MPs debate whether school day should start at 10am to help tired teenagers

MPs yesterday debated calls for the school day to start at 10am to help tired teenagers.

While many adults dread the morning alarm going off, it seems Secondary school pupils are finding it even more difficult to get out of bed, which has prompted calls for schools to start later.

It comes after a petition urging the Government to consider the plea gained more than 183,000 signatures – a petition that gains more than 100,000 signatures is considered for debate in parliament.

“School should start at 10am as teenagers are too tired,” the petition reads.

“Teenagers are so tired 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.”

Last week, in response to the petition the Department for Education revealed that schools already have the power to decide when the school day should start, but yesterday a debate was due to be opened in parliament by Daniel Zeichner MP.

Arguing that “there are strong scientific reasons for considering change”, Zeichner cited studies from Singapore and Canada showing that it improved teen sleep patterns.

“I think there is plenty of evidence… that there is a real educational gain here,” he told the debate yesterday.

Various studies have examined the impact starting school later could have on pupils’ academic development and mental health, with varying results.

Back in 2017 a study by the Open University revealed that delaying school start times for teenagers could have major benefits, including better academic performance and improved mental and physical health.

The long-term study, carried out in an English secondary school, demonstrated the huge health impact that early start times and more sleep can have on teenagers.

When students in their mid-teens started school at 10am instead of the usual 8:30am, researchers found that rates of illness decreased by more than half over a two-year period, and got significantly better grades.

Earlier that same year, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a position statement declaring that “delaying school start times positively impacts student achievement, health and safety”.

But a further study concluded that later school start time is ‘not the solution’ for tired teens, TES reported.

Researchers from Surrey University and Harvard Medical School instead put forward the argument that delaying school start times would simply cause most teenagers’ internal clocks to drift later, and in a matter of weeks they would find it just as hard to get out of bed.

The debate comes after a petition calling for schools to start at 10am received more than 183K signatures [Photo: Getty]
The debate comes after a petition calling for schools to start at 10am received more than 183K signatures [Photo: Getty]

How much sleep do teenagers need?

The NHS says that a minimum of 8 to 9 hours’ good sleep on school nights is recommended for teens.

The Sleep Foundation explains that humans’ circadian rhythms – the body clock that manages the cycle of sleep and wakefulness – change in adolescence, when most teens experience a sleep phase delay.

“This shift in teens’ circadian rhythm causes them to naturally feel alert later at night, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 pm,” the site explains.

“Since most teens have early school start times along with other commitments, this sleep phase delay can make it difficult to get the sleep teens need.”

According to Tempur who teamed up with charity partner, the Mental Health Foundation, to raise awareness of mental health among young Brits for World Mental Health Day last October, the myth of the lazy teenager comes from the fact that teens do actually need more sleep.

If they have been up very early for activities and school through the week, they may need to catch up on sleep debt by not appearing until after lunch at the weekend.

“Good quality sleep is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health at all ages”, says Tobin James, Tempur UK Managing Director, “but children and adolescents need a lot of sleep. At every stage, right up to our twenties, our bodies and minds are developing and growing, and it’s periods of sleep that allow that development to happen.

“Just as with adults, the amount of sleep children and young people need varies. But what is very clear is that kids need more sleep than adults and their sleep patterns and needs change continually.

“Sleep is one of the variables we can often control to help protect our mental health and manage stress.”

How school times are set

At the moment there are no specific legal requirements about how long the school day should be.

Governing bodies of all maintained schools in England are responsible for deciding when morning and afternoon sessions should begin and end on each school day.

Governing bodies are also responsible for deciding the length of each lesson and the timings for the morning session, the midday break, and the afternoon session.

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