School break times have shrunk by an hour over two decades - here's why that's bad for children's development

By Sarah Wilson
Friday, 10 May, 2019, 14:48

School break times in England have shrunk dramatically over the past two decades, according to a new study from University College London.

Three decades ago, almost every English primary school pupil and 41 per cent of secondary school students enjoyed an afternoon break time.

Comparing data from more than 1,000 primary and secondary schools in 2017, 2006 and 1995, researchers at UCL found that children aged five to seven have seen their afternoon break time reduced by 45 minutes per week since 1995, while students aged 11-16 have lost around 65 minutes.

Lunch breaks have also shrunk across the board, with 82 per cent of secondary schools having a lunch break of less than 55 minutes in 2017 compared to just 30 per cent of schools who had a lunch break this short in 1995.

One of the main reasons that schools cite for this reduction is to allow more time for teaching the required curriculum.

The effect on pupils

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Experts are concerned, however, about the impact of shorter break times on the physical, social and mental health of pupils.

In 2016, the alarm was raised when it was discovered that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.

It is feared that this drastic reduction in school break times is making it even harder for children to get outdoors, meaning pupils are missing out on vital exercise and social time with peers.

The report also found that fewer pupils are meeting up with friends in person after school. In 2017, 31 per cent of children reported they seldom got to meet peers and friends, compared to 15 per cent in 2006.

Currently, each school has autonomy over the structure of the day, but the report appeals to schools to stop curtailing break times and scrap the practice of withholding breaks from students.

It also asks UK policymakers to consider legislating on the issue.