What can even the most experienced educator possibly hope to achieve in only six hours when the job also entails spotting potential terrorists, responding to bomb threats, dealing with the increasing (and often irrational) demands of parents, counselling kids about exam anxiety, cyber-bullying, screening addiction, drug use and the dangers of online porn and when overcrowded classrooms with high-needs’ individuals are fast becoming the norm?
When does core learning take place?
Australia’s educational ranking is slipping by international standards, yet schools and the people in them are busier than ever.
It might have served Victorian England to structure school around the hours kids put in on the family farm, but times have changed dramatically.
Our education model has not.
Imagine what could be achieved if the 3pm finish was bumped out to 6pm.
Traditional hours could be better focused on academics, particularly the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and on stretching minds to solve problems and think creatively.
In the additional hours, children could enjoy supervised, age-appropriate activities — sport, drama, yoga, debating, music, nature play, gardening, sleep — instead of the free-for-all that I’ve witnessed in many after-school care situations.
They could do the revision that is essential to consolidating learning in school time (no homework, parents!) and relax with their family in the evening.
Fewer would come home to empty houses or hang out in shopping centres; fewer would bond with X-Boxes.
If school time was better organised around learning and constructive play, kids could become less stressed and more confident.
Parents too could win. Knowing your child is in a safe and stimulating environment would bring peace of mind, and mums and dads who don’t work because of childcare issues could join the workforce.
The money the Government would save in reduced welfare payments and gain in income tax could be invested in raising educational outcomes and rewarding teachers for the valuable work they do.
When a nine-hour day was mooted in Britain in 2014, Paul Kirby, former policy chief to Prime Minister David Cameron, said it would “transform the lives of most households” within two years.
Opponents shrieked about a nanny state victory and parents being let off the hook. Concerns were raised about road congestion with simultaneous school and work finishing times, and what if children were bullied at school and had to endure three more hours of it?
Sam Pidgeon, vice-president of the Queensland Teachers Union, isn’t convinced a 9am-6pm day is the answer.
“Schools are the places we look to now to detect radicalisation; respectful relationships, they’re for schools to do too. I’m concerned the asks will keep coming. Pushing additional work on teachers could extend into the evening and we know they are already overworked, so when is the down time?”
Former Brisbane primary teacher Kathy Margolis, in her impassioned plea on Facebook this month, is right: “Education in Australian schools is in crisis. There is not enough time to consolidate the basics. Teachers have very little professional autonomy anymore.”
Full-time teachers are paid for a 25-hour week, yet more than two-thirds work at least 46 hours, according to the 2015 State of Our Schools report.
Many remain at school, setting lesson plans and marking work, until the cleaners kick them out, or they burn the midnight oil at home after their own kids are tucked up in bed.
They work weekends, helping at fetes, discos and sporting fixtures, and trying to meet the demands of an unwieldy curriculum.
Yes, they get long holidays, but how much more productive and fulfilling would a teacher’s life be if the workload was spread out and justly remunerated?
How many more bright young minds would consider teaching as a first-choice career and not a fall-back?
Ultimately, of course, how might the young people education serves be better off?
A nine-hour school day didn’t fly in the UK and it might not work here, but we need more than dialogue to fix what’s broken.
The system needs an urgent overhaul and the people best positioned to lead this are the educators themselves. Over to you.