'Break', with its connotations of the end of something, a space between before the next event begins or of cutting short casts the favourite part of most kids' school day in a negative light. 

Perhaps if it was renamed a 'Recuperation pause'', a 'Recreational Intermission' or even the 'Social Breather', these valuable moments would have more protection from voracious school timetablers intent on maximising every minute of the school day. 

Last week research was published in England which reported that break time during the day for older students had been reduced by over an hour during the school week in the last two decades. Meanwhile, primary school children have lost their afternoon play time that was standard up until the 1990s. 

Lunch times have also taken a hit, with one in four English secondary schools only allowing their pupils 35 minutes to either join the lunch time queue in the canteen or rush out of the school buildings to find somewhere in the community to buy something to eat.

Even pupils who have a packed lunch will be restricted by time limitations as to where they can meet up with friends to eat.

Although no figures have been correlated for Australian schools, it can be assumed that they run along similar lines to England; both countries school days last on average six and a half hours with comparable start and finish times.

Many schools in Scotland are also stealing back time by stealth from the pupils with a warning bell system before each new section of learning commences.

This first bell is only supposed to alert pupils to be ready to go to class, but many now just respond to it as a regular bell. These encroachments in children’s time are in despite of Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states ‘Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure’.

Unfortunately this ‘right’ does not state when or for how long this ‘rest and leisure’ should happen.

It seems that schools have responded to external pressures to improve the quality of the product on offer by cramming more education into the working day, and the something which has to give is the pupils’ opportunities to relax and socialise, deemed trivial in comparison with the business of learning.

Yet recent research in the USA into recess time challenges this notion that break time isn’t important. A policy statement by the American Academy of Paediatrics states that children with regular recesses behave better, are physically healthier and are stronger in social and emotional development.

Speaking on KQED’s Forum program, Daniel Levitin, author and professor of psychology, behavioural neuroscience and music at McGill University noted that "resting the mind is extremely important for productivity and the ability to focus. People who take regular breaks, and naps even, end up being more productive and more creative in their work." 

Dr Debbie Rhea, a kineologist from the Texas Christian University, has worked with an elementary school in Fort Worth which has tripled the length of break times, giving the children four 15-minute break periods each day.

Teachers have reported dramatic changes within their charges, with pupils showing greater focus in class and are less likely to tell on each other.

Rhea was inspired to research recess time after visiting Finland, the country most often cited for its innovative educational practices.

Since the 1960s, fifth grade pupils experience 15 minute break times per 45 minutes of education in the Scandinavian country.

In the primary schools of many East Asian countries, pupils too experience regular rest periods;10-minutes after 40 minutes of lessons
Ironically, many of the current issues which have an impact on the lives of children in the west could be addressed by extending rather than curtailing break time.

For primary-aged children, play time was traditionally when they burn off pent up energy by running around and playing games. Losing that second period of 15 minutes in the afternoon can't have helped the steady rise in obesity figures.

As fewer and fewer tend to meet up with friends after school, break time takes on greater importance for children to simply communicate face-to-face, without parental or electronic intervention, improving their social skills as they do so.

For secondary-age pupils, perhaps the most important aspect of recess is that it allows them to have time to de-stress from the pressure of deadlines in the race towards exam season.

Reducing break time creates the sense that the day has to be rushed through with relaxation considered to be less important than work. Sadly, it also prepares children for an adult life of eating lunch as they work and being persuaded to have their breaks cut short by bosses.

Reiterating the value of break times - by stopping their gradual slide towards oblivion in schools - could have a knock on effect in the workplace too.