We need to talk about the 4 day school week
Life Advice·5 min read·20/01/22

We need to talk about the 4 day school week

The pandemic has demonstrated that the way we work and educate can adapt and evolve to suit modern life far more rapidly than first thought. In a very short period of time, our working culture has been transformed and now the question arises, why should the education sector be left behind?

The concept of a 4 day school week is not a new one. Rural states in the US have implemented the condensed school week for decades in a measure to mitigate budgetary shortfalls and the trend has continued to grow ever since.

The success of the 4 day work week

The benefits of the 4 day work week can no longer be overlooked as trials have seen overwhelming success across the globe. Microsoft Japan exemplifies this success having implemented a 4 day week in August 2019 giving their 2,300 employees 5 consecutive Fridays off. The company found productivity surged by 40%, with staff taking less time off and reporting increased happiness.

Most recently, Bolt has launched a permanent 4 day work week following the success of a 3 month-long pilot in 2021. The results speak for themselves with 94% of employees and 91% of managers wanting the shorter week to become a permanent fixture.

Overall things look positive for the 4 day work week so what does this mean for the education sector? If the purpose of school is to prepare students for adult life, surely they might as well get into the 4 day week routine now?

Advantages of a 4 day school week

Work-life balance

As a result of the pandemic, many of us have begun to question whether we have our work-life balance right or if we’re slowly losing touch with what’s truly important.

The suggested 4 day school week allows for children to spend quality time with family and friends, a vital contributor to their wellbeing. Students could also use this extra time on other important tasks such as exercising, trying new hobbies, CV-building, work experience or even paid work. What’s more, both students and staff on occasion miss days in school due to appointments. A three day weekend allows the scheduling of these appointments outside of school hours, preventing students from falling behind and reducing the likelihood of teacher absences.

Educational

The jury is still out on whether the 4 day school week compromises students academic performance.

More research is definitely called for in the area. Having said this, many of the schools that have adopted the 4 day week, extend the length of the school day so students benefit from longer class periods, permitting more time for less interruption and more hands-on learning. Additionally, there are educational advantages in the sense that teachers have the option to use part of their 3 day weekend for training and professional development.

Financial

The key driver for the change cited by most decision-makers is the financial impact.

Cutting back school services reduces overhead costs mainly in building operations, maintenance, transport and cafeteria expenses as well as allowing savings on labour costs. Although overall savings might at first appear negligible (at an average of between 0.4% and 2.5%) the difference this can make to budgets is tangible. For example, a 2011 report found that a school district in Jacksonville, Floria produced 0.7% savings which translated to a budget reduction of $7 million. The report suggests this $7 million could be used to retain up to 70 teaching positions - no small feat in a time of fixed budgets and rising costs.

Recruitment

Furthermore, proponents of the 4 day school week claim that it helps attract and retain quality teachers. It acts almost as an incentive for educators, subsequently drawing more highly qualified applicants and reducing staff turnover.

Disadvantages of 4 day school week

Educational

There is one significant tradeoff for the benefits listed above.

In the following years after adopting the 4 day schedule, researchers noticed slower rates of student progress than in school districts that retained the 5 day schedule. There are suggestions that this could be a direct result of decreased learning time (58 fewer hours of school time a year) but this is yet to be confirmed by research.

Financial

Critics point out the greatest concern is that lower-income families will be hit the hardest by the suggested condensed school week, raising difficulties around childcare expenses.

The natural counterargument here is that should the 4 day work week roll out on a wider scale then parents could actually be with their children on that extra day however, there will always be exceptions. Services like healthcare and customer-facing roles, for example, will likely be unable to facilitate a 4 day work week for all employees likely leaving some children in daycares on the remaining day off- not exactly the idyllic 3 day weekend envisioned. In addition, low-income students often depend on public schools for half of their meals and placing that cost back onto the family could become quite burdensome if not altogether unfeasible.

Lack of structure and supervision

Policymakers are also urged to consider the unintended consequences before implementing the new schedule more widely.

Understandably, some people raise concerns over what students will do with their newfound freedom with particular worry about potential increases in juvenile crime rates. One study concluded that implementation of the 4 day school week in rural areas led to an increase in certain youth crimes such as theft but is balanced by a more recent study suggesting that children are filing their extra day off with work, errands and chores or family time rather than taking up criminal activity.

Health and wellbeing

It’s also important not to underestimate the impact that longer days might have on children.

The introduction of the 4 day school week means the possible extension of each day by up to an hour and a half. Naturally, the impact of the length of the school day will vary depending on the age of the child but nonetheless, finishing later will mean more tired students and more students working later into the evening, diminishing relaxation time. What’s more, when considering wellbeing it should not be forgotten that for some children, school is the safest environment, offering regular meals, supervised recreation and security. For these students, the 5 day week is best.

On the whole, the topic could benefit from further research. Decisions and changes in the education system are slow to come into action as they affect a large group of stakeholders and require a great deal of planning. Undoubtedly, there are competing interests at hand here and the real question is how should they be weighed? Is the purpose of school solely to improve academic progress or should it foster the growth of ‘well rounded’ children?

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