Any working parent with children due to start school next year will already have put their mind to the ongoing dilemma of just how the hell you are going to manage the school day.
It’s like trying to fit together two pieces of a puzzle that just won’t meet. The school hours – a throw back to the late 19th century – run from 9am to around 3pm and your working hours are firmly planted in the 21st century, running no where near 9am to 3pm at all.
Its hard to fathom just how such a system continues.
And yet with a patchwork of after school care (if you can get them in) grandparents, nannies, neighbours and after school activities to fill in the gaps, parents manage. But it makes you wonder why the school world can’t just step into the 21st century.
As a mum of two school aged children I know this dilemma only too well and see it played out every day in our bulging-at-the seams school.
More than 380,000 students aged five to 12 attend taxpayer-subsidised out-of-school-hours care, but the ABS has said there is unmet demand for another 80,000 children. Via IStock.
Parents who can take the after school hours they can get but they face long waiting lists for places, and in many cases only limited days are offered.
They have to fill in the other gaps with whatever they can, some to rely on the help of relatives and employers willing to shift around working hours on certain days, others book their children into expensive before school activities like tennis or chess club just so their kids are doing something while they go to work.
Others just don't even try full time work at all to the detriment of the family budget and their own preference.
Sydney mum Scarlett Patterson is typical of many working parents who finds herself unable to return to work full time due to the hours.
"How can I start a new job when I don't even know where I will leave my children and who picks them up?" she told the ABC earlier this year.
"I'm not going to be able to get another job where I can start at 10:00am and finish at 2:00pm, not anything that can pay my bills."
The waiting list for after-school care at her daughters' school is currently about 18 months.
Some parents simply drop their kids at school early. Via IStock.
Other parents who simply can’t get in to before school care take to dropping their children off early to unsupervised playgrounds just so they can get to work at time.
More than 380,000 students aged five to 12 attend taxpayer-subsidised out-of-school-hours care, but the ABS has said there is unmet demand for another 80,000 children.
But thankfully it is an issue that some schools have taken notice of and a small minority are doing something about offering 12-hour school days for working families.
Perth’s Presbyterian Ladies’ College have said they are considering extending their drop off and pick up times from 7am to 7pm.
Principal Kate Hadwen told News Limited they were trying to assist working mums.
“I fundamentally believe that we’re an organisation eventually supporting women in the workforce, we should be enabling our parents to actually work,” she said.
“I understand as a mum you want to know that when you’re dropping your children off there’s structure there, that you’re not just dropping them off to sit by themselves in a corner and be lonely.”
Perth’s Presbyterian Ladies’ College have said they one of the ones considering extending their drop off and pick up times from 7am to 7pm. Via Facebook.
They wouldn’t be alone in offering the service with schools such as Melbourne’s Templestowe College - a public high school - offering hours between 7.15am and 5.15pm.
Principal Peter Hutton told The Australian last year said working parents and students appreciated that the school had scrapped “old-fashioned hours’’.
Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School in Queensland also offers a “day boarding’’ service for students to stay until 9pm – the girls stay for afternoon tea, study, a shower and dinner before their parents collect them.
And Playford International College in Adelaide stays open from 8am-5pm there students can get free tutoring until 5pm.
“More than 50 per cent of our students come from a one-parent family “ the principal told The Australian “and 20 per cent do not have a mother or father at home so they live with an aunt or friends, or they couch-surf,’’
The flexibility and the longer hours are something parenting expert Maggie Dent agrees with but she tells News Limited she would be concerned if children in kindergarten to Year 2 were left at school until 7pm.
But the fact is parents of younger children have to work too.
Parents need flexibility in working hours as well. Via IStock.
In an interview with The Australian one school principal who did not wish to be identified said that at her school they had students who were only aged five who came to school at 7.30am and stayed until 6pm. "That's an extraordinarily long day for a five-year-old” the principal said.
She said the students at that age found it hard to cope saying that they ended up “absolutely exhausted."
"It has the potential of really affecting the rest of their schooling if they don't have a positive start."
Post continues after video.
But what is the alternative?
In my local school area hundreds of students already attend care from 7.30 till 6pm right from the very start of their schooling. What these parents - and the ones who can't get in to out of school care - need is not shaming or guilt, but support.
They need schools to embrace longer hours, they need employers to offer greater flexibility and they need more funding for high quality out of school care that caters to students of all ages.
Bravo to PLC Perth. Lets hope more public schools can follow suit.
What other countries do:
*In the UK the school day that was 9 - 3 is soon to change after the budget last year provided funding for a quarter of all secondary schools to add an extra hour to the day to assist working parents.
*In China, the school day runs from 7.30am until 5pm.
*In France the school day now runs from 8.30 to 4.30. It has recently changed to five days a week, they used to take Wednesdays off. ( the French also work a 25 hour week so its easier to pick kids up).
*In Finland school performance runs from 8am until noon. Working parents are entitled to work shorter hours from the end of the parental leave period until the end of the child’s second year of school. Many children head to after school sport afternoons. Parents pay for after-school activities and clubs on a sliding scale, depending upon income.
*In the US elementary schools run from 8.30 to 3.30 while high schools run from 7.30 – 2pm.
*In Japan school runs from 8:45 am to 3:15 pm, but most children attend after-school clubs, and many also go to juku (cram school) in the evening.
*In Korea the school day runs from 8am till 4pm then students go to night classes from 6pm until 9pm.