Thousands of teenagers are to be encouraged to have lie-ins on weekdays to see if it improves their exam results.
A major investigation is being launched at 100 secondary schools in the UK to establish if a later starting time for lessons of 10am will help boost GCSE grades.
The move follows an experiment at a state secondary school, Monkseaton in North Tyneside, which saw the percentage of pupils getting top-grade GCSEs – including maths and English – rise from 34 per cent to 50 per cent when a later start was introduced.
The change was most marked among disadvantaged pupils, whose performance rose from 19 per cent to 43 per cent.
“Recent advances in our understanding of the neuroscience of sleep has shown that the body clock of teenagers is delayed,” said Professor Russell Foster, from Oxford University.
“Our project will be the first... to explore whether a later start to the school day, along with educational programmes regarding the importance of sleep, will have a positive impact upon both academic performance and overall health in the teenage population,” he said.
As part of the research, 31,800 pupils taking part will be split into four groups at their schools. One will carry on with the normal schedule, a second will receive an education package on the importance of sleep, the third will start later in their GCSE year and the fourth will receive the sleep education package and start later in their GCSE year.
The aim is to find out which method is the most effective in producing good exam results.
Professor Colin Espie, also from Oxford University, added: “We know something funny sometimes happens when you’re a teenager. You seem to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.
“Of course, your parents think that’s probably because you’re lazy and opinionated and if you only got to bed earlier at night, you’d be able to get up in the morning.
“What we’re doing in the study is exploring the possibility that If we actually delay the school start time until 10am instead of 9am or earlier, that additional hour – taken as a dose over the course of a year – will actually improve learning, performance, attainment and – in the end – school leaving qualifications.”
The project is one of six investigations being funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation – a charity set up to reduce the gap in performance between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers – to research how neuroscience could be used to improve school performance.
Other projects include one aimed at showing whether improved physical fitness could improve performance.
Professor Helen Dawes, of Oxford Brookes University, said: “We’ve known for a long time that physical activity is good for our health and now we’re beginning to find out it is good for our brain as well.”
At present, though, children are inactive for a large part of their PE lessons, waiting for their turn to take part in activities. The programme will aim to make them “sweatier and more breathless” and improve their fitness levels.
“Children are living increasingly sedentary lives and there is considerable scope for increasing their activity levels,” added Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg, a Wellcome Trust researcher at Oxford University.
A third project will test the theory that children’s learning improves if an element of competition between them and their peers is introduced into the classroom.Reuse content