Flexi schooling at Huxley.
What is it?
Flexischooling has been practiced, but not widely known about, since the 1980s.
Flexischooling is a local agreement between the school (head teacher) and families. It is a legal option but, there is no right to flexischool. In England it is granted at the discretion of the school (head teacher). Each case is considered on an individual basis and after initial visits and trial days a decision is made as to whether flexi or full time is the best option for our children and families. This is then reviewed with the parent/carers termly.
Flexi schooling is not the same as Part Time schooling arrangements.
Who do people flexi-school?
There are many reasons why parents choose flexi-schooling, such as:
- Parents want to play a more active role in their own children’s education.
- Allowing children to follow their own interests, and different styles of learning can be respected and accommodated.
- Children can benefit from both worlds, being taught at school and being educated at home –having more formal educational approach and tuition alongside having the opportunity to access a wider range of interest led, active learning experiences within different environments, e.g. outdoor activities, museum visits, access to specialist tutors in music, arts, sports and language etc
- 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.
- Many parents feel schooling starts too early when their children are neither developmentally, emotionally or intellectually ready.
- For children with autism the school environment can often be stressful. Therefore flexi schooling means their school experience is balanced with time at home where school learning is supported while the child need for a less stimulating environment is also met. Or these same children may benefit from full time education but with the quieter sessions on a Monday and Friday as is the case at Huxley.
- In similar way children with a range of conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome (ADHD), social communication issues or communication and language processing challenges can be supported. Children with sensory overload and significantly slower processing times for example may need flexi to recover, consolidate and move forward. Full-time school can often be overwhelming for them.
- Full-time school is inappropriate for children with some medical conditions. They may tire easily, need medication or their condition may be just too problematic to manage while attending school full-time. Attending school for a manageable amount of time each week allows these children to maintain their friendships and prevents isolation.
- Some children have sadly experience negative experiences of schooling and school anxiety is present. Often these children are at risk of Emotionally Based School Non-Attendance (EBSNA) which flexi schooling can help reduce.
- Some parents who would seek to educate otherwise through full-time home-based education but are unable to do so because they need to work- Flexischooling allows them to be involved in their children’s education whilst still working part time.
There are many benefits for schools too-
- It promotes better relationships between parents and schools due to the holistic nature of provision and partnerships that are necessary to deliver such a model
- Schools are more likely to develop more innovative ways of delivering education due to the provision and need to adapt to enhance learning for our flexi schooled pupils
- Schools have a commitment to the well-being and learning of their pupils, some of whom may not be suited to full-time school. Flexischooling allows them to accommodate these children and meet need where it may not be met otherwise
- Schools regularly find that flexischooled pupils bring qualities of creative thinking, self-direction, persistence, independence, tolerance and high quality interaction into classrooms.
Current standpoint and position on flexischooling at Huxley
Our school can take up to 49 children. We have two classrooms, an EYFS/KS1 outdoor area, a school hall, an intervention room and a break out space in a corridor. We also have an outdoor classroom and reading caravan.
We are currently at a 73% capacity with 36 children currently on roll.
Of our 36 children, 83% (30 children) are flexi schooled with the remaining 6 children (17%) being full time pupils.
Our flexi schooled children have the option of attending more than the set 3 days (Tuesday-Thursday) and currently we have 27% of the children who attend an additional fourth day.
Our school has gone from 4 children in September 2020 to 36 children since flexi was introduced with more and more interest each day as word spreads and the approach is more widely understood and acknowledged.
Whilst flexi schooling has always been available as an option in schools, in my opinion, I think that it works best when fully embraced by a school. This obviously takes time to develop and embed but works well when you have so many on this route. We currently have 83% on the flexi route.
Flexi schooling can be a long or short-term arrangement. A common misconception however is that it is only about ‘converting’ children to full time education. Whilst it might be the intended outcome for some children who have previously been in school and were at risk of Emotionally Based School Non-Attendance (EBSNA) and are trying to reintegrate, this is not the reason for flexi schooling as a whole.
Some children may naturally move to four or five days in fact we have 27% of our children are now on a 4 day flexi route however for me it is about embracing the partnership between home education and formal schooling which is, as mentioned, what is needed for a variety of reasons. It is not an approach for everyone and I totally understand that is a ‘niche’ in that sense but I believe it meets a ‘gap in the market’ so to speak. It provides a different, innovative and brave approach to education that is needed in current times.
The number of families who are choosing to leave mainstream school and embark on home education is increasing and this was reflected in Amanda Spielman’s speech at the Association of School and College Leaders Annual Conference March 2022. Many parents feel that they have no choice but to remove their child from education due to unmet need or children being unhappy in school or simply being unable to cope with long periods of time in a classroom environment. But in my eyes, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, flexischooling can be that middle ground between full-time school, and home, education.
In the current educational landscape there are so many concerns around the number of children missing in education, around the lack of provision for children with SEND, lack of places in special schools etc- many of our children don’t need special provision but ‘normal’ mainstream schooling isn’t working for them. I often say we are not a special school, but we are a school with a special approach.
How did it start here at Huxley?
Our school was under consultation for closure during covid due to low numbers. Due to our rural location, there were very little school aged children in the catchment area and also many schools locally that were bigger and more accessible by road/footpaths etc. When I first started here in July 2021, it was clear that Flexi schooling initially was considered and explored as an option to increase numbers and keep the school open, however it turned into so much more than that. Working in partnership with our parents, it was clear the power of this model in order to meet the needs of a variety of children and their families.
Who comes to our school for flexischooling?
The reasons for children/parents coming to Huxley are diverse, with nearly every family having a different perspective and need. We have some children who were previously solely home educated and were keen to explore flexi as a balance between formal education whilst continuing their home education journeys. Then we have another group of children who were struggling at previous schools due to special educational needs or an onset of school anxiety. Many of our children have autism or speech, language and communication support needs and some were at risk of non-attendance at other settings. We also have our full time pupils who benefit from quieter/smaller groups on a Monday and Friday too and have chosen Huxley for this reason- to access smaller group/ratios on those days. Many parents reported feeling lost within the education system and were looking for alternative approaches to education.
What were the initial barriers/stumbling blocks?
We worked hard in our first term of flexischooling to ensure that our children felt safe, secure and understood. In my mind you have to get this right first. You have to develop a sense of belonging and trust, in order to then develop a love of learning. It is the classic ‘Maslow before Bloom’. I still have my ‘daily checks in each class’ to ensure the children know that we are there for them and that we understand their needs. We have adopted a Trauma Informed approach within school for all children. We have developed a nurturing sanctuary of learning where everyone is accepted. A huge thing for me is the power of connection- not just between staff and pupils but staff and parents and children with their peers. If you get that right, then learning powers through.
Many of our children did begin with lower starting points, most notably in areas such as writing and mathematics, but for us the importance lies in the progress from those starts points to now and this so far has been amazing. A large amount of our children made progress of two or three years’ within their first year of being here and I really do believe this is because the children’s initial needs have been met, the fear of learning has been eradicated and the fact that there is a strong partnership, a holistic learning that takes place across both the educational provision of home education and school learning. Many of our children come to us with amazing talents in other areas of the curriculum like the arts, music and history or science. Our children are very articulate and knowledgeable about the world around them and each child's interests are nurtured and skill set celebrated.
We are now in our third year of running flexischooling in its current form and it is now that we are really seeing the impact of this approach.
Soon after starting here, I realised the need for a bespoke curriculum design to ensure that all of our pupils benefit from a rich curriculum. In some schools flexi will mean that the children will only access certain curriculum areas on the days they attend but I felt this needed to be changed. I devised a rotation curriculum across the whole year which means no week runs the same and all flexi children can and will access every subject area with face to face content taught by our teachers. Our full time pupils access a full curriculum as they would in any other school it is just taught on a rotation.
Due to our small size we do have mixed age classes but we teach the curriculum on a two year rolling progress for years 1 and 2, years 3 and 4 and years 5 and 6. EYFS is taught as a standalone yearlong curriculum.
What about the parent partnership?
Parental engagement is high. They are incredibly supportive and the dedication is clear with many parents travelling over two hours a day just to access this provision. See our current catchment area map below.
On Monday and Fridays, whilst we can’t tell the parents what to teach on home education days and they do not need to follow the National Curriculum, we do not ‘set’ the work so to speak but we do provide our planning in case they want to complete the same work as the full timers in school or to give them an opportunity to link in their home education activities. For example, if we are doing The Romans – parents may take the children to Roman amphitheatres on their home education days or they may study this at home themselves to enable us to work in partnership to create a holistic education delivery. Equally, often the home educators share what they have been doing at home and we will try and marry that in to school work too. For me it is extremely important to get the partnership between parents and school right. I am incredibly lucky to have an extremely supportive group of parents here at Huxley and it is key to why this has been such a success.