It was always a controversial issue and the pandemic and its restrictions have come to give a twist to the thorny issue of school hours. Families and even teachers discuss in their centers if the split day is more convenient, with a break at noon to resume later a last section of classes, or the continuous one, in which the teaching activity is taught all followed in the morning.
Continuous school day or departure?
The educational administrations reacted to the pandemic and the concern that there was in the summer of 2020 with the situation of the schools by betting on the continuous day. Wherever it is not implemented (it is installed mainly in the southern half of the country) as a type of standard shift, it was decided to offer the centers the possibility of implementing it if they wanted to (Madrid) or it was imposed without alternatives (Navarra). Last year everyone understood: the course was uncertain and safety prevailed, potentially dangerous situations such as school canteens had to be minimized. But June arrives, the incidence is low (not so much, lately, although the forecast is to decrease again as vaccination progresses), the restrictions are relaxed and, however, the administrations remain in the same idea, to the outrage of some.
In Navarra, the decision of Education to maintain the imposition of the continuous next year for health reasons (it will be evaluated in the middle of the year if it is changed) has not gone down well with families. All the associations of mothers and fathers (AMPA) have demanded that the counselor let the schools go back to what they had. “We have voices in favor and voices against the continuation, but we understand that imposing it will not fix the school situation,” explains Noelia Echarri, secretary of the federation of AMPAs Herrikoa. The situation in the region is particular, because the centers can choose between continuous, split or flexible hours, which is a kind of hybrid between the two.
In communities like this or Valencia, which came from a split day, the change can be requested following a procedure that implies making a plan to execute it and that the educational community validates it. In the Valencian Community, for example, in order for it to succeed, at least 80% of the families have to vote, and more than 50% have to vote positively for it to be a reality. In case of change, it is evaluated how the course has gone and it is always possible – although de facto it does not happen – to return to the starting point.
In Madrid it was decided to allow continuous work as an exceptional element last year, but the Ministry has decided to extend the measure and many families do not see it as correct. “If it was exceptional, we do not understand that it should be extended,” explains Mari Carmen Morillas, president of FAPA Giner de los Ríos. “If it is for health reasons, that it be implanted in all centers. They have not responded to either of these two questions,” he laments. Some centers have unilaterally decided to extend the continuous day of last year and there are families who are not doing well. “We receive many complaints from families who have chosen a center for their educational project or perhaps also because it allows them to reconcile better and now they have changed it,” laments Morillas.
The matter strikes so much that it sometimes goes to court: it is not related to pandemic decisions, but this same course The Superior Court of Justice of the Valencian Community forced the Gabriel Miró school in Alicante to return to the split day after the appeal of a mother, despite the fact that 70% of the families had voted in favor of the continuation.
Part of the problem with this debate is that different issues get mixed up. On the one hand, the continuous day is a historical demand of the teachers’ unions. On the other, there are families who see in this element that support for conciliation should be educational. Others see it as an opportunity to have their children at home longer if they go out earlier.
Vicent Mañes, president of the Federation of Directors of Fedeip public Primary Centers, rejects some of these ‘established truths’: “They say that it is a vindication of the teachers, but in our center the faculty overthrew the proposal because we did not have enough hours of coordination so that it would go well, “he explains. Regarding conciliation, he believes that it is an outdated debate. “The continuous working day improves family conciliation, contrary to what one might think. Those who want to do things with their children can pick them up at 2 or 3 if they stay for lunch. But in Valencia, extracurricular activities are a mandatory offer of 15 to 17 hours, and totally free. However, if they go to class they finish at 4.30 “, he explains.
Teachers and families. Working conditions and conciliation And the students? And the education? “We have a tendency to think that continuous is better, it is like that throughout Europe,” says Mañes, who introduces a third element: the rhythms of the school, “conditioned by these Martian schedules that do not exist in any other country in the world. The three-hour break at noon, from 12 to 15, eat at 14 or 15 or that the centers open at 9 instead of 8 “, he reflects.
The scientific evidence on this question does not quite shed much light because it is not exhaustive, although the available information leaves some clues. If the focus is on what is best for the students, as requested by the federation of associations of AMPAs Ceapa and which is the variable that is usually studied, the reports on the issue seem to indicate that the split day is more favorable for them at the level of attention and fatigue.
A compilation of the research carried out so far by Professor Mariano Fernández Enguita refers to the work of the French François Testu, Hubert montagner o I gave back on attention (measured by the proportion of mistakes made in carrying out small tasks) and fatigue (self-perceived). “The results are always very similar”, writes Fernández Enguita, “the initial pattern of the works of François Testu [consistente en] medium care first thing in the morning, maximum in the middle of the morning, sharp drop at the end of this morning and medium again in the early afternoon is repeated “in other studies.
Exactly the same thing happens with fatigue, but in reverse. Some fatigue first thing in the morning, minimal after a while and begins to rise until reaching the maximum level at around 1:30 p.m. for a school day that starts at 9. In the case of the split day, this last section is avoided and a while is added in the afternoon, in which the attention is average. Changing the split day for the continuous one means, according to these data, leaving the afternoon section (average attention and fatigue) to delve into the last one in the morning (low attention, high fatigue) and even a little extra time first thing in the morning (attention and medium fatigue).
What about performance?
Another approach, ignored by these French scholars, is that of academic performance. A study by Francisco José Morales Yago, Arturo Galán and Ramón Pérez Juste, from 2017, analyzes the results of the students in Spain and maintains that “after three decades since the continuous day began to be implemented in some autonomous communities, it can be concluded that the expected academic progress has been reduced and comparable to those experienced by communities that have remained in the day school departure “. In other words, wherever the continuous shift was implemented, the results did not improve.
This is the case, for example, of school failure, the communities with the highest failure rate are the Balearic Islands, Extremadura, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Murcia, Castilla-La Mancha and Catalonia. Even before the pandemic, which caused the shift in some communities, all of them work with a continuous shift except Catalonia, the only one that is above the national average with a split shift. In the other sense, the only one with a continuous working day with less failure than the country’s average is Galicia. The rest have – had – all school in the morning and in the afternoon.
This statistic has an objection, the researchers warn. “The differences in the failure rate cannot be attributed solely to the type of school day, since the data show a historical delay in these autonomous communities due to other causes such as socioeconomic and cultural underdevelopment. Neither can possible explanatory variables such as level immigration and the north-south socioeconomic differentiation “, they explain. “In any case, it is clear that the forecast that the implementation of the continuous day helps to reduce the school failure rate has not been fulfilled, since it has remained almost unchanged or with slight decreases, taking into account that the average general in Spain has dropped “.
Something similar happens with the 2012 PISA results, this study continues. “Of the 14 autonomous communities that participate in PISA (Castilla-La Mancha, the Canary Islands and Valencia do not participate), nine have a split day and five are continuous. The score of those who have a split day is above the EU and even in seven of they are also above the OECD. On the contrary, of the five that have a continuous shift, only Galicia is above the OECD and the EU “, they conclude.
And then there are other realities. Director Bañes closes with a fact: “All the centers that opt for the continuous day never ever return to the game, which is a possibility that exists. Every year the results obtained with this type of day must be evaluated and it is done in the school councils, where the families are and the entire educational community. No school returns to the previous model, “he assures.