It is an uncomfortable fact that education policy, including trialling new school hours, competes with every other state government priority. It is often shared that ‘consultation does not mean agreement', however any change to school times must be the result of school and community agreement. There are several economic, industrial, and social factors that should be considered before trailing new school hours in NSW in Term 3.
Since the NSW Premier announced that NSW schools will have the opportunity to trial new school times, they have introduced the Women's Economic Opportunity Review Panel and suggested extensions to the Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) as factors that will support flexible school hours.
The Women's Economic Opportunity Review Panel is to focus on 'supporting women to enter, re-enter and stay in the workforce as well as opportunities to improve access and affordability of early childhood education' (NSW Treasury, 2022). Schools and families have adapted to flexible modes of learning during the pandemic, however this adversely affected women's workforce participation (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021b).
Increases in productivity are linked to flexible work schedules. This is evident in reduced commute time and cost, reduction in childcare costs and a greater ability for families to attend cultural and social events. Changing school hours will support flexible employment arrangements.
A 2021 Griffith University study "More than 'just convenient care': what research tells us about equitable access to outside school care" examined before and after (BASC) childcare services. The growth in NSW OSHC services reflects national and international models of service. Increasing demand for OHSC services is linked to increased workforce participation of women.
School systems already operate with flexible school hours that support sporting and cultural activities. Schools support the assessment of beginning students with changed school times. Regional and rural schools frame learning to suit local conditions and access to transport. School systems offer different levels and models of school student transport schemes, that increase the cost of education that government is responsible for.
Bus services are often shared between schools resulting in staggered school times. Metropolitan transport options support increased, flexible schools’ hours. Changing school hours has long been cited as a factor that will reduce this cost to state coffers.
Student engagement, access to high quality instruction and a broad curriculum are important factors that should be considered when trailing new school times. Access to transport and high-speed internet have proven to be effective to support student learning and achievement.
In large schools, staggered grade and class times allow for reduced class sizes and targeted instruction and support of student wellbeing. Numerous international schools have identified that adolescents benefit from later starts to the school day. Middle and Senior school models successfully apply changed school times.
Systematic industrial agreements are also important factors when trialling new school hours. Successful consultation with key stakeholders; school leaders and teachers will be balanced with modifications to agreed working conditions.
Regardless of changed local school times, system mandated compliance measures, supervision and school administration will need to change work practices.
Economic factors will drive any local change to school times. A casual observation suggests that political factors such as teacher shortages, salary disputes and budget priorities have already been considered as part of trialling new school hours in NSW.
There are many different views to the topic of changing school times. An optimist would see a trial of new school times as an opportunity to take the lessons from the pandemic and online learning, and apply these to current practises to create education systems that are dynamic and responsive to community expectations. A pragmatist would argue that a trial of new school times will meet community needs for change that support flexible work and employment and, will be implemented after school and community consultation and agreement. On the other hand, a realist could argue that the educational and social infrastructure to facilitate a change in school times is limited, at best. Ensuring the entire school system is involved and collaborative within decision making is vital to reach an agreement and positive change for all.