Part-time timetables – what are they and when are they lawful?
Another issue we are often contacted about here at SENDIAS is the use by schools of part-time timetables (also referred to as reduced timetables). Here we are going to look at what children and young people are entitled to in terms of education, if and when part time timetables can and should be used, and how long these arrangements should go on for.
The right to a full-time education
All children of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education. A child must start education the term after their fifth birthday and can leave education on the last Friday in June if 16 years old by the end of the summer holidays. (this doesn’t mean they should necessarily be at school, as parents may opt to electively home educate, but they should be receiving a full-time education)
Once they are 16, they must then do one of the following until they’re 18:
- stay in full-time education, for example at a college
- start an apprenticeship or traineeship
- spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training
School’s Duties to secure full-time education
Schools are obliged under Section 317(1)(a) Education Act 1996 to use their best endeavours to secure a full-time education.
According to the Frequently Asked Questions section of the School attendance – guidance for maintained schools, academies, independent schools and local authorities: July 2019:
“Can a school place a pupil on a part-time timetable? As a rule, no. All pupils of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education. In very exceptional circumstances there may be a need for a temporary part-time timetable to meet a pupil’s individual needs. For example, where a medical condition prevents a pupil from attending full-time education and a part-time timetable is considered as part of a re-integration package. A part-time timetable must not be treated as a long-term solution. Any pastoral support programme or other agreement must have a time limit by which point the pupil is expected to attend full-time or be provided with alternative provision. In agreeing to a part-time timetable, a school has agreed to a pupil being absent from school for part of the week or day and therefore must record it as authorised absence”.
2 things are indicated here – 1) it is only due to a child or parent’s request for part time attendance that this could be considered by the school NOT the school’s request to the parent for their child to attend part time. 2) Should part time attendance be felt to be in the child’s best interest, then this should be time limited after which the child either returns to full time education or alternative provision is provided.
Local Authority’s duties to secure full-time education
Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on LAs to make suitable alternative education for children of statutory (compulsory) school age who cannot attend school because of illness, exclusion or any other reason. (This is an important but often overlooked phrase and would certainly apply to part time attendance).
A local authority (“LA”) is permitted, under section 19 Education Act 1996, to provide “education on such part-time basis as the authority consider to be in the child’s best interests”, where “for reasons which relate to the physical or mental health of the child, it would not be in the child’s best interests for full-time education to be provided”. (emphasis is mine)
The DfE’s Alternative Provision – statutory guidance for local authorities states under the headings:
The provision of suitable full-time education to those who would not otherwise receive it:
- “While there is no statutory requirement as to when suitable full-time education should begin for pupils placed in alternative provision for reasons other than exclusion, local authorities should ensure that such pupils are placed as quickly as possible”.
- “While ‘full-time’ is not defined in law, pupils in alternative provision should receive the same amount of education as they would receive in a maintained school. Full-time can be made up of two or more part-time provisions”. (in fact, an LGO ruling from 2019 stated that guidance suggests that full time is approx. 22- 25 hours per week, or may be less if receiving 1:1 face to face tuition).
Planning for alternative provision
“All pupils should be helped and encouraged to achieve or exceed the standards of a good education. Commissioners should recognise any issues or barriers, and hence a potential requirement for alternative provision, as early as possible, and carry out a thorough assessment of the pupil’s needs. Schools should look to have an increased focus on the early assessment and identification of a pupil’s needs before his or her behaviour has deteriorated to the extent that exclusion is the only option”. Or if not overt exclusion, then unlawful exclusion through incorrect use of a part time timetable.
IPSEA have a very interesting case law summary regarding a child who despite having a Statement of SEN (equivalent of an EHC Plan prior to 2014) was placed on a part time timetable almost at the beginning of starting secondary school. Although the First Tier Tribunal sided with the school, the parents took it to the Upper Tribunal who disagreed with the original ruling.
The Upper Tribunal findings were:
- Once the child had become a registered pupil, the school had been obliged, under s. 317(1)(a) Education Act 1996, to use its best endeavours to secure a full-time education.
- The school had not made any provision for the hours where the child was not in school.
- “The authority arguably owed an even stronger duty to secure for the child a full-time education given their duty to arrange the educational provision specified in the statement of SEN.
The conclusion from this then is that IF part time attendance at school is felt to be in the child’s best interests by the parent (or even by the school), and school are not going to arrange and fund suitable alternative provision themselves during this time, then the LA must be involved in that decision as it is they who have a duty to secure full time education under section 19. This is the same for those with SEN regardless of whether they have EHC Plan or not.
Without this discussion, consideration and agreement with all relevant and suitable ‘parties’ that it is in the child’s best interests; and if suitable education is not arranged, then ‘Part-time timetables’ are very likely to be unlawful exclusions. This is especially true in situations where school are suggesting these because they do not have enough resources to support a child’s behaviour or other needs.
A part-time timetable must not be used as a disciplinary measure. This would result in the child accruing day or half-day exclusions (depending on the circumstances) every time the child wasn’t in school, which if being recorded properly would trigger a different process.
For those with EHC Plans, if the support within the EHCP is not working, or the child’s needs have changed, then an emergency review is needed BEFORE a decision is made to reduce attendance / timetable. Only through a review can it be established that a reduced timetable is in the best interests of the child.
What if a part time timetable IS in the best interests of my child?
As mentioned above, in exceptional circumstances, part time attendance or a part time timetable may be in a child’s best interest for example:
- where a medical condition prevents full-time attendance or
- a child is transitioning back into school after a long-term absence.
If this is being discussed, then you should be able to reasonably expect the following:
- It must be clear when the part-time timetable comes to an end and must not be a long-term measure.
- The school must have your signed parental permission evidenced on the school file prior to the commencement of a part time timetable.
- Where appropriate, your child must have an active involvement in the process of planning, reviewing and evaluating the provision.
- A clear and evidenced rationale for the reduced hours, aimed at supporting the needs of your child as part of a detailed action plan. There should be a clear pathway to full integration within an agreed timeline of no more than a few weeks (usually 6-8 weeks is the maximum agreed). This should have LA agreement.
- The absences from school as part of the part-time timetable will be treated as authorised absence.
- A formal risk assessment of the impact that a reduced timetable would have on your child must be carried out and agreed. What happens at the end of the period?
- There should be a review meeting midway through and towards the end of the proposed period with opportunity to discuss support and if the all objectives of the part time timetable are being met.
• What if the part time timetable has not achieved the results we hoped for? Before the end of the agreed period of the plan, if the objectives have not been achieved, a multi-agency meeting needs to be arranged urgently to plan the next steps for your child. This might well include specialist staff from outside agencies.