Practitioner concerns and solutions: Personalised learning and part-time timetables


What are the main issues for attendance officers today? What strategies can they use to address these? Victoria Franklin has been doing some research and consulting those on the front line. In this article, she covers the legal position and statutory and non-statutory guidance when it comes to personalised learning. 


  • There are a number of legal requirements that govern the use of part-time timetables.
  • Non-statutory guidance is clear that a part-time timetable cannot be a long-term solution.
  • There are circumstances where it can be considered but school leaders are still accountable and responsible for the safeguarding of the child.  

Questions are often raised by schools and parents/carers about the appropriate use of reduced access to learning, i.e. part-time or personalised timetables for students. In certain cases, this can be a pertinent strategy to facilitate more sustainable engagement in education in the long term. In other cases, and increasingly, this strategy is employed to manage a set of challenging circumstances.

It is an area of provision that needs to be carefully thought through by senior leaders and should not be contemplated without reference to the legal framework that informs education. Fundamental to this are the rights of the child to a full-time education. There is no statutory basis for reducing access to education and there is no legal definition of full-time education.

What the law says

  1. Parents are responsible for ensuring their child of compulsory school age receives an efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have by regular attendance at school or otherwise (Education Act 1996).
  2. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 28: Education was adopted in 1989 and is legally binding under international law.
  3. Local authorities have statutory responsibilities to identify children not receiving education at school or otherwise and ensure they are returned to full-time education at school or alternative provision (‘Children missing education: Statutory guidance for local authorities’, DfE, 2016).
  4. Local authorities also have a statutory responsibility for providing education for children not able to attend school for health reasons (‘Ensuring a good education for children who cannot attend school because of health needs: Statutory guidance for local authorities’, DfE, 2013) and for those excluded from school (Education Act 1996).

Schools have several statutory responsibilities related to the ones listed above and must pay regard to additional ones that are relevant such as ‘Keeping children safe in education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and safer recruitment’ (DfE, 2019) and the Education (Pupil Registration)
(England) Regulations 2006.

Non-statutory guidance

In addition to the law, non-statutory guidance should also be adhered to. This includes advice about part-time timetables and the correct way to record them:  

‘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’.

(‘School attendance: Guidance for maintained schools, academies, independent schools and local authorities’, DfE, July 2019)

Local authorities are also drawing up their own guidance and protocols regarding the use of part-time/personalised timetables and requesting this information from schools to ensure the law is being followed and children are safeguarded. Part of this process involves a signed agreement with the parent/carer that a reduced timetable can be implemented and a risk assessment being carried out.

Circumstances where it might be considered

A part-time/personalised timetable may be considered for a short time. Below are some real examples from schools, but the list is not exhaustive.

  1. Where a student has not been in a formal education setting previously and may require a staged induction. An example of this is a student arriving from another country who may have no understanding of the English language.
  2. Where a student has been educated other than at school – often home educated for a substantial amount of time – and joins the roll of a school and a staged induction is deemed beneficial.
  3. Students with a prolonged absence due to a physical or mental health condition (see note 4 on the law regarding this) where recovery demands a slower build up to full-time education.
  4. Students recovering from a temporary health issue that is not long term.

Challenging circumstances

Visits to schools and discussion with practitioners and parents often uncover a different demographic from the examples above and show an increasing trend in the use of this practice to manage children with special educational needs and behaviour issues.

There is also evidence of an increase in the use of this strategy for non-compulsory school-age children with complex behaviour/learning needs in early years. This can be as a result of children:

  • waiting for a formal assessment of need and not being able to manage a full school day in their current setting
  • children who have been assessed as requiring a specialist school place, but none are currently available.

In the case of one of these scenarios, it is important that all other options for access to an educational experience are explored and that an educational experience is provided for the part of the day the child is not in school. This can be costly, and schools are still responsible for safeguarding the child so scrutiny of the choice of provider is paramount.

Parents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation and outcomes of complaints investigated by the Ombudsman regarding children not receiving a full-time education are published regularly.

Part-time education and the negative impact this can have has also received extensive media coverage in relation to children’s welfare and safety.

There is a place for reduced access to education, but this should only ever be a temporary solution, a stepping stone and always with the child’s needs at the centre rather than driven by resources.


Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

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About Author

Victoria Franklin

Victoria Franklin is a qualified social worker with more than 25 years’ experience working in education settings. She is currently a senior education welfare consultant working across all phases of education. Victoria is the President of the National Association of Support Workers in Education (NASWE) and delivers national training on a wide range of attendance matters.

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