St Andrew’s Catholic Primary school Malabar has drawn from the playbook of an education system ranked among the world’s best to shake up their school day.
The school has trialled a timetable modelled on Finland’s approach, which provides regular breaks between shorter lessons to help boost students’ wellbeing and academic performance.
Instead of two-hour lesson blocks with long recess and lunch breaks, the students now have an extra two 10-minute breaks in the day and shorter meal breaks so they have time outside for every hour of study.
Principal Leonie Burfield said feedback on the new timetable had been positive, with teachers reporting increased concentration levels among their students.
“We don’t want to do this just to be trendy – we want to see benefits,” she said.
“Before we were finding that by the time it came to 11am our students were getting very fatigued. Their work was not as good a quality because of that tiredness.
“The 10-minute breaks work as their transition between lessons now. The students leave their work on their tables and come back to it feeling refreshed and excited.”
Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Primary School Miranda principal Rose Andre has also implemented the timetable changes and seen results. “Our speech therapist has noticed it’s made a huge difference to the students’ concentration,” she said.
Mrs Burfield and Mrs Andre visited Finland and Canada in April on professional renewal leave that Sydney Catholic Schools makes available to its principals after every six years of service.
In Finland they witnessed a slimmer curriculum and more traditional classroom set up, but less student anxiety and more trust from the parent community.
Mrs Burfield said it was difficult to import another education system when Australia is more culturally diverse and regulated, but said the trip had also affirmed the collaborative and innovative work that already happens in St Andrew’s classrooms.
We don’t want to do this just to be trendy – we want to see benefits
“The things that we could adopt were trying to make sure the focus is back on teaching, and that teachers continue to build positive relationships with each student,” she said.
“We went a bit data collection crazy at one point. Data is very important, but we need to make sure that it used for the right purposes to positively impact students’ learning.”
Year 2 students Amelia Scerri and Jaggar Phillips have reaped the benefits of the timetable change.
“We spend an hour on learning and get fresh air for 10 minutes then we come back in and we’re ready for more education,” Amelia said.
Jaggar said the new timetable was good when it came to balancing class time with outdoor activities. “I like that we get more play than with the other stuff that we used to do,” he said.