Written by Brockwood Park School
At the end of our last school year we engaged with our leaving students, those returning and as a staff body, in an honest review of how the year had gone. Many themes emerged: the unending and ever-evolving questions around wise use of technology; the cultivation of a studious and yet joyful atmosphere in the school outside lesson time; the vital question of how best to make toast in the mornings. But engaging with a growing body of evidence that suggests that later school starting times provide a wealth of health and learning benefits gave rise to the question that has had one of the biggest impacts on the year so far: could we allow for a more natural start to the school day?
Following on from meetings as a whole school and with groups of students, a small team of three staff met over a period of a few months to work on ideas to implement a new start to the school day. We drew out a number of key aims:
- To have a later start to the school day throughout the year (previously, the day had begun at 7:50 with classes starting at 9:10)
- To have a later start in the winter than in the summer
- To encourage everyone to begin the day with a silent meeting of at least 10 minutes
- To improve attendance at breakfast
There is greater awareness of the differences in activity of the teenage brain and its associated impacts on the behavior of teenage students and this presents an opportunity to investigate some of the very basic judgements we so quickly make about teenagers. We carry so much conditioning of our own that when we read the behavior of others, how often is it based on facts and how does what we ‘see’ simply reflect what we feel ‘should’ be happening?
We set up a morning structure, freeing up time in a number of ways:
- We delayed the beginning of lunch by 5 minutes
- We shortened a mid-morning break from 30 mins to 15 mins
- We shortened 2 morning lessons from 1hr 30 to 1hr 20 in the summer timetable
This gave us an extra 20 minutes in the summer timetable and 40 minutes in the winter. Together with combining what had previously been separate morning meetings and assemblies, we now have a programme which allows for the following:
- A summer timetable from April to October that begins with a whole-school silent morning meeting at 8:20 and lessons beginning at 9:50
- A winter timetable from October to April that begins at 8:40 with lessons beginning at 10:10
A number of effects have already been seen, some expected and others that have emerged as pleasant surprises. The first is the difference in the number of students who are now attending breakfast. The vast majority of students now come to breakfast together after the morning meeting, which has given both a fresh energy to the start of the day as well as the feeling of a more leisurely breakfast. We have also found that as the beginning of the silent morning meeting is dependent on the arrival of all the students, there is an extra incentive for them to be on time, as a prompt start to the morning meeting results in an extra 5 minutes at breakfast! However, the principal effect has been the time now available to our students to get enough sleep. I am in no way suggesting that learning to get an early night does not have it’s place, but studies and personal observation point to the significant gap between the times that students wake up naturally and when they are made to wake up to attend school (2 or more hours generally ). It’s still early days, but students and staff alike are very positive with the change.
With a later, simpler start, we have begun to orient the conversation towards the cultivation of a quality of silence and order to begin the day and to carry into and through the day. This change takes time and is cultivated from each of our doing it as well as from our discussions, but I would encourage anyone reading this to see that there are two key elements to what we have done here. One is of course the practical shifting of the order of the day, which requires a certain flexibility and determination, supported by the literature and research and communicated to the community in a clear way. The other, however, is probably far more important: it is the mindset that approaches the steps we take together, such that each and every person has genuine agency in the process. Everyone has a voice and that voice is heard. It may prove less efficient. Fine. Efficiency is a price worth paying to uphold our collective humanity. It may be a little chaotic at times. Yes, learning can be messy, but without moving together, we have no choice but to divide.
The final word must be an invitation to you all to come and visit us at Brockwood and see for yourselves what works and what doesn’t with our new morning schedule. This shift in the beginning of the day is, along with all we do, a work in progress and sharing what we have learnt and what we see, is a vital ingredient in education.