Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Legal issues on pupil target setting days

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Many schools are opting for 'target setting days' to replace parents' evenings. There are various models, but generally pupils come into school on a designated school day with their parents to meet their tutor or form teacher and discuss performance across all subjects and set targets. The meetings may be for the whole school or for a particular year group. All of the pupils in that year group or in the school, apart from those actually in a meeting or waiting for a meeting, may be told they do not have to be in school.

The educational advantages appear to be considerable and many schools believe that both staff and parents find it more convenient, more meaningful and less tiring.

However two problems have emerged. One is about the legality of the practice and the other is to do with attendance figures.

Legality

One director of children's services at least has informed a member that target setting days are, in the director's opinion, illegal.

The director's personal or professional views are, of course, something that any wise head or governing body will seriously consider. However, do they have to abide by them?

In law at least, the director has no standing in the issue. Insofar as any law applies, beyond the administrative powers inherent in the head's role, it is that law relating to the school year and school day as laid down in the Education Act 2002 that counts.

This says that the school must be in session for 380 sessions a year unless circumstances prevent it and there is no realistic way of making up the time.

Within that, the shape and duration of the school day are the prerogative of governors, subject to consultation. The decision on what happens on any particular day is a matter of internal organisation.

The only grounds on which a local authority might be entitled to intervene would be its overall responsibility for the welfare of children. It is unlikely that the courts would support an extension of that power.

Attendance

For all schools there is the issue of how target setting days affect recorded attendance.

The DfES view, in the rules on recording absence, states that pupils must be recorded as absent if there are no lessons or if the pupil is not allowed to come to school because all staff are target setting with another year group.

ASCL has told the DfES in no uncertain terms that this view is unjustified and that it should be reversed. ASCL has pointed out that, in addition to having a perverse effect on the authorised absence percentages, it undermines the DfES's apparent desire for schools to work more effectively with parents.

At least, however, until we succeed in changing this it does imply that the school is in session; otherwise it would not be possible for a child to be absent.

There are perhaps two points of guidance for schools to take away from all of this. One is that, at the moment, it is better to have part of the school in on a target setting day if it is at all possible. The second is that what the children's services director wants is not always law de jure, though it may, of course, be so de facto.

In the end, the decision is for the head and governing body to make, weighing the undoubted benefits of the involvement of parents in review and target setting against the adverse effect on authorised absence statistics.

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