A four-day school week: Could it work?

A four-day school week: Could it work?

While the idea of a four-day school week has been hailed by some for its potential to improve student and teacher wellbeing and reduce operational costs, also raises critical questions about its impact on educational outcomes and family dynamics.

As Australian schools grapple with the balance between traditional methods and progressive ideas, the four-day week stands as a pivotal topic in the ongoing debate on optimising the nation’s education system as we head into a future that demands greater flexibility and more open minds.

In November 2023, Queensland’s Education Department provided its schools with guidelines to change class hours from Term 1, 2024, giving them the option of implementing flexible school timetables to suit their own contexts.

While a spokesperson for the Department pointed out that the new policy “does not give schools a green light to implement a four-day week”, the new changes have nonetheless sparked debate over the potential merits, and likelihood, of such a change to school timetables.

Mark Breckenridge, president of the Queensland Secondary Principals Association, said it is likely that more schools will consider innovative practices that include flexible approaches to the delivery of teaching and learning post-Covid.

“At the forefront of any decision on introducing flexible hours will be two central tenets: will this provide greater opportunities and improve outcomes for students?” Breckenridge told The Educator.

Lisa Coles, executive principal of Arethusa College said the Queensland Government’s decision to trial flexible study options such as four-day weeks and shorter days in state primary and secondary schools is “a welcome step towards a more agile and responsive education system”.

“Young people have been telling the collective us – schools, teachers, governments and parents – through their falling attendance rates and declining educational outcomes, that our legacy model of education needs to change,” Coles told The Educator.

However, others like Dr Mihajla Gavin, a senior lecturer in employment relations and human resource management at the University of Technology Sydney, say there are likely to be consequences for teachers, students and parents that come with reshaping the school day or week.

"Our research shows that workload and working hours is complex in a profession like teaching, and it is vital that initiatives to reduce teachers’ workload are founded in, and subject to, thorough and ongoing research.”

Dr Meghan Stacey, a Senior Lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, has been researching the fields of the Sociology of Education and Education Policy with a particular interest in teachers' work.

She points out that more consideration needs to be given to how time is experienced for teachers, saying research with colleagues on another project has shown that ‘clock time’ in teaching is not all equal.

“When you change how working time is shaped and constituted, it can have overflow effects into other parts of the day and week,” Dr Stacey told MCERA.

“Ulrich Beck, for instance, writes about the ‘residue’ of ‘heavy hours’ – and it’s possible that a four day working week could feel quite heavy indeed, even on your extra day off.”