Video report by ITV Wales' Mike Griffiths
The Welsh Government has announced that longer school days will be trialled to help schools and students affected by the Covid-19 pandemic to recover.
Primary and secondary schools taking part will be given up to £2 million to pay for an extra five hours of learning time for pupils a week.
The trial will take place over 10 weeks, starting in the spring term, and provide children additional sessions in art, music, sport and core academic subjects.
It will be focused on supporting disadvantaged pupils and schools particularly affected during the pandemic and headteachers will decide on how and what is delivered in each school during the trial period.
Education Minister Jeremy Miles said the move was about “reducing educational inequalities and improving learner and staff wellbeing”.
He said: “We know that supporting learners to benefit from an extended range of activities, including arts and sports as well as social activities and academic programmes, can be good for attainment, wellbeing and wider relationships.
“We are funding trial schools so that they can provide exciting activities around the school day, which can develop personal skills and resilience which will also impact on academic attainment. We will be working closely with schools and local authorities to evaluate the impact on learners and on staff.”
The minister also confirmed that over the coming months, discussions will take place with young people and their families, education staff, and businesses to seek their views on potentially reforming school term dates.
“Reforming the school year could help to narrow the disruption caused by the long summer holiday on learners, narrow educational inequalities and to support learner and staff wellbeing,” he added.
Rhian Milton is the 'Head of School' at Cadoxton Primary School in Barry. She says she's "really excited" to take part in the trial and about the idea of longer school days.
She said: "As a school, we've done a lot of thinking about what it would look like to change the rhythm of a school day for our children and really getting it right for our children, our staff and families.
"It's about equity of opportunity in terms of the experiences we can offer for our children. It's a chance to trial something a bit different, to think about wellbeing and to think about the needs of our children.
"So extending the school day has to look different. It has to really think about enriching the curriculum and making sure that we think about our learners and put them at the centre."
Fourteen schools in total from areas such as Blaenau Gwent, Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Neath Port Talbot and Cardiff are taking part.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) said there was evidence more time in school can boost attainment but only if implemented well.
Luke Sibieta, from the EPI, said: “Establishing a trial in Wales to see how extended school hours could work in practice is the right approach. It will allow us to learn about the merits of different approaches led by schools, the resources required and any barriers to good implementation.
“If successful, there could be significant benefits, including helping disadvantaged pupils to catch up on their educational progress and providing more time for the arts and sports.”
But NAHT Wales raised concerns over the timing of the plans given the pressure already on schools and said trade unions had not been consulted.
Laura Doel, director of NAHT, said: “Now is not the time for piloting pet projects when schools are at breaking point and we urge the Government to put any further reform plans and pilots on hold.”