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U.K. School to End Morning Classes for Some Older Students

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Feeling lucky because you work for a school system with a relatively late start time—say, 8:30 a.m.?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but a private school in the United Kingdom recently announced that, next year, it will start the school day at 1:30 p.m. for students in sixth form (two years equivalent to grade 12 in the United States plus a grade 13 year). Their classes will last until 7 p.m. Students in earlier grades at the school will continue to arrive at 9 a.m.

Hampton Court House in East Molesey, Surrey, was inspired to make the change by research from the University of Oxford's Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, Headmaster Guy Holloway told the U.K.'s Daily Mail.

Paul Kelley, an honorary research associate at Oxford, and Clark Lee, a senior law and policy analyst at the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, recently released a report arguing for later school start times. (I blogged about it here.) Older teenagers are biologically programmed to go to sleep later and wake up later than adults, Kelley and Lee explained.

"Sleep loss associated with early school start times can damage adolescents' learning and health," they wrote. "Later starting times, by contrast, are associated with longer sleep, better learning, and reduced health risks."

"There are 168 hours in a week and how productive [students] are depends on how they choose to use those hours," Holloway told the Daily Mail. "We want to get them into an environment where they can get quality sleep, and their bodies are functioning well."

Other British schools that have pushed back start times to 10 a.m. or later have seen improvements in student concentration levels and test scores, according to the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, late-start crusaders have set more modest goals in the United States, with districts thinking hard about starting the school day an hour or so later.

The Fairfax County, Va., school board, for example, last month approved four later-start options for community discussion that range from 7:50 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Currently school starts at 7:20 a.m., requiring some students to get on buses as early as 5:45 a.m., which one board member described as "inhumane" the Washington Post reported

While the school board is committed to starting the school day later, having passed a resolution in 2012 promising to make a change, some board members are wary of the 9:15 a.m. option, worrying that it would interfere with after-school activities, the story explains. 

The proposals would cost $2.8 million to $7.6 million to implement, mostly due to bus purchases.

"To do nothing in this situation is to do harm," Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "You're perpetuating a situation where not only academic achievement is compromised but their health and safety is compromised."

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