Graham Turner: Teenagers (and parents) won’t like a longer school day

I think most parents of teenage children will agree that getting them up in the morning is a difficult job that occasionally verges on the impossible.

We’ve had this almost daily battle for several years and still haven’t really come up with a foolproof method, though sending an excitable and enthusiastic Jack Russell terrier into a bedroom generally works.

But it seems youngsters have science on their side - research has confirmed that teenagers’ sleeping patterns are different to normal people. Nature has determined that they need to go to bed later and get up hours after the rest of us have woken, walked the dog, had breakfast, done a few chores and gone to work – nothing to do with the lure of TV, computers, music and video games, just a requirement for nine hours’ sleep.

So when we read last month that UCL Academy in London was introducing a 10am start time, my wife and I both agreed it was a sensible and enlightened policy.

“Youngsters are turning up alert and ready to learn and are focused and engaged in lessons,” head teacher Geraldine Davies was quoted as saying.

Then last week, we had Education Secretary Michael Gove revealing that he was proposing to extend the school day, to get more out of our lazy, layabout children. One commentator (presumably not the parent of a teenager) suggested a 7.30am-5.30pm school day.

I wondered how teenagers would react to a 7.30am start? I think the answer is that they wouldn’t react, they’d still be asleep.

One of my son’s young friends spends nearly an hour travelling at the start and end of each day so, by my reckoning, that would mean getting on the bus at 6.30am to reach school by the time the bell goes, then home by 6.30pm - a 12-hour day. Not very fair or practical; I’m not sure if it’s sensible having buses loaded with our children careering along country lanes at 6.30am on a dark, icy January morning.

Mr Gove held up Singapore and Hong Kong as shining examples of this type of regime – I wonder what their winters are like?

We have our whole life to learn and improve ourselves, but childhood is very short – youngsters should be given time to enjoy it.