We will preface this post with the statement that flexi-schooling or part-time schooling is not the same as elective home education, which involves taking full-time responsibility for the education of your own children during the compulsory years.
However, since it has always been Schoolhouse’s view that all parents are essentially ‘home educators’, even if they send their children to school for some of the time, the practice of flexi-schooling remains of interest to the full time home educating community. Indeed a few of our members have negotiated successful part time arrangements with schools, and the possibility is mentioned in the Scottish statutory guidance on home education (section 3.6) as a discretionary power on the part of schools and local authorities.
Flexischooling in England was, until recently, a similarly established practice, especially welcomed by parents of children with special needs for whom full time schooling was too challenging. However, it has now been effectively banned south of the border by DfE edict, despite its having been practised there for many years and most recently retained as a negotiable option in the 2007 English EHE Guidelines which stated:
5.6 “Flexi-schooling” or “flexible school attendance” is an arrangement between the parent and the school where the child is registered at school and attends the school only part time; the rest of the time the child is home educated (on authorised absence from school). This can be a long-term arrangement or a short-term measure for a particular reason. “Flexi-schooling” is a legal option provided that the head teacher at the school concerned agrees to the arrangement. The child will be required to follow the National Curriculum whilst at school but not whilst he or she is being educated at home. Local authorities should make sure that head teachers are made familiar with flexi-schooling and how it may work in practice. Further information is available in the DCSF’s guidance Keeping Pupil Registers.
Just last month, these six year old EHE Guidelines (which had themselves been subject to extensive consultation prior to their introduction) mysteriously disappeared from their virtual home on the DfE website, to be replaced by an ‘under review’ notice – all of which did not go unnoticed by eagle-eyed home educators. We did have a clue, however, that there was something afoot for flexi-schooling, for this Advice on School Attendance had meanwhile been circulated to schools in England. The following excerpt sounded particularly loud alarm bells:
Can a school agree to a so-called flexi-schooling arrangement; where the pupil is partly educated at school and partly educated at home?
No. Parents have a legal duty to ensure that their children of compulsory school age receiving full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude. Parents can fulfil this duty by either registering their children at a school or by education otherwise than at a school (which includes home education). The law does not provide for a combination of both. Where parents decide to educate their child at a school, parents have a legal duty to ensure their child attends regularly. If they fail to do this they may be committing an offence. Schools are funded to provide full-time education for all pupils (age 5-16) on their register and therefore are accountable for the standard of education their pupils receive. A flexi-schooling arrangement means some schools would receive a full unit of funding for certain pupils for whom they do not provide fulltime education, and in some cases, may provide very little.
Then, just as suddenly, ‘revised’ EHE Guidelines reappeared with the flexi-schooling option effectively terminated – just like that!
5.6 Flexi-schooling is normally an arrangement whereby a child is registered at a school but attends only part-time and is home educated at other times. The Government has looked at this issue and takes a different stance from that of the previous Government. It does not believe that a hybrid arrangement between home education and mainstream school is adequately provided for in law, or in the school funding system, for children of compulsory school age. Where parents decide to educate their child at a school, parents have a legal duty to ensure their child attends regularly. If they fail to do this they may be committing an offence. Schools are funded to provide full-time education for all pupils (age 5-16) on their register and therefore are accountable for the standard of education their pupils receive. A flexi-schooling arrangement means some schools would receive a full unit of funding for certain pupils for whom they do not provide full-time education, and in some cases, may provide very little. (Revised March 2013)
Everyone – even those in the ‘business’ of flexi-schooling, who had collectively been poking the DfE with a big stick and probably over-selling it as the Next Big Thing for education (and especially themselves) – seemed surprised when the Government decided to ban the practice overnight without prior consultation. But what Balls gave (and how unusual was that in itself!), Gove was able to easily take away in a simple cut-and-paste exercise, only keeping the ‘cut’ and omitting the ‘paste’ element. Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, claimed to be as surprised as anyone else and duly promised to take the matter up with Elizabeth Truss, but he obviously didn’t manage to change any ministerial minds.
The DfE move appears to be all about money. Given that the aforesaid flexi-schooling adherents had been pointing out to schools that they could get money for nothing by providing part-time schooling while still retaining a full-time capitation allowance, it was only a matter of time before flexischooling’s ‘cut’ potential was identified and an all or nothing approach introduced via a convenient re-interpretation the law. Whether or not it will backfire and cost the government more in the long term is open to debate, but what is clear from the outset is that many families will be inconvenienced at best and devastated at worst by having their currently successful arrangements unilaterally withdrawn.
On a positive but pointless note, the Select Committee’s Support for Home Education report has been issued which appears to say much the same as the guidelines about how LAs should behave well and within the law/guidelines (but don’t). Same old, then, but no more flexi-schooling.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the statutory guidance still has this to say:
3.6 Flexi schooling
Local authorities may occasionally receive a request to withdraw a child part time from school, e.g. for the child to attend school only on certain days, or for certain subjects. The feasibility of each request should be considered on its own merit, while taking into consideration that under Section 28 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 ‘ so far as is compatible with the provision of suitable instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents’ . Ultimately, however, it is a decision for each local authority and school as to whether they can support such an arrangement.
Schoolhouse does not envisage the present Scottish Government changing this section of the guidance in the foreseeable future, and we would be frankly astonished if our Education Minister permitted family lives to be turned upside down overnight without at least some cursory consultation, but there are of course no cast-iron guarantees and they are planning much worse for us than simply removing flexi-schooling as an option.
For anyone still asleep to the implications, the Scottish Government is planning the introduction of a universal citizen surveillance system with no opt-out (unless you are important, rich or famous enough – remember ContactPoint?) under their latest paedophiles’ address book proposals within the upcoming CHYP (and Pin?) Bill.
Child protection racketeers and other vested interests are naturally cock-a-hoop at the prospect of ‘cash for databasing’ the Scottish citizenry, since ‘identifying issues’ by dataset is so much easier on the Jimmy Choos than providing direct services to real human beings who have already identified their own issues and solutions (for which resources are invariably unavailable due to budget constraints – go figure). Worse still, de-prioritising the protection of children who are known to be at risk of significant ham in favour of imposing a data rapist on every child in Scotland seems positively unbalanced to us.
So who stole the collective common sense, or was it perhaps a pre-planned stitch-up by smiling crocodiles?