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Am or pm? Pupils choose their shift

Children offered choice of early or late starts to the school day in Plymouth pilot

FOUR PRIMARY schools in Plymouth are experimenting with shifts for the benefit pupils who like to sleep in, as well as those who rise and shine early.

Those who work better in the morning can start school at 7.45am and work through until 1pm, while naturally late risers have the option to begin lessons at 11am and finish at 4.30pm.

The scheme is being piloted for one month initially. The early shift is based at Southway primary; the later version at neighbouring Tamerton Vale primary.

Mark Lees, the headteacher at Southway, says he was sceptical at first.

"I've always done it 9am to 3pm, and what's wrong with that?," he said.

"But there's a freshness about this scheme. The children have chosen to come at those times and say they're enjoying it."

He says many parents genuinely considered their children's work preferences, rather than opting for the most convenient slot.

The school also offers breakfast and after-school clubs.

Roughly two-thirds of the pupils have chosen the morning shift, which does not surprise Mr Lees.

"Young children do best in the morning," he said. "It tends to be once their age ends in "teen" that they don't want to leave their bed."

Pupils are free to arrive at 11am or leave at 1pm, depending on their chosen shift. But they are also offered two hours of enrichment lessons, such as language classes or trampolining, to fill the rest of the conventional school day.

Despite initial fears, staff have not found their workload increased. But Jennifer Dale, a teaching assistant at Southway, admits that she did not take to the 7.45am start as easily as her pupils.

"I was out one night in the first week and getting up was quite a struggle," she said. "But you get used to it.

"In winter, it might be difficult for children to go to school in the dark.

But in summer it's nice to be done at 1pm."

Funding for the pilot has come from the Government's innovation unit.

Pupils, teachers and parents will be asked whether they would welcome shift-working permanently.

After three weeks on the early shift, 9-year-old Thomas Ranford is undecided.

"I get quite tired," he said. "I'm looking forward to starting later again, so I'll get a lie-in.

"But next time I could try the later lessons. Then I'd get even more of a lie-in."

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