WA schools resort to bans on playground games and sport to combat early student drop-offs
Photo: Ian Anderson says children should be arriving at school no more than 15 minutes before the bell. (ABC Open: Dan Battley)
The school year is barely three weeks in, but already the organisation representing primary school principals in WA has a message for parents — stop dropping your children off early.
According to the WA Primary Principals' Association (WAPPA), more students are turning up early, with some working parents dropping their children off between 7:00am and 7:30am, up to an hour and a half before the bell.
WAPPA president Ian Anderson said it was a growing problem for schools, with many responding by banning before-school sport and play in order to meet their "duty of care" obligations.
Schools may have turned a blind eye to before-school play in the past, but growing numbers are enforcing crackdowns.
At many schools across Perth, students are no longer allowed on play equipment before the start of class, and all forms of sport and running are banned.
Instead, students who arrive early are told to assemble in one area, typically in the school courtyard or outside administration blocks, where they are only allowed to read and talk to friends, and where they can be more easily supervised.
Parents urged to 'do the right thing'
Mr Anderson said while some parents may be dismayed to see large numbers of students milling about in the mornings instead of being physically active, it would not be necessary if they did the right thing in the first place.
He said children should arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before their school's official start time.
"One of a principal's main responsibilities is to ensure duty of care to all kids, whenever they're on the school site, and so procedures are put in place at every school to ensure the safety and supervision of the children from when they get to school until they get into the classroom," Mr Anderson said.
"We can't have children running around without supervision. If that was to be the case, the school would be held accountable if there was a problem.
"More and more we've got children turning up at school very early, 7:30am, sometimes even 7:00am, and once a child is at school there is a duty of care.
"I would argue the parents have a duty of care and they shouldn't be sending children to school until their school starts.
"It's not appropriate."
Mr Anderson said it was not possible for teachers to be rostered "on duty" before school, and said their time was better spent preparing for the day ahead.
'It's hard, it's lonely and some days it can be cold'
Mr Anderson said if parents needed to be at work early and did not have family support, they should arrange before-school care for their children, which typically costs $20–$40 per session.
"When the poor child is sitting there, and they say 'Mum had to go to work' or 'Dad had to go to work' or whatever, that's hard on a child," he said.
"It's hard, it's lonely, and some days it can be cold.
"While principals of WA public schools are responsible for the safety and welfare of students when they are at school, it's important to consider what is fair and appropriate for staff when it comes to supervision outside school hours," an education department spokesperson said.
"If students regularly arrive at school well before classes start or stay back long after classes finish, principals speak with parents to determine a reasonable time frame when arrangements are in place to supervise children.
"If parents need their child to be supervised outside these hours, there are a number of before- and after-school care providers that are often located close to schools."
'You need to find workarounds for it'
Nature Play WA, which aims to increase the amount of time children spend in unstructured play outdoors and in nature, said it did not blame schools for the situation because they had limited resources and competing priorities.
But CEO Griffin Longley said he hoped they would be open to discussing the matter with concerned parents to come up with workable solutions so that children do not miss out.
"It's simply too important to let play be stopped," he said.
"Time for unstructured play is way too important for the health, happiness and development of children, for us to allow barriers to be dead ends.
"If you find yourself in a situation where your kids are being restricted from play, you need to find workarounds for it.
"That can involve volunteering, you finding alternatives, but kids' access to play opportunities is everyone's business. It's not just a question for schools, it's absolutely a question for parents as well.
"And if that doesn't work, you can organise with other parents to provide opportunities for play at nearby parks in the morning, instead of schools."