Reduced Timetables / Part-time timetables – what are they and when are they lawful?
There may be occasion where either the school or parent/carer suggest a reduced or part time timetable is considered. 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 be used (and where they shouldn’t), and whether alternatives should be considered.
Please note that for the rest of this guide Parent/Carers will be quoted as ‘parents’.
The right to a full-time education
As we read in the School Attendance page – all children of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education suitable to their age, ability, aptitude as well as their Special Educational Needs (SEN). 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 where that is suitable for the child, especially where they attend a school.
According to an LGO Focus Report – Out of School, Out of Sight, July 2022 (amended Feb 2023), full-time education ranges from 21 hours per week at Key Stage 1 to 25 hours a week at Key Stage 4. If councils provide one-to-one tuition, the hours of face-to-face provision could be fewer as the provision is more concentrated.
So if a parent wants their child in school whose duty is it to ensure a full-time education?
Schools are obliged under Section 317(1)(a) of the Education Act 1996, to use their best endeavours to secure full-time education. Best endeavours is a legal duty and means they must do all that they can.
According to Working together to improve school attendance section 43 & 44 states:
“A part-time timetable should not be used to manage a pupil’s behaviour. ……….A part-time timetable must only be in place for the shortest time necessary and not be treated as a long-term solution. Any pastoral support programme or other agreement should have a time limit by which point the pupil is expected to attend full-time, either at school or alternative provision. There should also be formal arrangements in place for regularly reviewing it with the pupil and their parents. 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 treat absence as authorised.”Working Together to Improve School Attendance May 22, updated Sept 22
The new School Exclusion guide (applicable from September 2023) for parents also states similar:
There are very limited circumstances in which your child’s school should place your child on a part-time timetable. This should only happen if a part-time timetable is required because of your child’s physical or mental health needs.
Your child’s school should not be using a part-time timetable to manage your child’s behaviour. If you believe your child’s school has placed them on a part-time timetable because of their behaviour you should approach the school to discuss your concerns in the first instance.School Exclusion Guide for parents May 2023 for September 2023 onwards
3 things are indicated here –
- Reduced or part-time timetables are only ever to be used in very exceptional circumstances.
- It is only due to a child or parent’s request for part-time attendance that this could be considered by the school . It is NOT for the school to request that a child should attend part-time although they may suggest reasons why it could benefit the CYP *.
- Should part-time attendance be felt to be in the child’s best interest (for health reasons), and parents agree, then this agreement should be time limited, after which the child either returns to full-time education or alternative provision is provided.
*As full-time education is only ever about the suitability to the child, if school do ever suggest a reduced timetable, they would need to evidence that it would only be needed for a short time and for a specific reason that would be in the best interests of the child. It should never be an option for any other reason (such as they do not have the staff or if it is not agreed to the child is likely to be excluded). If they feel that a child’s SEN cannot be met by school’s SEN Support then they should be making a request for an EHC needs Assessment. If SEN is not indicated then they should be looking to provide alternative provision.
As a parent, you may feel that your child is struggling at school which is affecting your child’s mental health and therefore reducing their timetable may give them some breathing space. However, due to the impact of missing lessons etc, it is important that conversations with the school take place as early as possible, preferably before getting to the stage of considering part-time. It will be important to find out why your child is struggling and the school should be doing this by working through the Assess, Plan, Do Review cycle”. This may result in more or different support being given that could mean a reduced timetable would not be needed. For more information about the Assess, Plan, Do, Review Cycle please look at our Graduated Approach Page.
We address mental health needs in more detail on our other page.
There may be times where a reduced timetable refers to full attendance at school, but with different arrangements for the attendance of lessons. This may be more beneficial where a child or young person is experiencing anxiety about attending school (often known as EBSA – Emotionally based School Avoidance)
The following DfE guidance: Summary of responsibilities where a mental health issue is affecting attendance states that this type of reduced timetable can be a valid option and an example of a reasonable adjustment (see the effective practice examples especially). They state that school staff should consider the same principles outlined in this section for this type of arrangement (i.e. for it to be regularly reviewed, agreed by all parties, building back up to full time spent in classes, etc.).
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 a ‘forced’ 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)
Now that we know what the school- and the LA’s duties are to provide a full-time education, let’s look at what should be offered if full-time education is not suitable within the school setting.
The DfE’s Alternative Provision – statutory guidance for local authorities states under the heading:
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).
This would indicate that where a child is receiving alternative provision (and not because they have been excluded), then they should receive provision equivalent to what they would have received in school.
“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”. Section 31
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 (i.e. agreed with the parents).
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”.
There are a few conclusions that we can draw from this ruling:
- For children with an EHCP, they should be receiving all the provision stated within section F of the EHC Plan and if this is not possible through part-time education (or other means) then an interim / emergency review needs to be held for this to be discussed. Part-time education should not be agreed without an interim or emergency review of the EHCP (unless it is for a specific reason and for a very short period of time)
- The school receive funding for the provision specified in section F and therefore are under an obligation to make provision for the time a child is not in school.
- IF part-time attendance at school is felt to be in the child’s best interests by the parent, 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. Again, an interim or emergency review will be needed.
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 of the EHC Plan 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.
Occasionally we hear of a reduced timetable being suggested by the school as a way of avoiding exclusion and parents have agreed to this as they don’t want an exclusion on their child’s records. Whilst at first glance this seems reasonable, it does in fact go against all the above guidance.
Exclusions should only be used as a ‘punishment’ when a child has done something wrong (and it is within their control to have made a different decision/ taken a different action). If a child’s behaviour repeatedly deteriorates throughout the day (for example), then the school have a duty to look at why this is and put support in place/ make changes and adjustments to the support being given. It may well be that the child has been masking up until that point, but has reached their limit with the result being ‘challenging behaviour’.
Assessment may be needed to identify a child’s needs (even if it felt that they are already known) and specialist advice may be required to do this fully.
If the school are not able to offer the support (provision) needed, or they are not able to identify the child’s needs, then they have a duty to organise alternative provision or request an EHC needs assessment.
More information can be found in our Exclusion guides.
As mentioned above, in exceptional circumstances, reduced attendance or a reduced 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 or
- you feel your child is not coping with full-time education and may need to slowly build back up to this.
If this is being discussed, then you should be able to reasonably expect the following:
- It must be clear when the reduced 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 reduced 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).
- The absences from school as part of the reduced 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 reduced timetable are being met.
There should have been a review midway through the agreed plan so you will have some idea of whether there is progress being made towards the outcome(s) before the end of the plan. If the objectives have not been achieved, then it is likely 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.
The meeting should result in either the child going back to school full-time with different support in place or alternative provision being arranged.
- If school are suggesting a reduced timetable for your child, the first thing to do is ask for the reasons to be stated in writing, giving clear explanations why the school think it is in your child’s best interests. Check that the reasons being given are in line with the advice and guidance above. If not then you can refuse and request that they arrange support / alternative provision / request an EHC needs assessment. If you do agree, then request a meeting to form an action plan / risk assessment. Remember: you do not have to agree, even if you think it may help (especially if there are other factors to consider like economic impact etc).
- If your child is asking for a reduced timetable / or you are considering one, then discuss this with the school. Be clear in your reasons and what outcomes you are hoping for. There will still need to be an action plan / risk assessment in place. Check to see what alternatives may be available (considering the guidance above), especially for the end of the plan if the desired outcomes have not been met.
The DfE guidance makes it clear that reduced timetables should be:
- Requested / agreed to by the parent only (even if school suggest this, if parent does not agree then it should not happen)
- Be in the best interests of the child (the threat of exclusion does not count as being in the best interests of the child)
- Be for a specific reason and be short term (with actions, outcomes and a plan in place for reintegration to full-time or alternative provision made).