Give teenagers a lie-in, schools told

The school day for teenagers should begin as late as 11.30am, new research suggests.

In fact, failure to adjust the timetable to suit teenagers’ need for a lie-in impairs their ability to learn, according to a study by researchers from the universities of Oxford, Harvard and Nevada.

The academics point out that biological changes during adolescence dictate that teenagers need later wake-up times than younger children.

While the biological wake-up time for a 10-year-old child is around 6.30am, leading to a school start time of between 8.30am and 9am, the biological wake-up time for a 16 year old is 8am. An 18 year old, meanwhile, wakes up at around 9am.

“Thus a 7am alarm call for older adolescents is the equivalent of a 4.30am start for a teacher in their fifties,” the researchers state in a paper published in the latest edition of the journal Learning, Media and Technology.

They suggest that the best school start time for a 16 year old would be between 10am and 10.30am. For an 18 year old, it would be between 11am and 11.30am.

Their findings are reinforced in this week’s TES, where an educational psychologist argues that academic research supports a later school start for teenagers, more open-plan spaces in schools, no more discrete subjects and a school day divided into two three-hour study periods.

The academics reviewed existing research into adolescent sleep times and drew on research into circadian rhythms – the official term for the body clock – as well as the genes associated with the regulation of this cycle.

But they also cite examples of schools that have implemented late-starting timetables for teenagers. For example, seven high schools in Minneapolis moved their starting time from 7.15am to 8.40am. More than 50,000 pupils reported that their attendance, achievement, behaviour and mood improved as a result.

The academics concluded: “The synchronisation of education to adolescent biology enables immediate advances in educational attainment and can be achieved with a relatively simple step that does not require new teaching methods, new testing or large additional expenditure.”

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