If you’re a teacher reading this through tired eyes, the chances are that you would be thankful for an extra hour in bed rather than having to start the school day so early.

As it turns out, it seems that your corner is being backed by a number of UK research groups who have laid the groundwork for starting the school day later. One of the most recent reports has even stated that schools should begin at 10am.

Starting the school day early can cause more than tiredness

In the US, the issue of sleep deprived students is chronic. For this is a place where more than 75% of schools, in 40 states, have starting times before 8:30am.

The results from a large-scale study has illustrated just how detrimental this is, with effects that go far, far beyond tiredness, to include: higher risks of obesity, depression, lower quality of life and academic underperformance. 

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance. Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need”.

We need to talk about our teenagers (and their body-clocks)

Our body clocks are complex things, involving genes, metabolism and cognitive performance levels (hence the notion of early birds and night owls). Recently, studies have found that our ‘programmed’ body clocks are directly at odds with the average working day.

The Oxford based experiment TeenSleep, is currently exploring the tangible impact of altering the school starting time to 10am, with results expected in 2018.

Whilst it is hypothesised that the data will show a clear link between a later school starting time and positive outcomes, Dr Kelley does point out the need for positive habits and the potential requirement for “sleep education” which outlines why the avoidance of screens is so important for a restful night’s sleep, alongside other guidance.

“Most people wake up to alarms, because they don’t naturally wake up at the time when they have to get up and go to work. So we’ve got a sleep deprived society – it’s just that this age group, say 14-24 in particular, is more deprived than any other sector.”

Culture and context

With all of this said, and despite there being much scientific study that makes a link between later school times and positive outcomes, when we look to the ‘best’ educational systems in the world, something interesting comes about.

The ‘top’ educational systems are South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong; these regions represent some of the longest school hours and earliest start times.

South Korea, as a prime example, has pupils who face 12 hour days; Japan, with 6.5 hours may be thought the exception, however it’s notable that pupils here typically undertake after school, extra curricular activities such as Juku (e.g. cram school).

Ex-Education Minister Michael Gove had previously made the case for days that started earlier, like our Asian Educational counterparts.

“If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday – and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere – then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

However, this argument was rebutted by many – not least by those who specialise in Asian education. 

“Most Singapore kids spend hours extra per week on tutoring and homework than UK kids. A recent survey showed that 98 per cent of Singapore kids attend tutoring in addition to school time and homework. The meritocratic approach here supports a different expectation when compared with the UK class-based social system. I don’t think that length or timing of school holidays would contribute much to the overall differences in outcomes.”

The case for a school day that begins later is more than persuasive, despite it being at odds with the superior performance of schools in certain Asian countries; however just what this would mean in terms of logistics and management, would be another matter entirely.

Nevertheless, one thing is for certain – later starts could well deliver a whole host of health benefits, as well as better academic results.

Do you believe that a later start to the school day could help your pupils achieve better outcomes?