Teenagers And the Body Clock in The Sunday Times.

Sian Griffiths, Education Correspondent for The Sunday Times, has just published an excellent article on UCL Academy’s starting time for students being 10 a.m.  This is probably one of the most important articles for some time published on the issue of teenage body clocks in the national press.

The key to the article’s importance is the article’s revealing demonstration of an effective partnership between a world-leading research university, UCL, cutting-edge neuroscience research, and practical implementation in real educational practice. For many years government, researchers and educators have called for more evidence-based practice.  Recent calls include those of Ben Goldacre in his plea for better research in education. Griffith’s article shows how leading organizations are now making this happen by linking world-leading researchers and education.

So how does this work in the real world?  The starting point is good research.  Griffiths quotes Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at UCL, a researcher known for her ability to communicate neuroscience:

“The research shows that making teenagers go to school at a time when they would naturally be in bed asleep is not a good thing for their learning.  Quite a few schools around the world have changed their start time to 10am, which is more in line with teenage body clocks.”

In practice at the UCL Academy pupils arrive at 10am and leave at 5:30 pm.  The Headteacher Geraldine Davies sees the schedule working well:   “Attendance is excellent and we are having no problems at all with punctuality. Youngsters are turning up alert and ready to learn, and are focused and engaged in lessons.”  Unlike school leaders throughout the world, she is able to say, “We are applying cutting-edge research here” in the confidence that her school is operating a schedule based on good science and evidence.

The student response is brought to life by an extended comment by Abdel Hakim Bakkal, 17:

“My old school started lessons at 8.30am and I was always frustrated by not being able to get a full night’s sleep. I never used to have time for breakfast and I would go in with a bad attitude.  I’d even close my eyes in lessons.  Since coming here I have been able to eat my breakfast and even sometimes read through a topic before lessons start.  The frustration I used to feel has gone.”

His view reflects the wider concern of teenagers not in the UCL Academy about their school’s timings.  Griffiths quotes Alicia Kiattinat, 19 (at the University of Texas) who campaigned for her school, Carrolton Christian Academy, which had an 8 am start, to open later because of the research leading to the local authority to make changes in some schools. Alicia found “a lot of people supported me.” – hardly a surprise to campaigners in the field.

The research in this important area is also referenced by Griffiths, including the interesting USAF study.

Taken as a whole, this article is an important step forward in awareness of the issue- and the solution. I will certainly use Griffith’s article as a case study in my upcoming presentations to US researchers- but more about that in another blog.



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