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What is flexi-schooling?

What is flexi-schooling?
Tempted by the idea of home educating but not sure you could do it full-time? Flexi-schooling could be the perfect compromise, writes Elisabeth Attwood.

Deciding to home educate your child is a big commitment, and not one that suits every family. But it needn’t be a straight choice between home educating or sending your child to school.

Flexi-schooling – where a child attends school for part of the week, and learns at home for the rest of it – is an ideal compromise for some families, and becoming increasingly popular.

Erpingham Church of England Primary School near Norwich in Norfolk had its first flexi pupil in 2010. Now, 25 per cent of its pupils are flexi-schooled. The school has become an example of good practice and shares its knowledge both locally and nationally. It has been praised by Ofsted and has helped Norfolk’s council write its flexi-school guidelines.

‘Who, as a teacher, wouldn’t want to work with parents who are interested in the education of their children rather than abdicating responsibility?’ says Simon East, the executive head teacher.

Why flexi-school?

Many of the children at Erpingham School have had difficult experiences of school life. ‘We have supported children who have been excluded from other schools, and flexi-schooling has been a bridge to their reintegration,’ says Simon. ‘Children with social and emotional difficulties have also benefitted.’ 

Other reasons why parents in the UK might choose flexi-schooling include their child having an illness that makes full-time school difficult, having a phobia of school, or returning to school gradually after a period of absence. Some families also opt to flexi-school so they can home educate their children whilst making use of school resources.

How to arrange flexi-schooling

Flexi-schooling is legal in the UK but it isn’t an automatic right, unlike full-time home education. It is entirely at the discretion of your school’s head teacher and you’ll need their permission before you can go ahead.

You’ll need to prove to the head teacher that flexi-schooling is in the best interests of your child, for example by writing a proposal explaining the benefits for your child and practical examples of how the arrangement will work between the school and you.

You can then ask to set up a meeting with your head teacher to talk through your proposal. It’s likely they will discuss it with the staff, the school’s governors and, possibly, the local authority before making a decision.

How it works

Even though you’ll have an official flexi-schooling arrangement with the school, your child will be marked as 'authorised absent' on the register for the days they don’t attend. Current guidance from the Department of Education states: It is not appropriate to mark this time as ‘approved off-site activity’ as the school has no supervisory role in the child’s education at such times and also has no responsibility for the welfare of the child while he or she is at home. This guidance is currently being reviewed but updates have yet to be published as of January 2024. 

Your child will be required to follow the national curriculum whilst at school, but you don’t have to follow it at home. However, you’ll need to arrange the practicalities of the arrangement with the school – how will you ensure you aren’t doubling up on some work or missing out on other topics? Who will set and mark your child’s work?

Sometimes, the school might put conditions on your flexi-schooling arrangement. At Erpingham, for example, children must attend school for a minimum of three days a week although parents can decide which days according to the school timetable. ‘Our reasoning is that teaching is “drip-drip”,’ says Simon. ‘A child learns phonics through an accumulation of teaching – if you only see them once a week they won’t benefit.’

Advantages of flexi-schooling

Flexi-schooling can be a perfect home-school compromise: children have access to specialist educators and resources they might not have at home plus they can join in parts of the timetable such as PE. They get opportunities to work and socialise with their own peer group, and will have the chance to join in with activities such as school trips and plays. For parents, it potentially means they can work part-time.

Children who have difficulties attending school full-time, for example because of illness or emotional or behavioural needs, have the opportunity to follow a reduced timetable but without being removed from the school environment altogether – a big advantage for parents who hope that, eventually, their child will be able to return to normal education.

Flexi-schooling may also benefit the school. When the first flexi pupil began at Erpingham there were only 13 children enrolled and the school faced closure. Now the school has 60 students with a waiting list for Reception.

‘Flexi-schooling has become part of our heart and soul,’ says Simon, who is proud that the flexi-schooled students perform higher than the national average when compared against children of their own age. He believes his students are more independent, mature and resilient.

‘It deepens a child’s understanding of education. They have a sense of ownership about their learning and a desire to learn,’ he explains.

Flexi-schooling disadvantages

Flexi-schooling can be difficult to arrange in practice. Head teachers may be wary of the logistics or the local authority may not approve of the idea – and, as a local authority or school academy employee, the head teacher might not want to disagree.

Some schools have refused on the grounds of insurance, although this isn’t a valid argument because your child’s leave from school is authorised and responsibility lies with you. Safeguarding has also been raised as a concern by politicians because it’s more difficult to keep track of pupils when they aren’t at school; this might discourage the local authority from granting permission.

The success of flexi-schooling depends on you and the school being able to work closely together. You’ll need to keep in regular contact about what your child is learning. You’re also likely to have to commit to your child being in school for set days each week, rather than being able to mix and match to suit your home ed timetable. 

As a registered pupil, your child will be expected to take SATs and other national tests. If you choose for your child not to take them, they will score zero, and this can negatively affect the school’s results. If they do take them, the school may be concerned about potential poor results if they haven’t been working towards the tests at home.

Some head teachers also regard flexi-schooling as a short-term solution, and a way to helping a child return to school full-time – not ideal if you have visions of a long-term arrangement.

‘It’s not for every school,’ acknowledges Simon. ‘I needed the support of my staff and the governors. But because we are a small school in a rural community we can work with families individually. There is no downside for us.’

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