SCHOOL break times can be just as important to the quality of pupils’ education as formal lessons, according to experts.

A major report comparing education systems around the world said many countries were now realising longer breaks were a vital part of the school day.

In Scotland, a typical pattern for both primary and secondary schools is a 15 minute break in the morning followed by a lunch break of up to 45 minutes.

However, the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted many countries where longer breaks are the norm.

In Finland - one of the top performing systems in the world - pupils have 15 minute breaks after every 45 minutes of lessons.

Some countries have longer lunch breaks, such as France, where they can last at least 90 minutes in primary schools.

And in Switzerland, schools have two breaks of up to half an hour as well as a long lunch break of up to 90 minutes.

The OECD Education at a Glance 2018 report said: “Research has found spending time outside the classroom during the school day in activities other than instruction can help improve students’ performance.

“In primary education, breaks in instruction allow pupils to play, rest and freely interact with their peers to further develop cognitive, emotional and social skills.

“Research suggests that students may then apply those skills in the classroom, thus improving their learning.”

The report was welcomed by academics, campaigners and teaching unions who believe Scotland should develop more play-based approaches.

Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of the Play Scotland charity, said improving opportunities for play in breaks could be a cost effective “game changer” in the drive to close the attainment gap.

She said: “School break initiatives are amongst the most promising interventions for improving physical activity, academic skills, attitudes, behaviour and social skills.

“Increasing school break times would improve our children’s life chances.”

Dr Julie Harvie, a lecturer in primary education at Glasgow University, also called for longer break times.

She said: “A break is important to let off steam and come back refreshed, but there is also a lot of learning to be done in the social environment of the playground.

“Making primary schools a place where children can play is increasingly important given that children are spending less time playing outside with their friends than in the past.”

Sue Palmer, chair of the Upstart Scotland charity, added: "Finland - a country that understand the biological importance of play

in learning and memory - has 15 minute breaks after every 45 minutes of lessons and it also has a play-based kindergarten stage until children are seven."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, said children’s concentration and general wellbeing were improved by getting outside during busy school days “breathing fresh air and being able to play with and chat to their friends”.

He added: “Equally, teachers need time during breaks to rest their ears, their voices and their brains, which during lessons are in full workout.

“Unfortunately, increased workload means teachers are now working through their breaks and lunchtimes.”