Will a four-day school week make teachers’ workload better or worse?


Since the Covid-era, alternative working arrangements have been a hot topic.

For many adults, it’s driven negotiations about just how much they should spend working from their dining table versus their office desk. But for school students – and their families – it’s all about weighing up the potential pros and cons of a proposed four-day school week.

In 2024, Queensland schools will be trialling a four-day working week – allowing schools to determine workloads for staff and students. The move follows the November 2023 release of guidelines from the Queensland Department of Education – outlining how schools could choose to make a switch to a shortened timetable from term one this year, if they wished. Some schools across the state have already embraced the opportunity to change, with Wisdom College – an independent school in Brisbane’s south and home to 450 students from Prep to Year 12 – already implementing a new flexible timetable since term four last year.

But a recent poll run by the Courier Mail newspaper shows the majority of Queensland parents are opposed to the idea of a condensed four-day school week, with almost 90 per cent of the 6800 respondents voting against the proposed change.

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While some are happy to embrace the flexibility a four-day week could offer, critics of the plan say the impact on families may see many parents struggling with the logistical-related worries around how it might work – especially if it could mean young people would be arriving home, unsupervised, to an empty house.

Many educators are also left wondering if it will alleviate or increase workload burdens and, ultimately, teacher burnout.

Will shorter school weeks make teachers’ days longer?

Dr Mihajla Gavin is a senior lecturer of employment relations and human resource management at the University of Technology Sydney she says the topic is not black and white.

“After the Covid pandemic, many employees and organisations are seeking more flexibility in work arrangements, like the model of a four-day work week,” she says.

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“But there are likely to be consequences for teachers, students and parents that come with re-shaping the school day or week. Our research shows that workload and working hours are complex in a profession like teaching, and it is vital that initiatives to reduce teachers’ workload are founded in, and subject to, thorough and ongoing research.”

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

At the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Dr Meghan Stacey is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology of Education and says the four-day working week could actually increase the burden for teachers.

“We need to think carefully here about how time is experienced for teachers,” she says. “Research with colleagues on another project has shown that ‘clock time’ in teaching is not all equal. When you change how working time is shaped and constituted, it can have overflow effects into other parts of the day and week. Ulrich Beck, for instance, writes about the ‘residue’ of ‘heavy hours’ – and it’s possible that a four-day working week could feel quite heavy indeed, even on your extra day off.”

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