A report highlighting the benefits and challenges resulting from asymmetric school weeks has been published by Yr Athrofa: Centre for Education (University of Wales Trinity Saint David).

The value of asymmetric school weeks: Lessons learned from schools in Wales builds on the nation’s ambitious education reform agenda, and offers unique reflections on two pioneering approaches to structuring the school week.

Inspired by the establishment of a new national commission to ‘re-imagine schooling’, the report considers the impact of asymmetric arrangements on two schools – Treorchy Comprehensive School, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and Pembroke Dock Community School, in Pembrokeshire – with a view to better understanding the potential challenges and opportunities presented.

Typically involving a combination of longer and shorter days, the asymmetric school week allows schools to break from established timetabling and fundamentally change the way they operate for both staff and pupils.

The paper pays particular attention to the potential impact of asymmetric arrangements on teacher mental health and wellbeing, as well as the conditions conducive to alternative ways of working.

It considers pupil and parent views, as well as those of staff, and draws a series of conclusions based on representation from key members of the school community. It identifies tangible benefits to teacher professional learning, the work-life balance of educators and increased opportunities for social interaction with family and friends.

Study author Gareth Evans, director of the Athrofa’s Centre for Education Policy Review and Analysis (CEPRA), said: “The report is able to offer ‘lessons learned’ from both schools only because of the honesty, integrity and willingness of their school leaders to engage fully in the research process. The support of both Michele Thomas and Rhys Angell Jones is therefore very much appreciated, particularly during what is known to be such a challenging time for educators across Wales and the wider world.

“Broadly speaking, the findings presented in this paper paint a mixed picture with regards to the impact of the asymmetric week, and it is important that any school considering such changes balances carefully the costs and benefits of doing so. The contributions of all those involved in the study serve as a reminder that the asymmetric week will not work for everybody, and what works in one school is not guaranteed to work in another.

“What the asymmetric week offers all schools, however, is an opportunity to reconsider existing and more traditional approaches to structuring education and the benefits of creating additional professional learning opportunities for staff, particularly in the context of the new Curriculum for Wales.”

The report’s findings have a number of implications for schools seeking to adopt an asymmetric week, and a series of high-level recommendations are offered to those exploring asymmetric arrangements.

Professor Mick Waters, an external adviser to the Welsh Government and chair of its expert panel on re-imagining schooling in Wales, said: “If we are going to re-imagine schooling, it is important that we take a disciplined approach.

“Each step in moving forward from a school system that has been in place for so long has to be careful thought through and analysed so that benefits and problems are properly considered. Research such as this is a vital contribution, offering insight into what has been attempted and shedding light on possibility.”

This research paper was part funded by the National Academy for Educational Leadership Wales.

The report can be viewed in full here