Dan started at school this week. First week: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 9am until 12 noon. Second week and thereafter, 9am until 3pm. That means that my working day shrinks to (from when I get back from dropping Dan to when I have to head out the door to pick him up again) 9:15 - 11:45. If I'm nippy. Two and a half hours. Not easy to get much done in that slot. And that's with a job, writing, where I can work from home and structure my own time. Very few jobs are like that.
I went through this with Lily (now 10), but once again I'm struck by this basic fact: the school system in the UK is set-up around the tacit understanding that children have two parents, one of whom works whilst the other stays home. Since that hasn't actually been the case for a long time, this has necessitated the growth of a more-or-less rickety structure of add-ons, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, unofficial swaps with other parents, use of grandparents (not available to us, alas), paid child-minders, drivers to move minivans of kids from school to community hall or somewhere else and so on, all accreted around the basic school day. Because almost nobody is now in that 1950s situation of being able to do nothing else but take kids to school, pick kids up from school, look after kids during inset days etc etc. It's boggling, really: expensive, inefficient and a huge practical drag upon the individual worker's efficiency and productivity, to say nothing of their general quality of life. [An example: a friend of mine has had to take some of her annual holiday to cover this week; from next week she's paying an ex-nursery nurse to pick her kid up -- the woman in question has taken maternity leave from the nursery, which is how she's free to do it -- but that will only happen until November and the due date, when my friend will have to put something else in place, or more likely a couple of different things.] Why isn't something done about it? Cost, of course. Inertia, I suppose. People who have kids have one child, or two children, by and large; which limits the (massive!) inconvenience of it to a decade or so in the--usually--middle of a career, until the kid is old enough to schlep his/herself about. But for that decade it's a crippling restriction on the individual's rights to work. I would like to see what a school system looked like if designed from the ground up on the understanding that children come from families in which both parents need to work 5 days a week, 8:30-5:30. It wouldn't look like what we currently have, I think.