Page last updated at 20:00 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Lie-in for teenagers has positive results

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

When children become teenagers their sleep patterns change

A school that has allowed its pupils to start the day an hour later says it has seen absenteeism decline.

At Monkseaton High School, in North Tyneside, 800 pupils aged 13-19 have started lessons at 10am since October.

Early results indicates that general absence has dropped by 8% and persistent absenteeism by 27%.

Head teacher Paul Kelley said that changing the school day could help towards creating "happier, better educated teenagers".

Mr Kelley said it was now medically established that it was better for teenagers to start their school day later in terms of their mental and physical health and how they learn better in the afternoon.

We can help them be less stressed by simply changing the time of the school day
Paul Kelley

"It is a question of do schools fit the medical reality of teenagers?" he said.

The experiment of starting the school an hour later is being overseen by scientists, including an Oxford neuroscience professor Russell Foster.

He performed memory tests on pupils at the school which suggested the more difficult lessons should take place in the afternoon.

He said young people's body clocks may shift as they reach their teenage years - meaning they want to get up later not because they are lazy but because they are biologically programmed to do.

Prof Till Roenneberg, who is an expert on studying sleep, said it was "nonsense" to start the school day early.

He said: "It is about the way our biological clock settles into light and dark cycles. This clearly becomes later and later in adolescence."

Prof Roenneberg said if teenagers are woken up too early they miss out on the most essential part of their sleep.

"Sleep is essential to consolidate what you learn," he said.

Exam results

Mr Kelley said GCSE results from his school in January and February also seemed "hopeful" but it was too soon to say for definite whether changing the school hours had affected grades.

The final results of the study at the school are due to be published in an academic journal, probably next year.

Mr Kelley said: "We can help them learn better. We can help them be less stressed by simply changing the time of the school day."

He said that this in turn could change ideas about young people in general.

"This is one of the things society has imposed on teens because it feels right for us [adults]," he said.

But now we know the implications of this situation, he said: "We can change provision for teenagers and we are going to have happier, better educated teenagers."

He said starting the school day later had not caused any particular problems as the school is still open 8am-5pm, with lessons running 10am-3.40pm.

The school will decide before the next timetable is finalised whether or not to continue with the later start.

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