Schools closing early to save money is 'unacceptable', says new DfE guidance

The Department for Education has published new guidance on changes to the school day and week, further toughening its stance on institutions that close early to save money.

Schools Week reported last month that the government had strengthened its tone in response to news that more and more schools are shortening the school week to cut costs, labelling the practice as “unacceptable”.

Now the department has enshrined that view in updated guidance on school attendance, with a specific section on changes to the amount of time pupils spend in school, and a warning that admissions appeals could become more prevalent if families are allocated a school with a shorter week.

However, the guidance is non-statutory, meaning schools have no legal obligation to follow it.

Analysis from Schools Week in March found that at least 26 schools, most of them in Birmingham, have made, or are considering, changes to their timetable in order to save money.

Headteachers say they have no choice but to close early, for example, to allow staff to complete lesson planning, preparation and assessment (PPA), something that would ordinarily have to be covered by support staff.

But in the new guidance, the DfE said that schools should only shorten the school day or week to improve pupils’ education, not cut costs.

“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,” the guidance states.

“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.”

Schools are expected to “act reasonably” when they do make changes to their weeks, and give parents notice. They should also consider the impact on those affected, including “pupils, teachers, and parents’ work commitments and childcare options”.

“In particular, schools should consider the potential impact of a shorter week on parents’ work commitments, their childcare options and their choice of school,” says the guidance, which also warns changes could result in an increase in admissions appeals.

“When applying for a school place, parents may be more likely to choose a school with a traditional, full-time school week and to appeal against the offer of a place at a school with a shorter school week. Schools should also consider the potential impact of a shorter school week on parental choice as part of admissions and admission appeals processes.”