As the parent of a teenage boy, I know only too well how difficult the weekday mornings can be. No matter what time the alarm goes off, he is always running out of the door at the last minute, normally with his shoelaces untied and his bag unzipped!
Our son’s school starts at 8.30 and there are sanctions/punishments for any child arriving late more than once each week.
However, last week MP’s began the debate as to whether secondary schools should actually start at 10 am.
Our son was one of the 179,000 people that signed an online petition. Any petition that manages to get more than 100,000 signatures is put before the UK Parliament to be debated.
The petition claims “teenagers are
totired due to having to wake up very early to get to school.”
“The government should require secondary schools to start later, which will lead to increased productivity at school.”
The French government has already considered doing something similar in some schools in Paris, by pushing the school start time forward from 08:00 to 09:00.
“The Paris decision can only be a good thing for the children,” said Dr Neil Stanley, author of How To Sleep Well, who has noted increasing sleep problems in children and teenagers. “For the benefit of our
In response to the petition, the Department for Education said:
“The government has given all schools the ability to set their school hours so all schools have the autonomy to make decisions about the timetable and duration of their school day, including the flexibility to decide when their school day should start and finish.
It added: “The Department has not made an assessment of these decisions taken by individual schools. We trust head teachers to decide how best to structure their school day to support their pupils’ education.”
The response added: “In the event that a school decides to make changes to its school day, it is our expectation that the school should act reasonably when making such decisions; giving parents notice and considering the impact on those affected – including pupils, teachers, and parents’ work commitments and childcare options.”
Many scientists agree with the petition, stating that humans’ circadian rhythms – the body clock that manages the cycle of sleep and wakefulness – change in adolescence. The cycle shifts by two hours, meaning that they are wired to go to sleep later and also to wake up later.
“It’s like they’re in a different time zone,” said Dr Michael Farquhar, a consultant in paediatric sleep medicine at the Evelina children’s hospital in London.
Russell Viner, professor of adolescent health at University College London and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, states that sleep is the “strongest predictor of wellbeing among teenagers.”
Any parent would agree that the wellbeing of their child is of
Viner co-authored a paper based on a study of more than 120,000 15-year-olds which pointed to increasing evidence of the dangers of inadequate sleep.
“When we think about all the things parents worry about, the effects of sleep are about four times higher than the effects of smartphone use,” he said. “There is major development of the brain in puberty. We need to go back to basics: more focus on sleep, physical activity and diet.”
Farquhar said: “If we could rewire the world to suit teenagers, we’d see benefits. But there are practical difficulties in doing that. So, as a start, schools could not schedule double maths at 8.30am and perhaps make PE the first lesson of the day.”
I know our son would very much welcome a later start time. I’m not convinced it would actually mean he would leave the house with adequate time to arrive at school on time, but perhaps, if the studies are to be believed, he would be more focused and attentive when there.