Full time education is under threat, according to many reports. What should schools know about their obligations in making decisions about educational provision; and what are they?

It is up to the Secretary of State to ensure that the required provision for full-time education is made in schools. It is up to parents to ensure that their child is receiving ‘efficient full-time education suitable to her/his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs s/he may have’. It is the responsibility of local authorities to police that. This begs a number of questions relating to the definition of ‘full-time education’, which is not defined in the legislation.

According to Department for Education guidance on ‘School attendance’ and on ‘School Day and School Year’, published in September 2018, ‘Schools must meet for at least 380 sessions – sessions being one day, split into two sessions by a break – i.e. 190 days - during any school year to educate their pupils’. This applies to all “maintained schools, academies, independent schools and local authorities”. However, although maintained schools ‘must’ meet for 380 sessions, there is no such statutory obligation on academies.

There have been reports of a number of schools managing their budgets by reducing educational provision from 5 to 4.5 days per week. However, academies should also be aware of the roles both of the Secretary of State (and in turn, Ofsted) in securing that the required provision for ‘full-time education’ is made in schools and of the local authority in ensuring parents are fulfilling their obligations towards their children’s education.

Would a maintained school, or indeed an academy or local authority provider, be entitled to shorten its afternoon session, rather than not run an afternoon session at all thereby ending the school day after the morning session? The answer, subject to the caveat above, is yes. Until 2011, governing body of a maintained school had to consult with the local authority, the headteacher, its employees and parents if they proposed to change the timing of any session or break and three months’ notice would have to be given of any change to the length of the school day. While emphasis is still placed on ‘appropriate’ consultation and notice, the actual requirements of such consultation have been removed.

All state funded schools, whether they are maintained or academies, should bear in mind their responsibilities to act ‘reasonably’ and therefore should consult and give notice reasonably. There is no definition of what might be considered reasonable; this would be decided on a case by case basis. But although, as explained, these requirements were phased out long ago, they provide a good guide as to what would be considered reasonable if a school were considering such a change.