20 July 2023

POLL: Should the school day be made longer to help working parents?

| Oliver Jacques
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Alan Le Brocque in his garden

Retired principal Alan La Brocque says extending school hours could worsen the teacher shortage. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Should the school day be extended to 5 pm or 6 pm to make life easier for working parents?

The NSW Department of Education has just completed a year-long pilot of extended hours in 14 schools across the state, including Hanwood Public in Griffith. The trial, which began in term three in 2022, saw students stay at school past the usual finish time of 3:30 pm on certain days to do activities such as cooking, coding, music, martial arts, soccer and storytelling.

“The reality is that the traditional school day, like the nine to five workday, is a 20th-century concept which may not be the best model for 21st-century families, schools and the community,” former education minister Sarah Mitchell said when announcing the program.

The Productivity Commission has also canvassed the idea of “extending the school day to broaden the range of subjects and activities students could explore” in a 2023 Report on improving school and workplace productivity.

NSW Liberal MP Jordan Lane used stronger language in June 2023, claiming standard NSW school hours were “sexist”.

“It is a relic of a sexist, bygone era, when society assumed women stayed at home and were responsible for the school pick-up,” he said in his maiden speech to NSW Parliament. “I am calling on this parliament to increase the duration of the school day to be more accommodating of modern employment. Local schools should become hubs for after-school activity, where the Government guarantees that a child can remain on school campuses until 6 pm. It affords parents flexibility, while at the same time making school a place for extracurricular excellence.”

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Not surprisingly, proposals to lengthen school hours have not received support among Riverina education professionals who spoke to Region. Alan Le Brocque, a retired principal who had a distinguished 41-year career in the Riverina Catholic school system, believes it would worsen the current teacher shortage.

“The current teachers would need to work longer, but we already have a problem with staffing schools,” he said. “It’s easy for people outside the system to make a recommendation, but I see this exacerbating the problems.

“It’s unclear how this dream would become a reality. Are they going to provide child minding facilities at the school to do after school programs? And who would be responsible for that?”

Protesting teachers

Teachers have already been protesting staff shortages and some say extending the school day would make things worse. Photo: Chris Roe.

Melina Ragusa, a Griffith-based NSW Teachers Federation representative, expressed similar views.

“It would be simply impossible for a teacher to teach for that period of time [to 6 pm],” she said. “Employers should think of more flexible ways of employing parents. Simply adding to the teacher’s day is actually old thinking and imagine 6 pm traffic. Parents will get home at 8 pm. It is no solution to the problem.”

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Region asked the NSW Department of Education what the key findings of the pilot were and whether it had any future plans to extend hours. It did not answer these questions directly, but provided the following statement.

“The school hours pilot finished at the end of term two and an evaluation is now under way.

“We are working with schools to ensure they can continue to support our students and families for the remainder of 2023.”

What’s your view on extending the school day? Answer our poll:

Should the school day be extended to 5 pm to make life easier for working parents?

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