz says:

    As a teacher, it was this comment that struck me:
    ” even as adults we can rarely stay fully focused on a task for an hour, unless it is a real passion, so we take little breaks”

    …or unless you are the teacher, in which case you’re expected to remain fully focused throughout every teaching session and work through most of your ‘breaks’ !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sylvia says:

    Actually I found I have to correct my children’s behaviour in every school break and weekends as the supervision is equal to none and no manners or respect are taught. I went to school in Germany our school days varied in length, a lesson was 45mins with short (5-10min) break in between each a 20mins-ish break for mid morning and 30mins-1h for lunch (all breaks and starting times differ in every school but lessons are always 45mins) some schools start 7:30, some 8 some 8:30 you have 5-8 lessons a day usually and no assemblies! No headteacher telling off in class, no plays, no golden time and when the teacher enters the room and bell goes to say lesson starts you are quiet without needing to be told. I don’t understand why the UK has such an unefficient system!


    • Jan says:

      To say the uk system is ineffective is unfair. There are issues in some schools, but others have dedicated and experienced teachers who work hard to help children to achieve their potential. You speak of a school system in which there is no play or ‘golden time’, and as an early years practitioner I find that disturbing. All children need time to direct their own learning, time to consolidate what has already been learned and time to find out who they are. The fact that there is noise and movement in my class doesn’t mean that they are not learning! It means that they are communicating, sharing ideas and co operating with their peers. Please try not to judge all schools as though we are the same, we are not. Neither are the families and children whom we serve.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to say I disagree with most of this post. It bears no resemblance to my sons school day. He is in reception and doesn’t do most of the things you point out (assemblies, walking between classes, watching older kids shows etc). At drop off they walk into the classroom and find their name and the word card underneath it to sound out or spell, or a maths problem to solve. This is completed before I have even left the classroom. The day continues this way. Snack time involves pattern recognition problems, extra phonics practice, relaxed talking with the TA about the terms topics. Also when the children are not at school (on school days and holidays, TD days etc) most parents I know continue educating their children using the school system as an adjunct to further education at home. It is made very clear to all parents that you need a strong home input in educating your child. I think it is very naive to throw out your calculations without stating which years they may apply to and without putting the whole article in context of what a school educated child will receive in a whole day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. KWilson says:

    Wow…I really don’t feel so bad for my school day anymore! We do four hours of flat learning o.o. I mean, hard core, sit down and grind lessons. It doesn’t include getting their notebooks or set up time, etc. 4 hours flat.

    I’ve been agonizing how I could possibly force in even more learning time. Now I think I’ve been seriously overdoing it.

    Will probably consider cutting our school day in half and just relaxing.


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