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Education Digest Spring term – Recent Guidance

There have been a few key announcements since last term's Education Digest.

Mobile phones in schools

In February the Government issued non-statutory guidance to help schools across England crack down on the use of mobile phones by implementing a policy which prohibits their use (for residential and boarding schools this only applies to the teaching day).

Mobile phones, which 97% of children now own by the age of 12, have been under the spotlight.  In 2021 China banned children from using mobile phones at school.  In 2023 UNESCO called for smartphones to be banned from schools after a report found that they could lead to disruption.  More recently, at the National Education Union’s conference, their General Secretary stated sexism was on the rise because children were able to  view ‘aggressive and violent pornography’ on their phones.

The guidance recommends that schools develop mobile phone policies which prohibit the use of mobile phones and that any Bring Your Own Devices policies do not include mobile phones.  Colleges and sixth forms are advised to consider whether to allow limited access ‘at certain and limited times and locations’.  It is suggested that a tailored mobile phone policy should be implemented which forms part of the school’s overall behaviour policy, or operates as a standalone document. The guidance provides examples of policies which schools can use.

School attendance

With effect from 19 August 2024, new guidance aimed at improving school attendance comes into force.  The key changes are:

  • All schools are expected to have a written school attendance policy and a designated ‘senior attendance champion’, a senior leader who has overall responsibility for championing and improving attendance.
  • Changes to the admissions and attendance registers. All admission and attendance registers must be kept electronically and new attendance and absence codes apply. All registers must be kept for six years (previously this was three) and must now include mandatory supplemental information, such as the pupil’s full name and the name that the pupil uses at school (this may be relevant where a pupil has requested a name change as part of gender transition) and the full name and address of each of the pupil’s parents.
  • It implements The Education (Information About Individual Pupils) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 – making it mandatory for local authorities, governing bodies and proprietors of certain schools to provide specified pupil information, including that which relates to attendance, to the Secretary of State for Education. However, this requirement does not apply if the school grants the Secretary of State full-time access to their electronic management information systems.  Similarly, local authorities can also examine and take extracts of the registers for all schools in their area.
  • Implementation of the new National Framework for issuing penalty notices. This introduced a standard national threshold of ten sessions of absence in ten school weeks at which point a penalty notice should be considered by all schools. The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 – increases the fine for unauthorised absences from £60 to £80 (increasing to £160 if not paid within 21 days). For a second offence the fine is being increased from £120 to £160.
  • ‘Parent contracts’ (the formal agreement between a parent and a school or local authority used to address irregular attendance) will be now be called ‘attendance contracts.’

One of the measures being taken by the DfE to boost attendance is the introduction of new ‘attendance hubs.’ The intention of these hubs is that through the facilitation of a professional dialogue, senior members of staff in the lead schools (schools with excellent attendance) will share their approaches, strategies, ethos and resources with senior leaders in the hub partner schools, and this will help to drive up attendance. Read the Government guidance.

PE and sports in schools

Non-statutory guidance published by the DfE in March 2024 aims to assist schools in how to achieve a minimum of two hours of PE per week during curriculum time and allow equality of access to PE and extra-curricular school sport and competition.  The guidance provides case studies and examples of how physical activity can be embedded into a school’s culture.

If you would like to know more about any of these announcements, please do get in touch with Rachel, or another of our specialist Education Lawyers.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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