PRIME MINISTER John Howard has been criticised by teacher unions and state Labor governments after proposing that pupils stay at school until 5pm.
He suggested the idea made good economic sense for working families and that current school hours - normally 9am to 3.30pm - were a throwback to a time when women were mostly home-makers.
"In the past, most mothers could pick up their children after school between 3pm and 4pm," he said. While he remained a supporter of families in which one parent stayed at home, he said he did not want to be "blind to the reality" that this was no longer thecase for many families.
"We need to adjust school hours to increase flexibility," he said. "It would make more sense if students stayed in school longer and did things they might otherwise do at home at night. What's wrong with using additional time for music or getting a bit of sport back into government schools?"
The Australian Education Union said the plan was ill-conceived, based on unrealistic expectations and would undermine the the relationship between teachers and their students.
Labor governments in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales also lambasted Mr Howard's proposals.