While many studies have shown the benefits of later school starts, including better student attendance, higher test scores, and improved sleep duration, few have used starting times later than 9:00 a.m. Here we report on the implementation and impact of a 10 a.m. school start time for 13 to 16-year-old students. A 4-year observational study using a before-after-before (A-B-A) design was carried out in an English state-funded high school. School start times were changed from 8:50 a.m. in study year 0, to 10 a.m. in years 1-2, and then back to 8:50 a.m. in year 3. Measures of student health (absence due to illness) and academic performance (national examination results) were used for all students. Implementing a 10 a.m. start saw a decrease in student illness after 2 years of over 50% (p < 0.0005 and effect size: Cohen's d = 1.07), and reverting to an 8:50 a.m. start reversed this improvement, leading to an increase of 30% in student illness (p < 0.0005 and Cohen's d = 0.47). The 10:00 a.m. start was associated with a 12% increase in the value-added number of students making good academic progress (in standard national examinations) that was significant (<0.0005) and equivalent to 20% of the national benchmark. These results show that changing to a 10:00 a.m. high school start time can greatly reduce illness and improve academic performance. Implementing school start times later than 8:30 a.m., which may address the circadian delay in adolescents' sleep rhythms more effectively for evening chronotypes, appears to have few costs and substantial benefits.
Keywords: academic performance; adolescence; circadian; circadian social science; illness; school start times; sleep.