12 Jun 2014

Review questions school opening hours

10:29 am on 12 June 2014

A government taskforce has considered whether the rules that set the length of the school day and the timing of school holidays are too restrictive.

The Taskforce on Regulations Affecting School Performance was charged with alerting the Government to rules that hamstring schools.

It is not yet known what the taskforce has recommended, but documents show its members think the current rules on school opening hours might impede their flexibility.

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Principals spoken to by Radio New Zealand say they would like more control over the timing of the school day, and of holidays.

They say they would like to consider longer school days, starting the school year in March rather than February, and a shorter summer break with longer breaks at other times.

The principal of Hillcrest Normal School, Irene Cooper, was a member of a government working party that reviewed school hours in 1999, giving schools more choice about when to start and finish their year.

She said communities' needs are so different, it is nearly impossible to come up with blanket rules.

"People who worked in the ski areas wanted different timings for the holidays, orchard workers wanted different timings again for their holidays.

"A lot of those things were to do with children's labour if you like being required on home farms or industries that were family businesses."

Ms Cooper said schools are wrestling with pretty much the same issues as 15 years ago, but she was not sure she would want to change a lot at her school.

The principal of Wakefield School near Nelson, Peter Verstappen, said schools are trying to adopt 21st-century learning practices, and opening hours should be part of that.

"I would like to consider lengthening the school day, or having school running over a number of sessions. I would like to consider the options of greater flexibility around designated holiday times so that for some children it may be suitable for them to come in and have some instruction in school during holiday time."

Education Minister Hekia Parata is considering its report.