Principals voice 'serious concerns' about school hours overhaul

Principals voice

Last week, the NSW Education Department announced it would explore how changing or extending the hours of a school day can provide them the flexibility to better suit students and families.

Initiatives that will be examined or trialled include earlier starts or later finishes to the school day, extending school operating hours to run before and after school activities such as study or breakfast clubs, and split shift school days.

 NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the traditional school day, like the 9 to 5 workday, is “a 20th century concept which may not always be relevant for schools in the 21st century”.

“This project is an opportunity to identify measures which improve the educational outcomes for students and remove pressure from parents and carers by being flexible with school hours, and then see how they might be scaled to similar schools,” Minister Mitchell told The Educator.

NSW Secondary Principals Council president, Craig Petersen, said the plan came as a surprise to the Council as it was not consulted in relation to the plan.

"We have serious concerns around the practicalities of implementing alternate school day structures at a system level," Petersen told The Educator.

Petersen said any changes to the school day should be developed by schools in close consultation with their local communities and should always be based on what is educationally best for children.

"Schools are not child-minding services, nor should the education of our children be driven by the Government’s need to relieve traffic congestion," he said.

"Ironically, whilst schools are already able to make alternate arrangements to the school day, a number of principals that either already have, or were seeking to adopt, alternative structures have been frustrated by lack of support".

Petersen said a "consistent, well-informed approach which considers the advice of the profession" would be a step forward.

'Contextual factors must be factored in'

Responding to the government's plan to overhaul school hours, NSW Primary Principals Association president, Robyn Evans, said primary school start and finish times already differ across the state, with many communities relying on bus services for their communities.

“Some schools have responded to community needs and have worked outside the 'regular' school hours. Many parents rely on out of school hours services allowing them to work,” Evans told The Educator.

“There is a chain reaction for services schools provide including extra curricula activities”.

Evans said that for every parent wishing the school to vary hours, there will be others who wish it to remain the same.

“There are many factors for principals, their staff and their communities to consider. Contextual considerations must be factored in. Student learning is the priority here”.