Clear no to later start of lessons

Most Austrians reject a later start of school.

Viennese public opinion research agency spoke with 500 Austrians to find out more about people’s opinion regarding the start of primary and secondary schools in the morning. Only one in five (20 per cent) of the interviewed citizens said they were in favour of a reform which would reset the regular starting time to 9am. With 69 per cent, the vast majority think that things should stay the same.

Many other European countries have later school-starting times than Austria. Education expert Andreas Salcher caused some kind of stir last week by calling for a change to 9am. Salcher – who penned several bestselling books on pupils’ difficulties, strained teachers and the weak spots of the Austrian education system – argued that most children were too tired and not very receptive at eight o’clock in the morning.

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Education Minister Claudia Schmied did not say whether she had plans for a reform in terms of when schools start into the day. The minister is not expected to launch an initiative in this regard no matter what her opinion on the issue is. Schmied did not manage to win over her party’s coalition partner, the People’s Party (ÖVP), regarding a wide range of other education regulation amendments.

Schmied suggested three years ago that Austria’s teachers should work two hours more a week without getting higher incomes as a consequence. The teachers’ works council threatened to organise strikes before talks about such a measure even started. SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann had to accept harsh criticism by fellow SPÖ members and independent education experts for failing to publicly support his minister in the controversy.

The education minister recently indicated that the maximum fines for truancy could be increased to lower the number of NEETs in Austria. Around 75,000 Austrians aged between 16 and 24 are part of this group. The term NEETs describes young people who are not in education, traineeship or employment. ÖVP Integration Secretary Sebastian Kurz suggested that families whose kids were caught staying away unauthorised from school for a considerable period should face charges of up to 1,500 Euros. Current regulations say that truancy can mean penalties of not more than 220 Euros.

Schmied reacted to the integration secretary’s appeal by announcing that an increase was possible since the fine had not been upped for over two decades. Schmied also warned from putting poor families’ future at risk by introducing sky-high fines for offences like truancy. Kurz stressed that higher penalties would only be one aspect of a package of several measures for more discipline at school and a better understanding between students, teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, reports have it that Schmied and ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter agreed to raise young teachers’ incomes. The ministers want to jack up pedagogues’ wages in the first five years on the job to make working as a primary and secondary modern school teacher a more attractive option. Salaries will not increase as strongly and quickly later on as they do at the moment if the reform gets the all-clear in parliament. Teachers currently earn between 1,900 and 2,200 Euros a month before tax in their first year before their income rises to more than twice this amount.