DfE Questions Answers

Each week the DfE will answer your questions here. To get your questions answered just send them to ask.dfe@education.gsi.gov.uk

Penalty Notices for unauthorised absence

Q: The headteachers of Local Authority maintained schools have the power under The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2007 to issue Penalty Notices to parents if their children do not attend school when they should do.

For Academies and Free Schools:

(1) Do The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2007 apply to Academies and Free Schools?

(2) If not, do the Principals of Academies and Free Schools have a similar power under other legislation, and if so which legislation?

(3) Under The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2007 LAs have to issue a local Code of Conduct which LA schools have to follow. Do Academies and Free Schools have to follow the Code of Conduct of the LA they are located in, or do they write their own Code of Conduct?

(4)What happens to fines paid under Penalty Notices issued by Academies and Free Schools? Dowe keep them for our own school funds or pass to DfE or LA?

DfE answers:

1.Schools can use fines (or `penalty notices') and sanctions against parents, where there is unauthorised absence from school. These fines can be used by all schools - not just academies.

2. See above

3. All schools must follow a code set out by their local authority.

4.Only Local Authorities can issue penalty notices at the moment. The proposal for schools to be able to is part of the Charlie Taylor's review but the idea of schools keeping the proceeds has not yet been worked out.

Background information, for interest:

The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 enabled schoolslocal authorities to offer voluntary parenting contracts, parenting orders and penalty notices to parents in specified circumstances relating to poor behaviourexclusion and attendance. These measures were first introduced in 2004. Contracts provide support to the parent, e.g. parenting classes to improve their skills or referral to other services for help e.g. housingdrug or alcohol treatment. Parenting orders impose requirements on parents to attend parenting programmecounselling for at least three months. Orders are intended for the minority of parents who are unwilling to engage voluntarily with schools and local authorities to address their children's behaviourattendance problems. Penalty notices are fines which can be issued to parents either because their child has failed to attend school regularly or if their excluded child is found in a public place during school hours.

Religious education

Q: Is it compulsory for non-Faith Academies and Free Schools to teach Religious Education the same as LA maintained schools are?

DfE answers: Non-faith Academiesdo have to teach RE. Academies are not required to follow the National Curriculum but, through their funding agreements, they are required to teach English, maths and science as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and to make provision for the teaching of Religious Education (RE). Further information is on the DfE site. Free Schools must also teach religious education, and provide for a daily act of collective worship. More information is on the DfE site.


Q. Where can I find out more about differentiation in Learning and Teaching? How should teachers be planning for differentiation?

DfE answers: Thanks and I'm sorry not to be able to give you a more constructive answer, but we don't have any information on styles of teaching as we believe that is up to schools and teachers themselves. However there are books, research and websites available, for instance:
and also

Recruitment questions

Q. We are an LA community secondary school and we are getting conflicting advice from our LA HR department and our independent HR services provider, and both of them seem to be giving us advice that is different from the DFE guidance regarding recruiting and appointing teachers. The issues are:

(1) In what circumstances can we ask about a candidate's prior health record? and

(2) Can we ask a candidate's age or date of birth?

As far as health questions are concerned we have read paragraphs 8.5 - 8.7 of the DFE guidance on the Equality Act 2010 (December 2011) and noted that it says "There are potential implications in relation to establishing teachers' fitness and ability to teach (as required by the Health Standards (England) Regulations 2003). Schools are advised to review their existing practices to ensure they are complying with both the Health Standards Regulations and Section 60 of the Equality Act" but it isn't clear how we are supposed to meet both the Regulations and the Equality Act when they potentially conflict. It's one thing to say that we "should ensure that any health-related questions [that we ask after making a job offer] are targeted, necessary and relevant to the job applied for" but what does that mean? The DFE guidance does not help us It seems to us that it is relevant to any job in teaching if someone has a history of stress related sickness because all teaching is stressful. Our HR people say not possible to ask that. What do DFE think about that question in principle (if asked after a job offer is made but before confirming the job)?

On the second question our LA says asking someone's age on an application form is prohibited but current DFE guidance in "Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education 2007" para 3.23 says we should ask for date of birth on the application form with the additional DFE advice that "To ask for date of birth is not discriminatory. This information is required to ensure correct identification of the candidate". Who is right, DFE or our LA? In our Safer Recruitment training we were told we should ask for date of birth to identify any unexplained gaps in the applicant's employment history which could then be explored at interview.

DfE answers: On the first point, employers must comply with both the health standards regulations and the Equality Act - in doing so they are permitted to ask health questions, provided they are asked to establish that the applicant can carry out an intrinsic function of the work for the post they have applied for (taking into account the requirements to make reasonable adjustments for disabled persons). If during this process, employers are unsure whether a person has the fitness required to undertake intrinsic functions of the job (with reasonable adjustments), they can seek advice from occupational health services and ask further questions about the applicant's health.

On the second question, we would say that employers should use an application form to obtain a common set of core data from all applicants. Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education paragraph 3.23 sets out the information the application form should obtain. This information, which includes date of birth, is required when undertaking proof of identity checks. Here's the link to the document:

Pupil records

Q. When we were an LA school we had to provide a copy of a pupil's educational records to parents whenever they asked for them, which we were required to under the The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2000. Those regulations only apply to LA maintained schools though. What is the position now we have converted to an Academy? Are we still obliged to provide the records if a parent asks for them? I can't see anything in our Articles of Association that deals with this issue.

DfE answers: in accordance with the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010, schools must send to the parents of each registered pupil an annual written report of the pupil's progress and attainment in the main subject areas taught, except that no report need be sent to a parent who has agreed otherwise with the school. These regulations apply to all independent schools, including Academies.

Polling Station status

Q. When we were a maintained school the local council regularly used our school as a Polling Station for General and Local Elections, and we understood that the local authority had the right to do this under election law and it didn't need our consent.

We are now a standalone converter Academy. Is the situation different? Do we still have to allow our premises to used as a Polling Station, without charge, if the council wants it?

Is that the same for Free Schools?

DfE answers: There is legisltation that states that mainstream schools and now academies and Free School are `liable for use by the RO of the LA' - this essentially means that the LA can use a FS academy as a Polling Station. I guess the logistics otherwise would mean that the LA would struggle to find suitable accessible places for voting.

Encouraging reading for pleasure

Q. How can we encourage young children to read for enjoyment if they do not see their parents read from a young age? Can this affect their reading literacy

DfE answers: It's very important that children areinfluenced by seeing parents reading, valuing books and taking time to read with their children. Research shows that parental interest in their child's education has four times more influence on attainment by age 16 than socio-economic background.

A new early years curriculum for 0-5-year-olds will be introduced this year which focuses on three prime areas of learning that are critical to making sure children develop healthily and happily. It will form the foundations on which children can master the basic skills at school as well as the resilience, confidence and personal skills to be able to learn. It will also give professionals more freedom in how they work with children, and involve parents more in their child's learning

Independent reviews conducted by Graham Allen, Frank Field and Dame Clare Tickell have all highlighted just how important pregnancy and the first five years of a child's life are in providing children with the foundations they need to thrive and succeed in life. Evidence suggests there are five critical factors in the foundation years:

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