The psychological and biological processes of an individual’s sleep/wake cycle are referred to as a person’s circadian rhythms (Gleitman, Gross & Reisberg, 2010). As one approaches adolescence, melatonin (hormone secreted that induces sleepiness) production occurs later in the evening, making it harder for teenagers to get the amount of sleep needed to function properly the next day. The NHS recommends that the average adolescent should aim to get nine hours sleep a night. However, extracurricular activities, private study and social lives interfere, meaning that often, nine hours sleep a night is not achieved. Due to this lack of synchronicity between the early school start and adolescents’ natural sleeping pattern, I’ll be looking at whether school start times should be altered to accommodate the circadian rhythms of teenagers..
When I was at school classes started at 8:30am. To me this seemed horrendous and it would take me a lesson to properly wake up and be able to concentrate. Research has shown that early school starts can lead to significant levels of sleep deprivation in students (Epstein, Chillag, & Lavie, 1998). Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to academic and social achievement as it can lead to increases in behavioural problems and deficits in attention span and cognitive development (Astill, Ijzendoorn, Van der Heijden, Van Someren, 2012). Later starting times have been found to positively affect student achievement significantly, so much so that it would roughly be equivalent to raising teacher quality by one standard deviation (Carrell, Maghakian & West, 2011).
However, there has been some opposition to the movement of starting school later, with some people arguing that it would lead to a substantial increase in expenses, due to having to alter transportation times (link). However, schools in Minneapolis and Edina did not find that altering transportation led to more costs when they altered their schools starting time (Wahlstrom, 2002).
In the past, schools in the UK have been subject to Changing of School Lesson Times Regulations, which state that any changed to the school day had to be regulated and approved by the Department for Education. However, this was revoked in September of 2011, meaning that schools could change lunch times, start and finish times of the school day and that the time taken from proposal to implementation would be much faster than it has previously been.
Looking at the evidence above, we can see that the costs of postponing the start time of schools are outweighed by the benefits. We’ve seen that it benefits attendance, punctuality and social and academic achievement. Thus, it seems silly that changing the start time of school has not yet been implemented across the board.
Gleitman, H; Gross, J; Reisberg, D. (2010). Psychology. Consciousness. pp. 233-234.