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Long days make 'ghosts' of children dropped at school gates, Teachers says

Pupils becoming withdrawn and falling asleep frequently as parental commitments reduce time with family ATL survey shows.

Teachers warning, parents who are committed to work are forced to put children as young as four in school for eight hours a day, leaving ghost-like youngsters who are overtired and withdrawn.

According to a survey of 1,300 school staff by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), more than half of teachers and support staff believe children are spending less time with their parents than two years ago.

Mary Bousted, the ATL general secretary, said financial and work pressures were destroying families' work-life balance. "We are the 'poor man of Europe' when it comes to unpaid overtime and more needs to be done to support families and children so that they can spend more time together," she said.

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"It's really important for children to have time to be children, to play with friends and spend time with their families. However, increasing living costs mean that for most families it is now unaffordable for only one parent to work."

The majority of the teachers who concluded that children spent less time with their parents indicts to work commitments as well as the increasing use of technology in the home and more time spent watching television.

Some children were placed in before and after-school care from 8am to 6pm, an early-years teacher from a state school in North Yorkshire said. "These children walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers. Their parents are also 'too busy' to support them in an adequate way at home."

A primary school teacher in Bexley feel sorry for with parents, saying: "I feel that, through no fault of the parents, there is an expectation to work before looking after your own family. Living costs mean it is unaffordable for only one parent to work, and there is less importance attached to bringing up children."

Fifty percent of education staff said five hours a day at primary school was enough, with 28% saying it should be less than five hours, when asked regarding the total of hours a young person should spend on timetabled education.

At secondary level, 38% of education staff said a six-hour day was suitable, while 45% said young people should spend no more than 5.5 hours a day in timetabled education.

Of the teachers who beleieved the timetabled day was too long, some said it caused tiredness among pupils (93%), damaged pupils' ability to concentrate (87%) and caused disruptive behaviour (67%).

Last week action had been taken to allow schools to cater to younger children and to open longer to give families more flexibility, says the education minister Elizabeth Truss

Yet according to the survey, most teachers do not agree with recent government proposals for children to start school at an earlier age. About 70% of school staff said children should start school at five years or older, with only 24% believing the current school-starting age of four is suitable.

A senior teacher at a free school in Leicestershire said Britain needed to look at other European countries and learn from their results. "Children start school at the age of seven and are ready to learn, their fine motor skills have developed and children are mature enough to understand the importance of learning."