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Why parents and teachers in Spain are at loggerheads over school hours

The Local Spain
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Why parents and teachers in Spain are at loggerheads over school hours
The split vs continuous school day debate is pitting teachers and parents against one another in some parts of Spain. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

A split or continuous school day? That is the debate pitting teachers against parents as children across Spain head back to school this week, with studies suggesting the schedule can have significant consequences for families.


Whether to start and finish school early (continuous) or to start and finish a little later with a break for lunch (split) can have an impact on kids both in and out of the classroom, according to recent research.

An OECD report looking into Spanish school dropout rates concluded that adjusting teaching timetables would reduce dropout rates among Spanish students, one of the highest in Europe.

And now, just a few days before school starts again after the summer holidays, the results of another study have found that pupils following an intensive school day schedule (that is to say, with all their classes stacked up in the morning with no break for lunch) are found to sleep less, spend more time using screens, have a worse diet, and do more homework than those on a split school day.

This translates into poorer health, poorer performance at school and a more difficult work-life balance, according to the study by a researcher at the University of Valencia, Daniel Gabaldón.


Spanish school schedule

Generally speaking (though there some regional variances) schools in Spain start early in the morning, around 8am or 8.30am, and classes go continuously (with a short half hour break) through to around 2pm or 2.30pm, when the kids then go home for lunch -- and that's it, school day over.

As such, for many Spanish kids the school day is a short, intense burst of learning followed by almost the entire afternoon and evening free. This has its downsides.

The OECD's report states that "in Spain many schools operate with an intensive timetable focused on mornings," and that, as a result, "around 47 percent of households pay for extracurricular classes for their children.” Clearly, it is easy to see which side of the debate teachers and parents respectively fall on.

As such, the OECD report calls for an "extension of learning time" in Spanish schools, but concedes that doing so would be neither easy or cheap: "a feasible transition would require investment in subsidies for school food and infrastructure and adequate remuneration for school staff, among other things.”

READ ALSO: What are the laws on homeschooling in Spain?



Parent-teacher clashes

The split vs continuous school day debate is pitting teachers and parents against one another in some parts of Spain, with parent associations and teachers unions publicly at loggerheads.

The OECD report (and many parents) favours the split schedule because it would remove the parent's responsibility for organised extracurricular activities, classes and care in the afternoons, and believe that these should be integrated into school timetables.

Spanish parents association CEAPA is "against" the intensive school day because "pedagogically it is not beneficial," its spokesperson, María Sánchez, told Spanish news website 20minutos.

Though the intensive schedule is the "the trend in Spain", she said, "there are still strongholds" in Madrid and the Valencian Community where there are "many clashes between teachers and families."

In both regions the continuous school day is less common in urban areas and particularly in areas of higher socio-economic standing. "Families with greater cultural capital tend to be more resistant to teachers' attempts to implement the continuous school day because they tend to seek more information and discuss the school's arguments," Gabaldón says.

Clearly, a continuous school day means that teacher's finish their working day earlier and have less care responsibilities. Teacher's unions say changing their member's work schedules would be "undemocratic."

READ ALSO: Spain's new leave of absence schemes to care for family members


Extracurricular consequences

Gabaldón's study also found that the intensive school timetable has extracurricular consequences and causes students to get up earlier and go to bed later. The study points to napping as a possible cause of this imbalance.

"It's better to have a split day, with spaces for socialising between classes and a slower school rhythm. We are experiencing a problem of excess. In Spain we are at the top of the list in terms of the number of teaching hours, but also in terms of private revision classes," he says.

READ ALSO: Almost half of Spanish families pay for private classes for their children



Time zone to blame?

But some of the negative consequences of the intensive school system could be, in part, down to Spain's time zone. More specifically, that Spain has been in the wrong time zone for over seventy years following Franco's decision to put the clocks forward an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany.

READ MORE: Why Spain is in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. The decision has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

Gabaldón favours not changing the clocks in summer in order to bring Spain back in line with the time zone that corresponds to its geographical location. "Children would go to school later, they would rest more and better and we would have fewer activities in the morning and more in the afternoon".



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