Does split-shift learning really help Queensland students? Parents say yes

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

Some Queensland schools continue to trial a ‘split-shift timetable,’ with principles having the option to stagger classroom learning for different year levels. 

Offering different start times and early knockoffs depending on the grade level, this split-shift model promises to give students more freedom with their education and ease the burden on teachers and facilities within smaller schools.

While not a new concept, the growing appeal of this flexible learning schedule has led to many asking why more schools aren’t breaking the 9-3 mould.

A tried and tested model

Since 1997, Mountain Creek State High School has championed its use of the split shift timetable. Located in Queenslands Sunshine Coast, the school promises to give students an ever-evolving contemporary education that carries them through their schooling years and beyond. 

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Here, the school starts their mornings as a ‘senior college’ as senior students (Years 10, 11 and 12) begin classes from 7:30 am–12:55 pm. During this time, students have sole access to school facilities and resources from 7:30 am – 9:30 am every day. 

In the evening, the school transforms into a ‘junior secondary school’ as junior students (Years 7, 8 and 9) attend school from 10:25 am–4:05 pm, in turn giving these students sole access to school resources from 1:30 pm–4:05 pm. 

Moving to the area specifically in pursuit of the split shift timetable, parent Steph Richardson told the Bursar that three years of late starts have been invaluable for her now 14-year-old daughter’s education. 

“With there being approx 2,500 students at MSCHS there is a distinct difference between the early /late classes (which are the limited age groups) and when the entire school is in attendance,” says Richardson.

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“I love the split times – pick up and drop off are both hectic, but manageable. I couldn’t imagine the nightmare of everyone starting at the same time.”

“Next year’s early start will give my daughter a huge advantage in finding part-time work, being available for quite a large span of the afternoon rather than the normal after 3.30 pm session.”

Similarly, parent of three Bec Thatcher also sings the praises of the school’s split shift timetable. Having already watched her kids transition from late and early starts, Thatcher told the Bursar that she loves the current model for many reasons. 

“My junior students enjoy a slower start to their day/adolescent developmentally suited flexibility that facilitates a sleep-in if needed or some early morning study before class,” said Thatcher.

“They can enjoy tutoring in the library before school, art club, meeting up with friends on their way to school, or whatever before-school extra curricula activities they want to work into their lives.”

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“My senior student and his friends all enjoy finishing at 1 pm. It suits study, paid after school work, socialising with friends, sport or whatever.”

“And our pets like it too. People are in and out of the house all day so at most they only usually have about 3.5 hours of lonely time on their own at home.”

The benefits of staggered starts

In a 2021 article published in The Conversation, Professor of Education at CQ University Ken Purnell talks of supervising a doctoral study investigating timetable reform with split shifts in Queensland schools.

Examining existing practices in schools that had various nontraditional school hours, researchers identified several benefits for students, parents, teachers, schools and communities.

For students, there was:

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  • Less overcrowding and congestion with pickup and drop-off near the school
  • More access to staff assistance, school resources and facilities
  • Better access for junior students to resources and facilities that are usually prioritised for senior high school students.
  • Greater opportunity for students to work part-time jobs and access vocational education and training easier.

For parents and the community, benefits include:

  • Increased access to students for appointments, both in and outside of school
  • Reduced need for new buildings and infrastructure
  • Less need for specialist school teaching spaces (which are unused for more than two-thirds of the year).

For staff, the split shifts also created better blocks of teaching time. However, it was noted that it’s important staff are limited to only one morning or afternoon shift on a teaching day in order to avoid longer working hours. 

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that the surveyed schools with staggered classroom hours were “working well to meet local needs.”

With NSW already trialling this split shift timetable in schools across the state, the climbing popularity of this flexible approach to education could spell doom for the current 9-3 classroom model.

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.