Calls for trial of 11am start to school day

by Steve Randall28 Sep 2015
Sleep experts suggest that high school students are deprived of adequate sleep which is affecting their ability to learn. The solution could be a later start to the school day.

Researchers at Oxford and Harvard Universities believe that a 10am start for year 10 students and 11am for older students would benefit both students and educators.

The issues resulting in lack of sleep are varied and school start times is just one factor and a later start to the school day would perhaps not do much to address the others.

While experts at the Sleep Foundation say that 9.25 hours of sleep is necessary for optimum performance of an average teenager, many are getting just 7 hours on average each night.

The reasons include hectic schedules, including after-school activities, homework activities and family commitments. Separate research highlights the effects of ‘blue light’ from devices such as tablets and smartphones which has been shown to disrupt sleep.

The South Australian Association of State School Organisations’ David Knuckley believes that a trial should take place to ascertain whether a later start time would work in Australia’s schools.

He told Adelaide Now that if health and attendance of students could be improved then it should be considered: “While it may sound abstract to many who grew up in the 20th-century 9-5 world, it would be irresponsible to ignore science just because it doesn’t fit in with the established timetable.”

There is a lot of scientific evidence that would seem to support a later start; the levels of the hormone melatonin which regulates sleep are lower until later in the evening among teens, making it harder for them to sleep earlier; and do not decline until later in the morning, making it harder for them to wake up.

In conclusion it could be that the early part of the school day is less effective than it should be because students are not functioning at their full capabilities, and the general lack of sleep from rising early will stay with them for the whole day.

As well as being in a better state for learning, students who were allowed a later start day in the Oxford and Harvard academic studies showed reduced absenteeism and lateness.

Of course there would be a huge upheaval for all of those in the school community if the day started later but perhaps a limited trial could answer some of the questions that surround the idea.