Flexibility: Larks and Owls

Photo by Amanda Hider on Pexels.com

Are you an early riser? Are you up with the larks? Or are you a nightbird? An owl?

In this school we have flexibility built in to accommodate early starters and late risers. In this post I am going to tell you how it works. Before we even start with the school day, however, I want you to see the school year. You see, flexibility is built into this school right down to the shape of the school year.

The number of contact days per year is set by law. You can see that here:

school days must not be less than 182 days

UAE government Portal

Table 1: Number of contact days per year, contact hours per day, and contact hours per year

Days per Year Hours per DayHours per YearOnline up to 40%
Grades K-2: 180 days/year5 hours/day 900 hours/yearUp to 360 hours
Grades 3-7: 180 days/year6 hours/day 1,080 hours/year   Up to 436 hours  
Grades 8-12:180 days/year7 hours/day 1,260hours/year  Up to 504 hours

Contact hours are not directly related to instruction time.  We make a distinction between learning and instruction.  Learning goes on throughout the community at all times; instruction goes on in formal classes.  We put a high premium on free play, activities (or projects), the reduced formal curriculum and community work.  It is all a part of the curriculum.


MBAT is not a normal school.  Children come to consider it their school, because they are deeply involved in organizing events, performances, shows and exhibitions.  The emphasis on community can lead to extensions to the school day when there are special events, performances or festivities.   

Normally we will have phased entry and leaving times.  We call these Larks and Owls.

Photo by mark broadhurst on Pexels.com
ArrivalDeparture: Years K-2Departure: Years 3-7Departure: Years 8-12
8am1 pm2 pm3 pm
9.30 am2.30 pm3.30 pm4.30 pm
Hours in day567
Larks and Owls Schedule


Whole class teaching and community planning takes place in the period when all students are present.  In the morning and afternoon (before Owls arrive; after Larks leave) classes are smaller.  This allows teachers to work one-on-one with students to catch up or extend their learning.

The way in which Larks and Owls time is used evolves as children move up the school.  In the early years they can benefit from individual attention, free activity in the activity rooms, self-learning using the online resources and planning of their day with staff who have been trained to do this.

As they grow in independence and initiative they may:

  • Choose to work on their own projects
  • Prepare for classes by doing homework
  • Engage in research
  • Use material made available for them by teachers using the Flipped Classroom model
  • Play
  • Talk and discuss

Classrooms are designed to limit the disruption of pick up and drop off.  Each space is designed so that the quietest area is at the back of the room, furthest from the entrance. 

The reasoning…

There are many reasons to have a flexible time-scale in the school day. I’ll share some research with you here. What you need to understand before you look at it is that this school is flexible by its nature. We are not going to insist that everyone is an owl because we have read some research studies. We want parents and kids to make their own decisions.

Making your own decisions is at the heart of this school. Most of the research on flexible hours has focused on teenagers’ sleep patterns. We think that families of young children have equally good reasons for wanting flexibility:

  • you love the morning to do things as a family
  • you want an early pick up so that you can have lunch together
  • you live a long way from the school
  • your work schedule is not the typical 9-5
  • you like a relaxed start to the day

Many schools are implementing blocks of flexible time:

Enriching Students suggests many ways to include flexible blocks in a schools schedule. The webpage points to the current healthcare crisis around COVID as a detonator for schools around the world to start investigating more flexible approaches.

The Learning Accelerator talks about the educational benefits of flexible scheduling. They link to Sanborn Regional High, which has an impressive range of innovations relating to timetabling. We don’t buy the whole competencies curriculum, but we agree that the relationship between teachers and students should not be defined by the instructional burden.

And, if you want some scientific research, check out the study by Winnebeck et al. in the Journal Sleep. The focus here is clearly on the sleep deprivation that adolescents may face. The implication is that later starting times can have a dramatic effect on the performance and well-being of senior students in our school.

Again, we have to insist that we want flexibility. We don’t want to chuck out one model and install another for everyone. There are larks and there are owls. Our school will be great for both.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Published by Jason Preater

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