Could a four-day school week become the new normal?

Queensland has introduced flexible study options for all public primary and secondary schools to begin in 2024.

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Queensland has introduced flexible study options for all public primary and secondary schools to begin in 2024.

The shake-up was circulated to the state’s principals on Monday 6 November and includes options to enable students to spend one day a week studying at home or to compress school hours over fewer school days. Several schools are already proposing shorter school weeks to their communities of staff and families.

The blueprint would see schools allowed to shorten their school week or change class times to suit either teacher availability or the well-being of both students and staff.

Individual student access to transport options, or other family issues, are sure to play a part in the successful management of the move. To make student safety paramount, school principals must ensure students who attend school outside traditional school hours are supervised. The policy otherwise takes effect for any schools electing to change start or finish times by more than 30 minutes. New rules will apply to the entire student body or specific cohorts of each school’s student population.

Consultation is key to rolling out changes

Already, teachers at one inner-Brisbane state school support scrapping the five-day week to become one of a growing number of Queensland school exploring alternative hours.

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While the state’s Education Minister Grace Grace was adamant the move did not mean there was a “green light” for all state schools to introduce a four-day week, consultation with teachers at the Queensland Academies Creative Industries (QACI) saw 69 per cent voting in favour of a change, with 54 per cent supporting a four-day week.

The second-most popular option was two half-day models, which attracted 26 per cent support from teachers.

QACI principal Mick Leigh said the school would decide whether the four-week trial goes ahead or not after polling students and parents.

Queensland schools have history of supporting alternative school hours

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Mark Breckenridge confirmed principals had recently received the blueprint and there had been “no concerns raised … at this point”.

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Mr Breckenridge was consulted for feedback on the draft policy by the Queensland Department of Education and says student safety and supervision was a key factor in the new procedure.

But he is quick to point out that changing hours is not a new thing within the Queensland public school sector.

“It’s an evolution, not a revolution,” he says.

While he says he does not have exact numbers, he told EducationDaily he believes there are already “several dozen” Queensland schools operating with non-traditional school hours. This includes some larger schools managing student cohorts on split-shifts to ensure equitable access to school resources. Others, he says, elect to offer some students Wednesdays off to explore external study or tertiary pathways.

With safety at its heart, student supervision is a critical component

“There will be different arrangements for students in junior secondary who are aged 12 and 13, as opposed to students in years 11 and 12,” he says. “I think you will find that schools will be providing more than just supervision for junior secondary students; it would be alternative learning that those teachers would be engaged in delivering. But that is a different conversation to senior secondary students who are already quite independent and doing additional study options through TAFE or university, or they have a part-time job.”

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Mr Breckenridge says he envisages “greater flexibility in schooling” in the future.

“We don’t need to adhere to the old model of 25 kids sitting in a classroom in front of a teacher,” he says.

COVID lockdowns changed education

The lessons in flexibility were honed through COVID. Mr Breckenridge says those lessons opened doors to fresh ways of thinking about how education can be delivered effectively – and he believes there are potential benefits for both educators and students.

“Schools considering this will learn from this,” he says of the shorter school week trial. “It’s step by step – consultation, then trial for a minimum of a term, or more likely a semester or even a year. Even if they do put it in place permanently, schools will have a requirement to review it every two years.”

Flexible hours provide multiple benefits

Professor Beryl Exley is in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University and agrees that innovations on the traditional nine-to-three schooling hours have been around for some time – “especially in secondary schools where students might be taking flexi-courses, TAFE or school-based apprenticeships”.

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“What’s new is the proposal for these innovations to become more commonplace and to expand to primary schools,” she told EducationDaily.

But the benefits, she believes, will be positive.

“There’s a lot of energy and cost being expended on travel for relatively short days at school. In terms of the stamina required for a longer school day, secondary school students are better placed to manage this, and could also benefit from the day at home one day per week for focused uninterrupted study time. It’s not uncommon for secondary students to spend an hour-plus each way each day in transit. At the moment, that’s 10 hours plus per week just getting to and from school.”

Benefits for teachers

Saving time can also support educators, she says.
“The teaching workforce has a lot of parents with young children, who would benefit from a restructured working week whereby the parent works longer shifts across fewer days. For families with children in long day care, this would have a positive ripple effect on the existing childcare shortage and on family finances. Importantly, an extra day each week for teacher-parents and young children to be together might encourage teacher-parents to stay in the teaching profession, thereby going some way towards addressing the critical teacher shortage. “
A four-day schooling week provides potential for children to be engaged in other areas of interest, such as a weekly one-day arts or sports intensive. Professor Exley says she’s “excited about the prospect of young children being freed from assessment heavy activities in school and immersed in activities that genuinely interest them” but says her feelings are balanced by concerns the arrangements may not suit everyone.

Ensuring equitable access is important

“So that all children benefit from such an arrangement, the bigger question is really about access of opportunity for children from low-income contexts where parents need to work.”
To manage it sustainably, Professor Exley is adamant “it can’t be a one-size-fits-all model” but says the potential is interesting.

“We’re already in an era of change in terms of educational delivery. Parents and children are welcoming the opportunity to learn the Australian Curriculum by doing schooling differently. Home-based distance education isn’t just for isolated families. It’s for families seeking flexible options in terms of time and place, or for those seeking a specialist focus such as religion, project-based learning or learning through another language,” she told EducationDaily.

After genuine and widespread consultation to document the feedback, Professor Exley believes choice is key to a successful roll-out.
“Parents need to have choices so they can select the model that best works for them and their children,” she says. “The early childhood education and care sector already offers choice through short-day, long-day, school term, non-school term, centre-based and family day care offerings. It’s about finding the sweet spot for sustainable offerings that provide maximum choice for the greatest number of stakeholders. “

The new policy applies if:

  • Current school hours are altered by more than 30 minutes – the day is to commence before 8.30am or after 9.30am, or finish before 2.00pm or after 3.30pm
  • The number of school days per week/fortnight are changed – for example switching to a four-day teaching week

Reasons for changing school hours could include:

  • Availability of resources and facilities – for example specialist staff, science laboratories, library, playground/ovals
  • School community need
  • Student and staff well-being and engagement

Changes may be applied to:

  • All students
  • Students in specific year levels
  • Students in certain subject areas or undertaking certain programs
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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]