The school holiday conundrum

13 December 2017
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

There’s always debate and discussion about more testing in schools, changes to the curriculum or improvements to the HSC. However, attention is rarely given to changing the structures of schooling. I’m referring to the length of school days, terms and even holiday periods. Schools in Finland for instance have one of the shortest school years of all the OECD countries and yet their results on international tests are impressive.

In our school system, learning is delivered during set hours in a set number of weeks across the year. When I was at school, my mother stayed at home, something that was common in those days. Yet we know that more and more parents are having to work and this places additional pressures on balancing the demands of work and family especially during school holidays.

This is a challenge that working parents around the world face. In countries like France where the majority of mothers are working, primary schools run holiday camps that are relatively cheap. Here parents have the option of putting primary aged children into vacation care, which is not only expensive and in high demand but offers limited choice in terms of activities. For older children who are too young to be left alone at home, there are sporting, drama and coding camps. Again, these aren’t cheap and parents may need to pick children up early, and this is not always feasible. Often, supervision of children is left to grandparents, friends and other supportive family members.

We live in a changing world and schools have to adapt also to meet those changes. What if schools facilities were available for use by students (and other members of the community for that matter) all year round, giving them the opportunities to engage in fun and deeper learning experiences? I am not for a moment suggesting teachers work 52 weeks a year but in the same way that the facilities of a library, a club or a university can be used outside of their normal function, so too can the resources of schools be put to wider use. It is just a matter of us being prepared to think differently. Schools have some great facilities and resources – why should they stay locked up for three months of every year?

Schools are important assets in our local communities. We need to start thinking more laterally about how we can best utilise these assets to support our communities, particularly working parents. This would likely involve creating new partnerships with other community organisations, businesses or learning institutions. If this also means providing new learning experiences for our young people, then that sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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