Hooray for return of the 4-day week!

As I am a mother of five, you might expect me to be punching the air at the prospect of the rentrée – and it will be nice to have time for a cup of tea before it is cold, and work without a child climbing the back of my chair.

30 August 2017
By Gillian Harvey

At the same time, a part of me feels a little flat when the kids traipse off to l’école, sporting shiny shoes and new backpacks. They might drive me up the wall at times, but in term time when they virtually disappear into their world of lessons, homework and earlier nights, life is the duller for it.

That’s one of the reasons I’m delighted the Macron government has given communes the chance to reinstate the four-day week for children, doing away with the pesky Wednesday morning hours that started in 2014.

And my motivation isn’t simply emotional. I believe a four-day week is better, both educationally and physically for children.

For starters, getting up and out early five days per week can take its toll on little ones – and school is more tiring than many of us give kids credit for.

When I taught in the UK I would see primary age children looking more and more exhausted as the weeks clocked up; and eight-year olds with dark circles under their eyes to rival those five times their age.

As well as providing midweek respite, having Wednesdays free again would give children the chance to invest in their personal preferences too – whether dance classes, nature or simply time out with a book.

Yes, the old system had Wednesday afternoons free – but in my rural neck of the woods having our time reduced to a half-day scaled back options that involved any travel.

Some services, too, were altered when the school timetable changed: swimming lessons at the local pool (20 minutes away) moved from very practical Wednesday mornings to an impossible Monday evening slot; not the ideal time for 4-6 year olds to hit the pool.

Importantly, I also believe the four-day week is better for learning. As well as the reduction in pupil tiredness and stress – both of which are known to impede learning – having a full day sans enfants would give teachers a precious midweek chance to deal with marking, planning and professional development – essential in ensuring that teaching standards remain as high as possible.

The adage ‘quality rather than quantity’ applies well: a better organised week with proper respite should mean more receptive pupils and more effective teaching.

As for inconvenience to those who are not self-employed or cannot adjust hours to free up their Wednesdays for childcare, no doubt communes will provide support, as they do currently in the afternoons, for children to attend and take part in activities in a less formal environment.

I’ve always been impressed with the local ‘after school’ service, and can only imagine that with a whole day at their disposal, they will develop more in-depth and stimulating activities.

Giving children a four-day school week better reflects the French attitude towards l’art de vivre.

French culture places a great deal of importance on family time: allowing children to recharge batteries, participate in sports or pursue something after their own heart fits well with the philosophy that life is for living well.

So, this September, rather than viewing Wednesdays as a waste, with two school runs within three hours obliterating the morning and little time to do anything meaningful with the children in the afternoon, I can look forward to a day of family fun, education or, importantly, a good rest in readiness for the next school day.

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