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12.11.15

Is a Four Day Working Week the Answer for Teachers and Students?

The four-day working week is not a new concept, even for schools. In the mid-1930s South Dakota trialled a state wide experiment. This sort of trial has been replicated across the USA in the following 80 or so years and even as recently as 2008 in Utah. However, as in the 30s, the 2008 experiment did not last and the five-day working week was reinstated.
The concept is actually quite a simple one. If you can work a bit extra from Monday to Thursday, you can make up the time to account for Friday. There are two separate but interlinking causes at play here: money and performance. Supporters claim that by axing non-teaching costs (transportation, contract pay, administration, etc) for 20% of the time, you may be able to make some serious savings. Also, longer school days – meaning longer periods – gives pupils more continuous time in lessons.
The states that have tried the four-day week also said the approach had a massive positive effect on recruitment and retention, with teacher jobs being filled at a record rate. This was true even though teachers still had to work on Fridays. In this system, Fridays are allocated as CPD or PPA days; that is to say time where teachers can do all the things they need to do that aren’t actually teaching. This, in turn, allowed teachers, on Monday through Thursday, to concentrate almost solely on classroom teaching.
It is easy to see the benefits. Especially in the teaching environment we have now, where teachers are expected to submit mountains of paperwork, there is a shortage of teachers, and austerity is prevalent in all of public life.
So why didn’t it last?
The four-day working week, like many ideological miracle solutions, works far better in theory than in practice.
It turns out, when in place, that the system does not cut costs as much as people hoped.
The school building has to stay open on Fridays so all the utilities need to stay on. Furthermore, teachers’ salaries actually account for a huge chunk of a school budget. One-off expenses like school trips, equipment and resources, and administration costs all still need to be paid. Reports claim that the shift only saved 0.4 to 2.5% of the budget.
Giving children longer lessons also sounds good in practice, yet when the average attention span for children is said to equal their age, are longer lessons more effective? Though data is limited, there was no evidence of significant improvement in any subject. In fact, teachers often found that they would cover around the same amount of material in a slightly longer lesson – proving Parkinson’s Law true once again. The end result of this was teachers trying to squeeze five days’ worth of teaching in four and then having the frustration of being at school on the Friday with no students to teach.
What was apparently simply not considered, too, was the effect of giving children three days off out of every seven. Several companies reported a rise in productivity after switching to a four-day week, as they could use Friday as a research or wind-down day. They could then feel ready to come back to work by Monday, minus the morning blues.
Children though don’t need three days to wind-down and reset for another week. In fact, what was observed during the trial was that children failed to fill their extra day with anything meaningful or productive – some even showed up to school on Friday having had nothing else to do!
The four-day week is not a bad idea; actually for some industries and sectors it is a great idea. However for schools, the negatives seem to outweigh the benefits.