Tuesday, January 23, 2007


SHAKESPEARE called it the "chief nourisher in life's feast", and sleep ranks up there with food, water and sex for survival of the species. As an adolescent psychologist, one of the most frequent complaints I hear from parents is the seeming inability of teenagers to get out of bed. Parents point out that they've been out late, watched DVDs all night, or spent the night online or texting mates.

But sleep researchers would beg to differ. While laziness and staying up all night do play a part, the main culprit turns out to be their brains. Circadian rhythms, or body clocks, were first scientifically analysed by the French astronomer Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan in 1729. He was puzzled about why the leaves of mimosa plants went rigid in the day and drooped at night. He had stumbled upon one of biology's central facts: plants, insects and mammals move to a daily rhythm that is determined by their internal body clocks, not the environment.

In adults the body clock is on for about 16 hours a day, generally corresponding to daylight. As daylight disappears, the body clock switches off. We feel sleepy and it is hard to stay awake. Before the advent of the electric light, this was a non-issue. People hit the sack after a couple of hours by candlelight and stirred at daybreak. The invention of electricity has progressively detached all of us from the 24-hour cycle of light and dark.

But with teenagers, it is different. An error has crept into the hard-wiring of their internal body clocks. It is known as delayed sleep-phase syndrome. When puberty arrives, the body clock seems to work differently. Research shows that teenagers need about 9 1/4 hours' sleep. If your adolescent finally drops off at midnight, he is a long way from being ready to wake up when you throw the curtains open at 7am.

This is why, when school comes along, many parents tear their hair in frustration. I know of some who have resorted to playing their old John Denver records at high volume to encourage sleepy teenagers out of bed. I'm told Rocky Mountain High is particularly effective.

When the body clock turns off, the brain secretes the sleep chemical, melatonin. Sleep researchers have found that melatonin is produced in adolescents much later in the evening than in younger kids. By being forced to get up after only seven hours' sleep rather than nine, teenagers are building up a sleep debt, losing up to 10 hours or more every school week. These students will be up to 25 per cent less alert at school because they are missing out on deep REM sleep, vital for memory and learning. A lack of REM sleep is associated with anxiety, depression, poor immunity, accidents, and poor judgment and memory. Some make up for lost sleep by sleeping in on weekends, but many still show symptoms of severe sleep deprivation.

Given that the natural body cycles of teens mean they function better later in the day, there is a growing consensus that we should let them sleep in. Schools should vary start times for three main reasons. Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller has tested later start times at two Victorian schools and found a 10am-4pm school day was associated with less bad behaviour and better academic results. Teachers also suffer from sleep deprivation, and their wellbeing would improve with a later start time. Roads and trains and trams would be less clogged if commuters did not have to compete with kids going to school.

Because melatonin levels change as children get older, the ideal situation would be to have staggered start times: earlier for primary school students, and later at high schools.



Parents working long hours are turning to state boarding schools to meet their education and childcare needs. Keen to take advantage of the wraparound teaching, pastoral and social provision provided by the boarding sector, but unable to afford the 20,000 pounds needed for leading independent schools, growing numbers of parents are now eyeing up the 34 boarding schools in the state sector. These charge about 7,000 a year because parents only pay for boarding, not tuition.

Demand for the 5,000 state boarding places in England has increased by 50 per cent in the past four years, according to the Boarding Schools' Association (BSA) with schools now three or four times oversubscribed. Demand for sixth-form places is particularly acute. Hilary Moriarty, national director of the BSA, has detected a sea change in attitudes towards boarding school, particularly for weekly boarding. "The notion of parents and children working hard all week and enjoying quality time together at weekends is quite seductive. This is particularly so when parents work late in the evening or commute big distances, while children reach an age when they have social and extra-curricular demands of their own in the evenings. "Parents are becoming acclimatised to the idea of sending a child to boarding school and less fearful of being branded a bad parent," she said.

The state boarding sector is undergoing a profound transformation, thanks largely to a 25 million expansion programme. Wymondham College in Norfolk has secured 9.8 million of funding for a building programme that includes 115 ensuite study bedrooms. A further 5 million has been allocated to Brymore School in Somerset to build a boarding house and refurbish an old one, Burford in Oxfordshire to increase its provision and to Lancaster Royal Grammar to replace existing provision. Old Swinford Hospital, in Worcestershire, has doubled its boarding places since 2000 to 44 for Year 7 pupils and a further 15 in Year 9.

Melvyn Roffe, the headmaster, said that state boarding was an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem. "For the amount of money parents would have to spend on childcare and running them around activities after school, it is extremely good value. "State boarding schools produce good results, which may have something to do with the lifestyle they offer. It helps children to develop their independence and parents regard it as preparation for university life," he said at the State Boarding Schools Association conference yesterday.

Norman Hoare, head of St George's, a mixed state boarding school in Hertfordshire, said that the 20 boarding places for Year 7 pupils were now four times oversubscribed. "Why should parents pay so much for boarding places in the independent sector, when they can get such good quality in the state sector?" he said.

The reversal in the fortunes in most state boarding schools follows moves to extend the school day by encouraging day schools to offer both breakfast and after school provision. It also coincides with plans to offer more state boarding places for children in care in new academies. One boarding academy, Kingshurst, is already under way in Solihull.

At Gratton Park, a state boarding school in Reigate, Surrey, Paul Spencer Ellis, the head, has developed a hybrid day-boarding system. "We offer 30 places in Year 7 for `day boarders'. They can attend school from 7.30am until their age group boarders go to bed and have all meals included in the fee, which is only 1,100 pounds per term. For September 2006 he had more than 100 applicants. "This shows how parents appreciate the longer day and the care of a boarding school," he said.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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