Do English pupils spend fewer hours in class than in other countries?

Back to FAQs

Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Spectator 2013 Conference that English pupils had to have longer school days and shorter holidays in order to keep up with children in the Far East.

And Chris Skidmore MP wrote that pupils aged 7-14 (inclusive) in Ireland, Canada, France and Australia spent more time in the classroom than English pupils of the same age.

Were they right?

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD Education at a Glance 2012) surveyed 34 countries to discover the number of hours pupils aged 7-14 (inclusive) spent in class.

The average total number of hours spent in the classroom by 7-14 year-olds was 6,862.

The total number of hours that English 7-14 year-olds spent in the classroom was above the OECD average. English pupils were in class for a total of 7,258 hours.

How does this compare with other countries?

Pupils in 20 countries spent less time in the classroom while pupils in 13 other countries spent more.

What about high-performing Finland and Far Eastern countries?

Only two Far Eastern countries were included in the OECD survey, Korea and Japan.

The figures for these two countries plus Finland are as follows:

Finland: 5,637 Korea: 5,910 Japan: 6,501

English pupils spent more time in the classroom than pupils in these three countries.

What about Far Eastern countries missing from the OECD data?

Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong were not included. Data for these countries had to be found elsewhere.

Singapore: hours per day in school: Primary 5 hours including recess, Secondary 6 hours including recess. Holidays 2013: About 12 weeks in total

Hong Kong: *hours per day 7 hours including breaks. *School year is 190 days, same as England.

Shanghai: *hours per day in school: 8 including 1 ½ hours for lunch. Holidays: *about 14 weeks including a full two months for the summer holiday (1 July to 31 August)

What about those countries cited by Skidmore?

Skidmore was correct. Pupils in these four countries spent longer in the classroom but it was only in Australia that the hours spent were significantly more. The figures are here:

Ireland: 7,362 (104 hours more over 8 years)

Canada: 7,363 (105 hours more over 8 years)

France: 7,148 (less than English pupils according to the OECD key facts for France. BUT the graph on page 424 of Education at a Glance 2012 shows French children as having slightly more total hours than Canada).

Australia: 7,907 (649 over 8 years)

Conclusion: English 7-14 year-olds spend more hours in the classroom than pupils in the same age group in Finland, Korea, Japan and 17 other OECD countries. They spend about the same as those in Singapore. They spend fewer hours than pupils in 13 other OECD countries including Ireland, Canada, France and Australia but of these four countries it’s only in Australia where pupils spend significantly more time. In the two Far Eastern countries which are not included in OECD figures, Hong Kong and Shanghai, pupils spend more time in school (although pupils in Shanghai get a longer lunch break and more holidays which offset the extra hours).

*Information re Hong Kong and Shanghai was difficult to track down. I had to rely on Wikibooks for the school day and information on a school’s website for Hong Kong. For Shanghai, I relied on a global expat website. The information might, therefore, not be accurate.

26 April 2013