By: Simon Collins
More schools are delaying their starting dates this year to avoid the summer heat.
No statistics are available, but several principals say they have opted not to start classes until after Waitangi Day because of the heat at this time of year, combined with parents wanting to work up till Christmas at the other end of the year.
However many schools have still started this week and at least one, Auckland Grammar School, obtained a dispensation from the Ministry of Education to start last week – a week before the official start of the school year.
The ministry abandoned uniform nationwide starting dates for the school year after 2007 and the range of starting dates allowed this year, January 28 to February 7, is almost the same as in 2008 when a range was first permitted, January 29 to February 7.
Freemans Bay School principal Sandra Jenkins, whose classes start on February 7 after parent-teacher-child interviews on February 5, said it was too hot for children to sit in classes this week.
“This time of year is very, very hot. Imagine having kids in the classes this week!” she said.
“It will be hot again next week, but at least it’s not as long in terms of having those hot days.”
Her school will keep classes going until December 19, the day before the last date the ministry allows, so that it can fit in the required 390 half-days of instruction each year.
“Our parents, many of whom are working, actually quite like the fact that we finish quite late in the fourth term. They find that really convenient,” Jenkins said.
“The other thing is that we find that with Anniversary Weekend and then Waitangi Day, many of our families take a break between Anniversary and Waitangi and quite a few of them don’t actually start until the 7th.”
Pakuranga Heights School principal Fintan Kelly said his school started after Waitangi Day last year for the first time and decided to do it again, extending the fourth term to December 20.
“The parents like that because they are working right up till Christmas. It suited our parents,” he said.
NZ Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart, the principal of Mt Roskill’s May Rd School which starts on February 1, said the bulk of her students often didn’t start until after Waitangi Day anyway.
“If you were to ask teachers at the moment I think many of them would say it’s hot for the kids, it’s hot for us, and we don’t all have air conditioning, so that would be a factor in saying we start later,” she said.
“We don’t have trends or any real evidence, that’s just my gut feeling about it.”
Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O’Connor said Grammar started on January 23 “to maximise teaching time before examinations”, particularly Cambridge exams.
“November Cambridge examinations now start in the Term 3 holidays, so currently if we didn’t start at least a week earlier than most schools the boys would be disadvantaged in an international context,” he said.
However Avondale College, which also offers Cambridge exams, starts tomorrow for Years 9 and 13 and on Thursday for Years 10 to 12. Principal Brent Lewis said his students still achieved a 100 per cent pass rate in Cambridge Level 1 exams last year and were not disadvantaged.
“My guess would be that the vast majority of Auckland Grammar students are doing Cambridge. Just over 20 per cent of ours are, so to build the school year around the 20 per cent would seem a bit unfair on the majority,” he said.
Royal Oak Primary School principal Linley Myers, whose students all started today, said the early start enabled her to end the year on December 12, giving families some time off before Christmas
“My theory has always been that you are going to get more out of children early in the year than later in the year,” she said.
“I figure that having a longer first term you are going to get better academic engagement than in the last two or three weeks of the year which are always pretty hard work for everybody, children and teachers.”