4 school days or 4 and a half days? What the science says about school timetables

Fatigue, social inequalities, desynchronization… Chronobiologists are more in favor of a decrease in the daily hourly rate and therefore the transition to the 4.5-day working week. However, they have to do with different social and economic considerations.

This is an eternal debate that crops up almost every school year. Today, more than nine out of ten schools have gone back to a 4-day week, with a Wednesday break. However, in 2013, Vincent Peillon’s reform led to a return to the 4.5 day week. Objective: to spread the learning over 5 mornings, in particular to promote the concentration of the students.

However, in 2017, the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, signed a decree allowing municipalities that wished to return to the 4-day week. Candidate Emmanuel Macron’s Campaign Promise. A decision that seems to conflict with scientific recommendations.

Bad for concentration and fatigue

The 4-day week is “an anomaly for all chronobiologists,” Claire Leconte, an expert in biological rhythms in children, says on her site. A report by the Senate that takes stock of the transition to 4.5 days also underlines the “scientific consensus about the harmful nature of the four-day week”.

According to the work of many chronobiologists, this irregular rhythm makes you not in good shape and therefore harmful to the concentration and learning of young students. Children would learn best in the morning and long days would tire them unnecessarily.

“The 4-day week is conducive to the disappearance of physical education and sports classes, artistic training (plastic arts, music) but also early learning activities (history, geography, science)”, adds the Observatory of the Rhythms and Lifetimes of children and young people (ORTEJ).

Rising inequality

In addition, “allowing an extra half-day is in no way beneficial to children who are left to their own devices outside of school,” the ORTEJ continues.

Scientists explain that this rhythm accentuates the inequalities between children. “Some take full advantage of the release of time because the cultural environment around them allows it. Others, in the absence of family supervision, lack a socio-cultural policy accessible to all, suffer from the freed-up time and find it more difficult to to return to school logic when they return to class,” writes François Testu, professor of psychology at the University of Tours.

Faced with these conclusions, the National Academy of Medicine favors a spread of weekly classes over 4.5 days with a daily duration of 4 to 6 hours, depending on age. As understood by the 2013 reform, the afternoon would be devoted to the implementation of extracurricular activities – sports, cultural and artistic.

Wednesday morning or Saturday morning?

If there seems to be a consensus around the 4.5-day week, the question arises as to whether school should be held on Wednesday mornings or Saturday mornings. Some scientists especially point to the negative effect of budget cuts in the middle of the week (Wednesday). However, according to most chronobiologists, it is the two-day break on the weekend that can be most harmful to children.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, children’s memory performance is higher after a 1.5-day weekend than after a two-day weekend. After 2 days, children, especially those with learning difficulties or from the most vulnerable backgrounds, find it difficult to move on. With two days of interruption over the weekend, the student’s desynchronization is indeed greater.

He sleeps and goes to bed two days in a row and “is more out of sync on Monday and Tuesday mornings than in the usual four-and-a-half day week,” says the National Academy of Medicine.

For example, specialists recommend school on Saturday mornings. This is especially beneficial for children who do not have weekend activities. However, in French society we are used to having Saturdays off, which makes reform all the more complicated.

Social and economic considerations

Indeed, while scientists seem to agree on the benefits of the 4.5-day week, social and economic reasons largely explain the return to the 4-day week.

For example, after the 2013 reform, while extracurricular activities are the responsibility of the municipalities, many of them point to their difficulties in financing and organizing them, despite state support. In addition, the criticism also comes from teachers, who see their attendance times and their personal organization greatly upset with the reform.

Result: The National Academy of Medicine regrets that the child is not “at the center of reflection” around the organization of school time. Same story on the part of the ORTEJ, who regrets that the child is “forgotten” in this debate.

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