Government gets tough on shortening school weeks
Schools funding is frequently an issue identified in education news. As a way to cut costs, an increasing number of local authority schools across the country have trialled shortening the school week by finishing early on Friday afternoons.
In response to this, the Department for Education (“the DfE”) has updated its ‘School Attendance’ guidance to make specific reference to the length of time pupils should spend in school. The relevant guidance now states:
"The structure of the school day and school week should not be the cause of inconvenience to parents and it is unacceptable for schools to shorten their school day or school week unless it is a direct action to support and enhance their pupils' education. Schools should organise the school day and school week in the best interest of their pupil cohort, to provide them with a full time education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability." A recent House of Commons Briefing Paper (July 2019) also records the Schools Minister as saying: "it is unacceptable for schools to shorten their working week when it is not a direct action to support and enhance their pupil's education".
The updated DfE guidance and the Briefing Paper clearly highlight the government’s view on the matter, but what does the law say?
The Education (School Day and School Year) (England) Regulations 1999 set out that schools must hold “at least 380 sessions … during any school year". This usually amounts to 190 school days throughout the academic year. Interestingly, the length of each “session” is up to the school to determine.
Schools have a common law duty to act in the best interests of their pupils and the Education Act 2002 also requires the governing body of a maintained school to “make arrangements for ensuring that their functions relating to the conduct of the school are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children who are pupils at the school.”
It’s a fine balance but, so long as schools can show that they are promoting the welfare of pupils and acting in their best interests then it’s highly unlikely that the amendments to the DfE guidance will make a significant difference to schools when looking at ways to be creative with their budgets.
For more information on this update, please contact Laura Thompson.
This article was prepared by Pavi Atwal.