PUPILS in parts of Scotland are effectively receiving two years less education than others as a result of differences in school hours offered by councils, a new report has found.
Youngsters get 245 more hours of secondary teaching a year in the areas where provision is highest compared with the lowest, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request found. In primaries, the gap is 149 hours.
Over the 12 years of a child’s schooling this can mean two years less state education for some pupils, according to the Reform Scotland think-tank which uncovered the figures.
Teaching unions are now calling for regulations to ensure school hours do not suffer the brunt of budget cuts.
Aberdeenshire Council and West Dunbartonshire Council offer the most teaching time, with 1,000 hours a year in primary and 1,100 hours per year in secondary school, the report said. In contrast, Moray offers the least primary school time, at 851 hours – although the council claimed yesterday this was only for P1-3 pupils. Dundee and Midlothian offer 855 hours of secondary school teaching.
“We were surprised by the huge variation in hours exposed by our findings,” said Reform Scotland’s research director Alison Payne. “We strongly object to the lack of transparency which appears to prevent parents from gaining full knowledge of this situation.
“We seriously doubt, for example, that many parents in Dundee will realise that their children will receive the equivalent of two years less teaching time than their peers just up the road in Aberdeenshire. This is unfair, unequal and wrong, because it prevents parents from making choices with the full information in mind.”
Local authority schools must be open for 190 days each year, but there is no minimum number of teacher contact hours and the law does not define the length and structure of a school day, week or year.
Dundee City Council provides 855 hours in both primary and secondary, but yesterday defended its provision.
“There are currently no plans to change the length of the school day in Dundee,” a spokeswoman said.
“Exam results are improving, with staff and pupils continuing to work hard to improve attainment.”
Midlothian said in its FoI response that it provided 855 hours at primary and secondary level. But a spokeswoman for the council yesterday said the official who provided these figures is on holiday and it was not clear how they were calculated. Instead, it provided different figures yesterday claiming it provides 1017.5 hours at secondary. In primary, it provides 832.5 hours in the first two years and 925 hours after that.
Earlier this year, West Dunbartonshire Council proposed cutting two and a half hours from the primary school week in a bid to save £1 million for the council’s budget, but it was dropped after a public outcry.
Scotland’s largest teaching union the EIS recently called for regulation over the length of the school day and a national minimum class contact time for pupils in a Holyrood submission. It referred to the current norm of 25 hours a week in primary and 27.5 hours in secondary.
Local authorities would be able to enhance provision but they would not be permitted to go below a nationally set standard, under the union’s plan.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said yesterday this would ensure “a postcode lottery does not emerge” which might entrench inequalities in the system.
He added: “The 190-day requirement was established when the school day was more uniform across the country and there was an implied regulation of the day but clearly more diverse arrangements exist now and this creates the need for regulation to prevent councils making budget cuts which directly reduce the educational opportunities of Scotland’s children.
“The EIS and parent groups stand united on this matter – we are clear that children should not be made to pay for the austerity crisis that others have created.”
Local government body Cosla insisted the focus must be on outcome for youngsters.
Education spokeswoman Stephanie Primrose said: “We are unaware of any evidence which establishes a direct link between time spent in school and how well pupils perform. There is simply no magic number of hours per week, and a host of other factors, including how children are taught in school have a much bigger impact on learning. Reform Scotland seem to accept this point, for in their conclusion they caution against setting a minimum number of hours per week.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “There is no evidence in this research or elsewhere that children are not getting enough contact time with teachers during the school day, week or year. There is therefore no indication that any child’s learning experience has been compromised by the variations highlighted in this report.”