School equation doesn’t add up

Should school hours be changed?


How do parents juggle work and parenting when their kids are in school?

The average school day is about 6.5 hours, whereas most working days last about 8 hours.

There are about 12 weeks of school holidays each year, while most parents only get around four weeks of annual leave. Even if you add each parent’s annual leave entitlements together you still fall about four weeks short of the length of time the kiddies are on break.

As you can see, I’ve been crunching the numbers. I’ve been doing all these sums in my head because my daughter is starting primary school next year.

And I have to say, it just doesn’t add up!

We live in a country where nearly all parents work. For most, it’s not a choice but a necessity given the cost of living has risen to the point where both parents need to work. With housing costing around $500 a week, a weekly grocery bill of $200 plus and sky-high utility bills, dual income families have become the norm.

Gone are the days where one parent went to work and the other stayed at home, readily able to do school drop-offs and pick-ups and be with the kids at home during the school holidays.

These days, many parents are making the twice daily mad-dash between the school gates and the office doors.

In some families, one parent starts work later and does the school drop-off and the other begins their working day later so they can do the morning school run.

I know one parent who picks up their preppie from school and plonks them in front of the TV so they can finish their work day.

Many mums and dads are leaning on relatives to help with the school run and holiday care. Many are relying on before and after school care and vacation care.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Australian kids are falling behind in reading, maths and science.

This begs the question, in the year 2021 are the current school hours in Australia appropriate?

Finally someone is addressing the elephant in the room. The NSW government recently announced it would start trialling staggered start and finish times in primary schools to boost productivity and flexibility for families.

The trials will include a range of measures including earlier starts or later finishes, and extended school hours.

It’s been a while since the issue of the suitability of school hours has been examined.

Notably, in 2003 John Howard said the school day should be extended to 5pm, calling the school day arrangements “old-fashioned and anachronistic“. That was 18 years ago!

In some overseas countries, the school day runs from about 8am-4pm. Schools in the UK and the US, for example, have increased hours, with many focusing on extra-curricular activities such as sport and art.

Teachers and their unions have tended to push against the idea of a similar arrangement in Australia.

They say teachers aren’t a child-minding service, there’s a limit to a child’s concentration and extending school days may cause kids to have more negative feelings towards school.

These are all valid arguments.

I don’t know what the exact answer is but I’m interested to see how the trial in NSW pans out.

What I do know is that we expect parents to parent like they aren’t working, and for parents to work like they aren’t parents.