Schools in California to push back start times: Should UK schools start later?

Schools in California will soon start later [Photo: Getty]
Schools in California will soon start later [Photo: Getty]

Schools in California could be about to start lessons later. The state is set to become the first in the US to enforce later start times for schools.

Under new legislation, designed to help give students more sleep, roughly half the schools in the state will be required to delay their start times by 30 minutes or less to comply with the law.

The law will take effect over a phased-in period to be implemented by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, and will result in middle schools beginning classes at 8am or later while high schools will start no earlier than 8.30am.

Commenting on the change Governor Gavin Newsom said: “The science shows that teenage students who start their day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health.”

“Importantly, the law allows three years for schools and school districts to plan and implement these changes.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which backed the proposal pointed to studies that found links between later start times, more sleep and better health and school performance among adolescents.

But not everyone was in favour of the change, with critics arguing that the decision about when to begin classes should be determined at the local level, allowing districts and schools to determine schedules that best meet the needs of their communities.

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Should schools start later to allow pupils more sleep? [Photo: Getty]
Should schools start later to allow pupils more sleep? [Photo: Getty]

The US isn’t the only country debating whether to push back school start times.

Earlier this year in the UK MPs considered calls for the school day to start at 10am to help tired teenagers.

The debate came 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.”

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 a debate has since been 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.

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.

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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.”

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How school times are set in the UK

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.