Sixth formers at a high-end independent school will become the latest starters in the country, after a move to enhance their productivity will see them begin their day at 1.30pm.
From September, post-16 students at Hampton Court House (HCH) will start lessons in the afternoon and finish at 7pm to cater for teenage sleeping patterns.
Bold headteacher Guy Holloway said the idea, based on research by neuroscientists, would help students get quality sleep and improve their cognition.
The self-confessed time-management maniac said: “There are 168 hours in a week and how productive they are depends on how they choose to use those hours.
“At Hampton Court House we don’t think we have the answer for everybody, it’s about what works in our community.
“We want to get them into an environment where they can get quality sleep and their bodies are functioning well.”
He said pupils would also benefit from reduced journey times as they travel to and from school after rush hour. Year 10 student Gabriel Purcell-Davis will be one of the first cohorts of 30 A-level students to start at the later time.
The 15-year-old said: “I want to wake up in my bed, not in my maths lesson.”
The move is based on research by Russell Foster, who said teenagers have a biological predisposition to go to bed later and get up later.
Neuroscientists link better sleep in teenage years with better mental health.
The latest known start for a sixth form in England is 11.30am, so students at HCH will be the latest risers in the country.
Research associate Paul Kelley, who is working with Dr Foster on his latest sleep research at Oxford University, said moving sleeping patterns later benefited health and that teenagers performed better after a good night’s rest.
He said: “You can’t train your system to get up at a practical time. It’s biological, just as your heartbeat, your liver function and a bunch of other things that all sync to natural biological time and that is not in your control.
“Anything you do to change the rhythmic systems of your body means your organs become desynchronised with each other and this is where people get ill and there is no fixing it by giving someone an alarm clock.
“Your body is not watching your wristwatch.”
But the idea has been met with scepticism from other educational establishments as concerns were raised about how students would then cope with getting up early in later life.
Headteacher of Richmond Park Academy Lesley Kirby said her school in East Sheen had considered slightly later starts but it was not practical with the timetable.
She said: “It is also important for the main school to see sixth formers as successful role models who are carrying on their education and and that is not present if they see them for a very short period of the day.
“Then what are these students going to do when they have a 9am lecture at university, or start work? They won’t be able to go in during the afternoon.
“School is about training people in living effective lives and I don’t think this is effective as it would be quite difficult to make the change back. I would also wonder how robust the science is.”
- Hampton Court House is holding an open evening for its sixth form on Thursday, May 15, at 7pm. For a prospectus, or to attend, contact registrar Sarah Carroll on 020 8614 0857 or through the school’s website, hamptoncourthouse.co.uk.