California has recently introduced legislation requiring High Schools to start no earlier than 08:30am, and a recent study has suggested that delaying school start times in the US could contribute $83bn to the economy over a decade.

 This is on the back of international research that suggests letting teenagers start school later brings learning, health and safety benefits. Our leaders in Education (Mat James), Health (Abdelhamid Suboh) and Public Safety (Andrew Morley) consider the evidence and ask if it is time to test later school starts in the Middle East.

Parents often discuss the frustration of trying to get their teenagers up for school.

Phone alarms that wake up everyone in the house but the child who set the alarm;  increasing volume of verbal exchanges between parent and child, and the messy bedroom that is left after the speedy but often late departure are commonly cited as features of a teenager’s morning routine.

The evidence about the importance of sleep to cognitive function, mood and physical health is well established with more attention being paid to how to ensure that sleep is prioritized. Colleagues in our US practice recently wrote about the impact of sleep on productivity and creativity; and how organizations can create an environment that puts sleep first.

However, the specific implication for adolescents increasingly considered an important public policy issue in itself. This was most notably evidenced last year in California when the Governor signed a law that required public schools to start no earlier than 08:30am.

This change followed a number of international studies in the US, UK, Europe and Singapore that have shown that delaying school starts did increase sleep time countering the belief that teenagers would simply stay up later. Associated to this, studies have found benefits to learning, health and safety. These included;

*Improved academic attainment

*Reductions in poor behavior and illness related absence

*Fewer reported symptoms of depression

*Reduction in Body Mass Index

*Less reliance on caffeine and other harmful substances

*Reductions in Traffic Accidents

Whilst the evidence around improved academic attainment, reductions in illness related absence and traffic accidents is the strongest, the evidence base around this is still developing.

However, it is considered strong enough to influence a developing consensus amongst health professionals, educators and legislators that starting school later brings a wide suite of benefits and therefore deserves attention. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both called for school start times to be delayed until at least 08:30am.

These studies and endorsements are supported by strong research that finds that teenagers getting up late is a consequence of biology not laziness.

As children enter adolescence they still need 8-10 hours of sleep but a shift in their internal body clock (circadian rhythms) means they do not feel ready for bed until at least 11pm, even when tired. This is related to the secretion of the hormone (melatonin) that helps us fall asleep. The teenager’s body does not secrete this until late in the evening, and not at all in the morning making it hard for them to wake up.

This biological shift conflicts with societal demands where getting up early is perceived as virtuous and a sign of efficiency, and the daily schedules of our teenagers builds in demands accordingly. Unfortunately, sending your teenager to bed early does not work because they simply cannot get off to sleep which leaves them with a sleep deficit.

This is compounded by the role light plays in regulating melatonin, which means the presence of digital devices in the bedroom which our teenagers increasingly turn to before going to sleep only serves to exacerbate the problem.

Much of the resistance to later school starts are related to the logistics. Issues around the school run, the sequencing of separate curriculums in primary and secondary schools and time available to extracurricular activities.  The costs of rescheduling school transport is often cited as being prohibitively expensive.

Whilst these are real and cannot be simply dismissed a recent study by the Rand Corporation provided the final piece of the puzzle when it suggested that moving the school time to 8:30 across the United States would, after taking account of any costs associated with this, contribute $83bn to the US economy over a decade, and $140bn in 15 years. That makes for a strong economic case.

This might appear on the face of it a very tactical issue. However, we are increasingly understanding the relationship between issues that impact on personal wellbeing and safety. This has in turn led to greater inter-disciplinary collaboration in identifying and responding holistically through solutions that deliver multiple outcomes and, critically to us here at Deloitte, impact that matters.

The research globally would suggest that later school starts could be a helpful response to issues that are relevant to us here in the region.

The region, especially Saudi Arabia, routinely scores at the lower end of surveys of the amount of sleep countries get. The recent PISA results suggested that there was room for improvement in educational attainment, and the recent Arab Youth Survey indicated that mental health issues are a common worry for young people in the GCC with academic factors featuring as a major cause of stress. Add to this the high rate of road traffic fatalities for young people and the case for an innovative solution that addresses all of these factors would appear strong.

There has been some limited experience in the region with International School of Arts and Sciences in Dubai introducing revised timings from 8.30am to 2.45pm instead of 7.50am to 2.30pm. In a press report at the time the school reported 100% attendance and being more attentive in class. However, there is little in the way of published research on this in the Middle East region. This provides an opportunity to test the benefits in an Arab context, but also add to the developing global evidence base.  If the region is to develop a reputation as an exporter of leading practice then it has to innovate and critically evaluate so that the learning can be shared.

Even if it was found not to bring all the benefits that the research suggests than at the very least it will make the morning routine for parents of teenagers for the period of any test less stressful…

If you would like to speak to us about any of the issues raised in this blog, or anything related to how Deloitte can support education, health or public safety please do contact:

Mat James (for Education) at matjames@deloitte.com

Abdelhamid Suboh (for Health) at asuboh@deloitte.com

Andrew Morley (for Public Safety) at anmorley@deloitte.com

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