Should school hours be changed to 9am to 5pm?

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 Photo: Getty Images

Working 9 to 5 – is that how you'd like to see your child's school days operate?

That's the recommendation from a new US report that has analysed school hours and the disparity between school and parents' working hours.

It's a problem, the report states, that costs the US economy $55 billion in lost productivity every year. That staggering figure covers the parents who are taking time off to pick up kids from school and taking extra leave to cover school holiday care.

School hours, as they currently stand, also make it hard for parents (and, traditionally, mums) to work full-time.

All of that is certainly true in Australia as well. Working parents find the juggle between working and organising pick-ups, after-school care and holiday care exhausting – and sometimes downright impossible. And that's before we even get started on school-hour commitments such as parent-teacher interviews.

The difference in hours is certainly a frustration for many parents, so should we follow suit here in Australia, and make our kids go to school more?

Education expert and former school principal Adam Voigt from Real Schools says we should be careful about whose example we choose to look up to.

"We'd be wise not to blindly follow the US, because their ability to remain internationally competitive is sliding faster than we are – and we're sliding too [in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings]," he says.

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Instead, Voigt suggests we look at what the top ranking countries (like Canada, Finland and Norway) are doing.

"What they're actually doing is reducing school hours and having kids start school later. By doing that, they're saying that education is more important than the inconvenience of drop-off and pick-up times."

As a parent, I can't imagine the exhaustion my children would be experiencing from doing longer days at school, and Voigt says many teachers feel the same way.

"Any teacher will tell you that whether you're teaching Preps or Year 11 kids, the hardest time to teach them is late in the afternoon," he explains.

"That's where behavioural issues come in, it's where the kids aren't getting along well, it's when all that destructive stuff happens.

"To make that period a bigger percentage of the time kids are at school is likely to cause more problems than it's worth."

Any changes to how the education system and organisational norms fit together may need to analysed on a priority scale.

"We need to look at where education sits in our priorities," says Voigt. "Most parents will say education sits very highly in their priorities, which means we should be doing things that help to make education a priority."\

"That means making childcare affordable, investing in after-school activities for kids to get involved in, and adjusting workplaces so there are flexible opportunities to be able to work and manage families."

There is certainly room for improvement in the education system, but Voigt believes the 9-5 route isn't the solution: "Increasing school hours is a shortcut that's going to cost us in the long run."

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