Making teens start school in the morning is 'cruel', brain doctor claimsThis is London
Feb. 18, 2007
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Teenage pupils should start school in the afternoon because making them turn up in the morning is "cruel", a top brain doctor has claimed.
Professor Russell Foster said teens would acheive more if they were allowed to have a lie-in and not start their classes until the afternoon.
The Oxford University neuroscientist said grumpy teenagers like Harry Enfield's comic creation Kevin follow different sleep patterns from adults - making them more alert in the afternoon than in the morning.
And he said German and American schools which switched to later start times had experienced improved success in exams and reduced rates of truancy and depression.
Prof Foster said that forcing teenagers to turn up to school in the morning could result in more errors, poor memory, reduced motivation and depression.
Allowing secondary school pupils a lie-in on the other hand would improve performance in key subjects like English and maths.
"It is cruel to impose a cultural pattern on teenagers that makes them underachieve," he told a conference at the University of Wales in Cardiff.
"Most school regimes force teenagers to function at a time of day that is suboptimal and many university students are exposed to considerable dangers from sleep deprivation."
Prof Foster, Oxford University's head of circadian neuroscience - the study of how the daily routine affects the brain - said the time at which children become fully awake gets progressively later as they get older. The pattern continues until the age of 20, when it begins to reverse, making adults more alert in the mornings.
His comments back up research published last year which recommended that schools and universities should not start until 11am because teenagers were in a "permament state of jet-lag".
The American study found that teenagers' biological clocks run later because a hormone known as melatonin, which promotes sleepiness, starts to be secreted in the brain much later than in adults.
The researchers found that students' performance in exams also went down when they sat them in the morning compared to the afternoon.
Prof Foster said: "Teenagers' body clocks can be delayed between two and four hours and they don't start to function until 10am or as late as noon.
"Studies in Germany and America show that when schools have changes start times to later, exam success has gone up and truancy and depression gone down."
He said the problem was worse in Britain where many students work long hours in part-time jobs to finance their degrees.
But teachers' leaders disagreed with the Prof Foster's views - saying they believed pupils performed better in the mornings.
National Association of Head Teachers director Anna Brychan said: "Our members are interested in anything which throws new light on the best way of helping young people develop their creative faculties.
"But many teachers will say they find their classes infinitely more receptive to new ideas in the mornings than in the afternoons."
NASUWT teacher's union official Geraint Davies said: "Schools have been trying to tackle this issue for years but have found pupils are more attentive in the morning."