Do later school start times improve learning?
Starting the school day later could benefit students both academically and psychosocially, a Campbell Collaboration Systematic Review has found.
The report Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well-being of high school students, published in December 2017, looked at the results of multiple intervention studies involving starting lessons later in the morning.
The evidence base covered 17 studies reporting on 11 unique interventions with 297 994 participants. Six studies took place in the US, and one study each was in Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Israel, and New Zealand.
Results at a glance
The studies reviewed in this paper examined academic outcomes, amount and quality of sleep, mental health indicators, attendance, and student alertness. The authors suggest that while later school start times may appear to be beneficial because of the results presented by the studies, more research is needed in this area.
No two studies introduced identical start times. However, most found that delaying a school’s start time resulted in students getting more sleep.
For example, ‘Borlase 2013 found that for a sample of New Zealand's Year 11 students, whose start time was 09:00, and Year 12 students, whose start time was 10:30, students with later school start times had significantly lower odds of reporting being overly sleepy,’ the report states.
For other studies there were similar results. ‘There was a moderate and statistically significant difference between students’ hours of sleep at earlier and later starting high schools … this translates to an increase of 83.4 minutes of sleep for students at schools with later start times,’ the report says.
Further, one study used standardised test scores and found ‘significant positive associations between later start times and student maths scores and reading scores’. However, another study also used standardised test scores and found a non-significant association between school start times and test scores, the report noted.
Decreases in the rate of student tardiness due to oversleeping was also reported, as well as an increase in overall attendance rates for some schools. However, the authors of the review state that this data was not reported well enough to be taken in total confidence even though the findings do suggest ‘several potential benefits’ for students.
School start times in Australia
The Victorian Government doesn’t specifically mandate school hours, but most schools aren’t starting their day as late as this secondary school in central Victoria.
Alice Miller School in Macedon, an hour’s drive from Melbourne, has had lessons commence much later in the morning since the school opened in 2016. Head of Campus, Sarita Ryan, tells Teacher there are benefits to having this later schedule.
‘We decided to try running the school in a style that we felt better suited teenagers, and we started at 10.45 am and finished at 4.30 pm. We’ve since moved this start time slightly earlier, to 10 am, as we were finding it hard to squeeze everything in within the first timeframe.’
Ryan says although some working parents find the later school hours difficult, there is still the option of getting to school early because the grounds open at 9 am for students to catch up on work or spend time with friends before lessons. Ryan admits some students don’t like finishing later than usual because it can impact their after school activities, but most teenagers appreciate the hours.
‘Many kids love the later start time … we’ve found that the students tend to [bounce] off the bus in the morning and are ready to start their day. There is a buzz in the school that is unlike the general lethargy that can pervade schools in the morning.’
As for the staff at Alice Miller, Ryan says they are perhaps the most grateful for the later schedule.
‘If anything, schools would likely find these hours easier to manage, as there is more time in the morning for administrative preparation and the day then finishes more or less in line with regular work hours. The teachers certainly love it!’
Marx, R., Tanner‐Smith, E. E., Davison, C. M., Ufholz, L. A., Freeman, J., Shankar, R., ... & Hendrikx, S. (2017). Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well‐being of high school students. Campbell Systematic Reviews.
Think about your own classroom: have you observed a difference in your students’ alertness at the beginning of the school day in comparison to later in the afternoon?
With a colleague, create a list of positives and negatives about starting lessons later in the morning. What impact would a later start time have on student achievement? What impact would it have on teachers? What about parents?