Do Later School Start Times Benefit Students?

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Is the school day designed to match the working conditions of their parents, or should they be redesigned to suit how children learn?

We assume students would benefit from an adjusted time to learning in school, so with a return back to school during COVID, will the education system reconsider the start and closing times of our school day?

In a systematic review, published by Campbell Collaboration (Norway, 2017), later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well‐being of high school students. For teachers, a review is an evaluation of published work, and the data used has been gathered from February 2016 to December 2017.

Other aspects of the research consider “differential effects of later school start times in student subgroups” and also types of schools and how the practice is implemented. On page 12 you can understand the methodology used and the data collection process.

Key findings

The eleven authors have conducted an extensive and far-reaching review. Today, we know there is so much published work on adolescent students. “Even mild sleep deprivation has been associated with significant health and educational concerns: increased risk for accidents and injuries, impaired learning, aggression, memory loss, poor self-esteem, and changes in metabolism.”

Other findings

  • The evidence on absenteeism and student alertness is mixed
  • The total amount of sleep reported was significant, with positive relationships between later school start times and amount of sleep.
  • One study reported decreased depressive symptoms and later school start times.
  • There were mixed results for the association between later school start times and absenteeism – and student alertness.

Although some of the studies report many benefits, include decreased body mass index, waist circumference, and body fat percentage, due to the low quality of the studies included, the authors “cannot make recommendations concerning delayed school starts at this time.”

The key sentence in the front-end of the paper is this: “There appear to be some positive effects from later start times, but the evidence base is too weak to have confidence in the findings.”

Moving forward, although I’ve seen later start times working well for pupils in mainstream and pupil referral units, more (RCT) research controlled trials are needed to explore the effects of later school start times as an intervention on outcomes.

I guess the key question for pastoral school leaders is to think carefully about the context and the benefits of a staggered start time for their students…

This review cannot provide compelling evidence for [later start times], given the small and inconsistent evidence base that currently exists.

Note, I’ve skimmed the 102 pages, so please do dig into the details. Note, the first 55 pages is the published research with the latter half of the document containing references and past studies. There’s a good level of detail should you wish to use this for your research or practice…


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