Traditionally, prep time is a period of one or two hours at the end of the school day when pupils work silently under supervision. It is a time for doing work set by teachers, but also for reading or studying independently.
When I worked at a boarding school, I supervised prep as part of evening boarding house duty. But it was not what it had been in former days. Pupils worked in their rooms and I patrolled around the boarding house. This of course meant that they were unsupervised most of the time, as there were many rooms to patrol. Many pupils had laptops, which were an enormous source of distraction. So the silent, focused time for work and reading no longer really existed.
Even for the very privileged, the privilege of silence had been removed.
Now more than ever we need to restore periods of silence during the school day. The noise of electronic gadgets has become ever more pervasive, and the affluent and poor alike are constantly assailed by it. Schools have a wonderful opportunity to establish periods of supervised silent working. This can be done within the extended days that many of the new academies and free schools have instituted. It’s not a complicated proposition: all it takes is will and manpower.
If such silent periods are firmly established, we can also help our pupils to develop the good habit of getting on with the work they have been set promptly, not leaving it until late on the night before it is due. And perhaps even more importantly, we can establish the principle of finishing work at work, so that there is time to spend with family in the evening: a healthy work-life balance. Of course we want our pupils to work hard, but work is not the only thing that matters. This is something that is rarely mentioned, but as a father of a young family, I often think of it. Do we really want to build the habit in our young people of working late into the night? Will that make them good husbands or fathers in the future?