The kids are settling down into the new school year, but how is it for you? A welcome return to predictable hours, or a never-ending struggle to evenly balance an awkward school timetable with the competing demands of your employer?
The majority of the population no longer work on farms and crofts with lambing at springtime, the summer harvest and potatoes to dig up in the autumn. Yet we have a school calendar which assumes this is still the case.
We live in a 21st century dot-com economy but have a school system based on a 19th century horse-drawn one.
Mums are no longer at home all day. According to the last census, only one in 10 people is a stay-at-home parent but the school day generally starts at 9am so, unless you are fortunate enough to work only five minutes away from the school gate, it is impossible to drop off your child/children and be in the office before 9.30am (at the earliest). For most people, this is already a late start.
In my county of Moray they have moved the start of the day for secondary school children to 8.45 am. Hooray! But ah, now school ends at lunchtime on a Friday.
This was sold to parents as an opportunity for children to take part in school clubs, but there are no clubs arranged on a Friday afternoon for my child.
Even if there were, he would not be able to get home as the school bus leaves right after lunch.
So the one million working parents with dependent children can neither get to work on time nor complete half a day’s work before it’s time to pick the kids up again.
On top of all this there are random “in-service” days, long holidays in the summer and autumn, holidays in the spring which don’t always coincide with Easter. And, if you have the misfortune to work in one county and have a child at school in another (or have children in different schools in different counties) you will find the holidays don’t match.
My partner’s employer gives him Aberdeenshire holidays because their HQ is in Aberdeen. But he works and lives in Moray, so he has to take even more unpaid leave to cover our children’s school holidays which start a week earlier.
Why have children if you don’t want to spend time with them, I hear you say. Well, I do want to spend time with my kids but, like most parents, we need to work to earn enough money to make ends meet.
In order to secure the better jobs we need to offer reliability, not leave our employer in the lurch every few days as we dash off to accommodate another early end to the school day.
So, of the eight in 10 parents who work (the remaining one in 10 is unemployed or long-term sick) at least one has to make their working hours accommodate erratic school hours.
For most couples it is a straightforward financial decision – who is earning the least and therefore whose salary can be sacrificed?
As recent statistics about equal pay have shown, women are often already earning less than men. Therefore, in heterosexual couples, it usually makes financial sense for the mother to work part-time.
She then finds herself regularly asking her employer to make further allowances for erratic school hours.
It is no wonder that research has shown that both male and female employers believe that women prioritise their family over their jobs.
It is a belief based on stereotypes but reinforced by the sacrifices we have to make as a result of inconvenient school hours, which does nothing to help women secure jobs, promotions or equal pay.
The government recognises a need to help people get back to work after having children.
There are childcare vouchers for nursery and split maternity/paternity leave. Yet all these measures ignore the elephant in the room.
Nobody gets 14 weeks’ holiday per year and tens of thousands of us are having to regularly down tools to fetch children who are on holiday, finishing early, or whose schools are closed because of teachers’ team training.
And don’t even get me started on the speed at which many schools shut down in bad weather (while their parents offices remain open.).
I understand that long holidays are one of the few perks of the job for teachers who work in a profession which finds it desperately hard to recruit, especially in rural areas. But if we were starting with a blank sheet of paper it would not be the system which we would design by choice.
The situation is getting worse, not better, further hindering women’s position in the workplace.
Jobs which match school hours simply don’t exist. Isn’t it time we designed school hours to match jobs?
Eleanor Bradford is a former BBC Scotland Health Correspondent and now works for communications agency Spey as Associate Partner.