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John MacDonald: Would later starts get more kids turning up at school?

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Apr 2024, 12:41PM
(Photo / Getty)
(Photo / Getty)

John MacDonald: Would later starts get more kids turning up at school?

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Apr 2024, 12:41PM

Instead of banging-on about things like fining parents who don’t send their kids to school, the Government should be finding out what’s already working to sort out school truancy. 

They won’t do that, though, because some of the things I’ve been reading about would go down like a cup of the proverbial with voters. And you’ve got to keep the voters sweet, don’t you? 

The one truancy initiative that’s really caught my eye is something that’s been done in the UK, that has actually reduced truancy levels by about a third in some places. 

And it’s a little bit like what happened here after the Canterbury earthquakes when some schools in the central city and eastern parts of town were so munted they couldn’t keep operating and had to share sites and facilities with other schools. 

I remember our local high school sharing with another school. Which meant that some of these kids didn’t have to turn up to school until around lunchtime. 

And, believe it or not, it’s this kind of start time that some schools in the UK are crediting for reducing truancy levels. 

One school doesn’t start classes until 11:30. And they say that, not only do they have more kids turning up (we’re talking teenagers here, by the way), but the kids are actually more involved and engaged because they’ve had a decent amount of sleep. 

With school not starting until 11:30, they can have a lie-in, do things at their pace and then head off to school. 

We seem to be all about allowing adults to fit work around how they operate best these days, don’t we? So why not school kids as well? 

I don’t think you could have parents of primary and intermediate kids heading off to work and leaving the young kids at home on their own to get themselves to school. 

But I reckon this could be a game-changer for reducing truancy rates at high schools. 

But do you think politicians would go with it? I don’t think they would because I reckon most people —as in voters— would go nuts if we told teenagers they could do things in their own time, and they didn’t have to get to school until lunchtime. 

Which is why I think that, if politicians are really serious about getting more kids in school, learning, and being prepared for a productive adult life, then they have to be prepared to go with ideas that might go against the grain a bit. Especially if they’ve got more chance of fixing the problem than what’s currently on the table. 

I like the idea of school boards having to make truancy and attendance rates front and centre in their thinking and planning. That’s one of the things the Government’s talking about. But school boards are oldies like me too. When I say “oldie”, I mean anyone over the age of about 20. 

Because I was talking yesterday to someone who has been out of school for two years and they were saying to me that they can’t believe how out of touch they feel with school life after just two years - and how anyone older than them, must really be out of touch. 

Yesterday, it was 51 years to the day since I started school. So I’m really out of touch in terms of what it’s like to be a school student. Which is why I’m more than open to ideas that might seem a bit weird, that might seem like they’re just pandering to teenagers, if there’s a decent chance they might actually work. 

Which is why this idea of high schools not requiring students to turn up until they’ve had a bit of a lie-in really appeals. 

It feels odd, but I like the sound of it. It goes totally against my inclination to see school as the foundation for forming good patterns and habits to set you up for life. But what do I know? I started school 51 years ago yesterday and it’s more than 35 years since I was a teenager. 

And one of the things that’s changed massively since then, is the time our teenage kids actually get to sleep. And that’s because of technology. They’re up all hours of the night on devices and they’re a disaster in the morning because of it. 

And teenagers just naturally need more sleep, anyway. So that’s why I’d be right up for this approach. But what about you? 

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