Anyway, from September 2012, maintained schools will enjoy pretty much the same freedom, because the Secretary of State has revoked the old ‘Circular 7/90′ which specified minimum day lengths and the like in maintained schools.
One obvious issue arising from that is that Circular 7/90 provided a benchmark (the 25 hour week for secondary age pupils) against which to assess the position of pupils who had been put on ‘part time timetables’ which in my experience includes a disproportionate number of disabled pupils and pupils from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Of course, it will still be possible to argue that a particular student had been subject to (say) disability discrimination if they were receiving less than others at the same school but that does not remove the risk that the extra freedom for schools will be disproportionately at the expense of vulnerable pupils.
For full details of the Department’s announcement see here. But, in essence:
“School day length requirements
There is no legal requirement on the length of the school day. The governing body decides when sessions should begin and end on each school day. It also decides the length of each lesson and the timings for the morning session, the midday break, and the afternoon session.
Sessions must allow enough lesson time to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum that includes the National Curriculum and religious education.
Circular 7/90 which prescribed the minimum hours per week for pupils in each of the key stages has been revoked. The Department no longer provides guidance on minimum hours.
Changing length of the school day
Since 1 September 2011 all maintained schools have been free to change their session times quickly without having to follow a nationally prescribed process, but should do so in accordance with reasonable local procedures.
The Department revoked the regulations that prescribed procedures.
Schools are expected to consult and take account of the views of interested parties before they implement any changes to the school day
Academies, Free Schools and pupil referral units are entirely free to set their own times and dates for opening.”