Start time must suit pupils

SCHOOLS should not start earlier and the start time should have nothing to do with whether it suits parents or teachers (The Hunts Post, March 7). The start time of school should be the one that suits the pupils best. The claim that various studies have

SCHOOLS should not start earlier and the start time should have nothing to do with whether it suits parents or teachers (The Hunts Post, March 7).

The start time of school should be the one that suits the pupils best. The claim that various studies have shown that children learn better in the morning is very much in contention. The majority of studies in the USA, Europe and the UK actually show that teenagers do not perform well with an early start - children may do so, but not teenagers.

Recent articles in New Scientist (I can't give a date as my grumpy teenager has lost the article) and other press have reported a large number of scientific studies which have shown that the peak learning time for teenagers is much later in the day.

Professor Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, has said that "forcing secondary pupils to turn up for lessons in the morning can result in more errors, poor memory, reduced motivation and depression". He advocates most lessons being in the afternoon.


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I have searched the literature online, and all the research I have found supports the view that adolescents' time clocks are set differently to children's and adults' because melatonin, the hormone that induces sleepiness, is secreted in the brain much later at night in teenagers than adults.

This means that teenagers have difficulty getting to sleep and tend to stay awake much longer in the evening (the average was found to be to 11pm with melatonin secretion being about 10.30pm) compared to children and adults.

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As teenagers require more sleep than adults - according to research about nine hours, and obviously going to bed earlier is pointless if you can't go to sleep - that makes 8am the earliest time a teenager going to sleep at 11pm is going to wake up naturally. So, if school starts at 8.30am, the only way to get there is to miss breakfast.

My sons go to St Ivo School, which introduced a new start time of 8.30am, based on some obscure research that I have been unable to find. My youngest son is the most affected by the changes, as he has difficulty falling asleep. Despite going to bed at a very reasonable time, he is often still awake at 11pm, desperately trying to sleep.

This is his second year at secondary school, and last year he loved school and was very well motivated and took on many new activities.

One of the reasons put forward for the time change was to give pupils more time for after-school activities. In my son's case he is too tired now after school and has been to his after-school sport only twice in the last three months, so has decided to give it up because he is too tired.

He used to enjoy doing his homework, but now it's the bare minimum that is done. I am concerned he is going to get run over in the morning because he goes off in a zombie state half asleep, and on some winter mornings it was still dark enough for the street lights to be on.

JUDITH ONGERI, Nursery Gardens, St Ives

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