Shorter days and more self-led study time set to shake-up school system

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Two Victorian Catholic high schools will introduce a more flexible learning schedule in 2024, including self-directed study time for senior students.

Although the planned change to create what is being described as an experimental timetable is designed to help students transition from secondary school to university more easily, the reality is that government schools restricted by long-held departmental policies offer limited potential for significant change.

Geelong’s Sacred Heart College, in regional Victoria, is one of the state’s trailblazers in the flexible learning space.

From next year, both the Catholic campus and its brother school, St Joseph’s, will transform their existing timetables to deliver a more independent and flexible approach for students from year seven.

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Year 10 students at the schools will see more changes, with a greater number of self-led lessons on offer to better prepare them for post-school life.

Depending on the data, the timetabling change could see the schools work towards a model that incorporates one full school day each week worked from home.

Australian school students face long school days

Currently, many Australian public schools have the longest school days of all OECD countries, with the average school day demanding 6.5 hours of students’ attention. In Estonia and Finland, which both outperform Australia’s international PISA ranking, the school days are just five hours long.

Read more: What lessons can Australian educators learn from Finland’s school system?

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Some educators say a break from the traditional 9 a.m.-3.30 p.m. classroom-based model could also free up resources and help deal with the serious teacher shortage across the country, with access to the four-day weeks available in many other sectors since the pandemic offering greater flexibility that could help retain teachers.

Addressing rising public school job vacancies

Professor John Hattie is one of Australia’s leading education academics and believes schools need to offer flexibility for the profession to remain appealing and manage teacher shortages that he says are more about retention than supply.

By giving more teachers access to a four-day working week, including creative timetabling of non-academic subjects, teacher’s aides could also relieve the workload if they were trained to help with marking and other administrative tasks.

Deakin University’s Dr Emma Rowe is a senior education researcher and says the real issue that needed to be addressed in schools is teachers’ working conditions.

“Altering school timetables is a short-term, ‘Band-aid’ solution for a much bigger problem,” she said. “And allowing students their own independent learning opportunities really is a euphemism for not having teacher support.”

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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]