Select schools in Dubai have chosen to start later in the morning so that their students can benefit from more sleep.
Pupils in the UAE typically need to arrive at school between 7am and 7.30am, meaning they often need to wake up between 5.30am to 6.30am, depending on start and travel time.
Head teachers of schools that have backed a later start said they have seen pupils’ punctuality, attendance and well-being improve after they got some extra sleep.
When Bloom World Academy opened its doors in August 2022, it was one of the first schools in the city to operate a 9am to 4pm school day, with lessons getting under way more than an hour after most schools in the emirate.
Dubai British School Jumeirah Park moved start times from 7.30am to 8.15am in August 2022.
Rebecca Coulter, principal at the school, said she had received feedback that classes were starting too early and, after consulting parents, decided to go for a later start.
“Everyone was struggling with that early start. We’ve been more creative with how we use the time within the school day, so we have played around with the lesson, break and lunch times,” said Ms Coulter.
“We have seen a positive impact on our pupils’ well-being, particularly with high-school pupils.
“There is a lot of research on the brains of teenagers and the optimal time for children to come to school — that played a part. We took evidence and input from pupils.
“We have seen an increase in the number of pupils opting for extra-curricular activities since the later start.”
The school day is now from 8.15am to 3.30pm.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that not getting enough sleep is common among high school pupils and is associated with health risks such as obesity, use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, as well as poor academic performance.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends middle and high schools to start at 8.30am or later to ensure pupils get enough sleep.
Jumeira Baccalaureate School shifted their school day to a later start in August 2021 and has already seen punctuality improve.
Earlier, pupils had to be in school by 7.30 and the first lesson would start at 7.45am, but as of August 2021, pupils have to be in school for an 8.15am start and their first lesson is at 8.30am.
Younger pupils finish at 2.50pm while those in grades 11 and 12 finish the school day at 3.30pm.
Erika Elkady, vice principal at the school, said the initiative was meant to boost well-being by allowing children to get more sleep.
“The Dubai Student Well-being census data showed that sleep was actually quite a worry and that pupils were not getting enough sleep,” she said.
She added that some pupils thought they could catch on sleep at the weekend and stay up late on weeknights.
“Research shows that sleep is extremely important for development,” she said.
“We get feedback from parents saying that they start the day so much calmer. There is no rush and no chaos in the house, and they can have breakfast as a family.”
The schools had to receive permission from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority before they could change their schedules.
Ms Elkady said pupils who were sleep-deprived were often cranky and would get into arguments.
“We started to look into sleep research and what we could do better, and that’s why we decided to start later,” she said.
“We feel that there is actually a huge improvement in punctuality data, there is an improvement in attendance data and in our behaviour management.”
For Khadeeja AlShirawi, a grade 11 Emirati pupil at Jumeira Baccalaureate School, a later start means she can have breakfast with family and pray before starting the day.
“I remember not wanting to wake up in the morning because it was too early, and I might have had to complete a couple of assignments before I went to bed,” she said. “I would come to school tired and not really properly focused on my classes.
“I think now, with this later timing, I feel more energetic. When I wake up, I have time to maybe do a couple of things at home before I can leave for school.
“I think overall, my energy, the way that I interact with my peers and teachers, it’s much more positive than it was.”
The pupil added that the later start had helped her improve her sleep schedule.
“I feel much less drowsy than I used to. Sometimes I would feel so tired and would have to take a nap after school,” she said.
“But now I feel like I have the energy to complete everything, and my sleep schedule isn’t all over the place.”