I think about schools a lot.

I often wonder what life would be like if schools didn’t exist.

Schools don’t have to exist.

Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that it is the right of every child to have an education. Education is compulsory in England and can be provided at school “or otherwise” as seen below,

“7   Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

a.    to his age, ability and aptitude, and

b.    to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise” (Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 (previously section 36 of the Education Act 1944)

An interpretation of some terminology used in the Education Act 1944 (replaced by the 1996 Act) was provided by an appeal case in which the judge defined a ‘suitable education’ as one which was such as:

1.    to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society, and

2.    to enable them to achieve their full potential.

(Worcester Crown Court in 1981 (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson) as quoted in A summary of the legal framework from Education Otherwise http://www.education-otherwise.org/Legal/SummLawEng&Wls.htm)

Therefore education is compulsory, whereas school is not.

However currently registration at school attracts funding but elective home education does not.

Today The Guardian reported that a leading Headteacher has suggested that rather than the development of free schools parents should simply be given the money (£6K for a primary school education) for them to spend as they choose. This would enable further choice and arguably lead to the establishment of more and different private schools. This is interesting and something I had toyed with in a paper I wrote earlier this year. It would , I think, mirror the Swedish school system. How it would work in practice is beyond me however, and there is a niggling doubt that it would make any difference to the poorest of students.

For those who are genuinely concerned by state schooling home education remains a choice, but one that attracts no funding. This takes the parent out of work, and has the potential to isolate the child (although there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ home ed family – they are a heterogeneous bunch, united only by what they don’t do which is attend school). Personally I’m not sure it would suit me or my son, who views more than a two-day stretch with me as a bit of a drag (I’ve worked since he was very young). I’m also a bit thick, especially with important things like numbers and science, and anything involving any kind of logic, so wouldn’t make the best all-round teacher.

I have been wondering about a middle way. Flexi-schooling, supplemented, perhaps, by courses via third parties (colleges, universities, museums, private companies, e-learning providers), or straight forward home-schooling.

So what is flexi schooling?

Flexi schooling is the process by which students can study outside of the school part time at home or otherwise as agreed by the head-teacher. The child’s education remains governed by the school and the student is an attendee of the school. The school retains the funding.

Flexi-schooling has been defined as

“an arrangement between the parent and the school where the child is registered at school and attends 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.” (Department for children, school and families Elective Home Education Guidelines for local authorities 2007 p17.)

In England flexi-schooling is covered by the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006. Regulation 6(1)(a)(iii) instructs schools to indicate on the register when children are attending an approved educational activity off site. Regulation 6(4) defines an approved educational activity as an activity which takes place outside the school premises and which is approved by a person authorised by the proprietor of the school. It must be of an educational nature, including work experience and sporting activities, and must be supervised by a person authorised by the proprietor or the head teacher of the school. Part time education provided at home in agreement with the head teacher of the school meets these criteria.

Children being educated within a flexi-schooling arrangement are in the same position as any registered pupil as regards insurance coverage and also attract full funding for the school.

“Combining schooling and home education is legal due to a loophole in the Education Act 1944 that enables schools to register a pupil ‘absent with leave’ in periods when he or she is being educated elsewhere. In addition, under the Education Act 1966, local education authorities must make exceptional provision for the suitable education of children who do not attend full time.” (Hill, Amelia, The Observer 31st July 2005 on http://www.guardian.co.uk )

While there are clearly benefits for the schools,

“…there is a huge advantage to schools in this arrangement… They receive full funding for the flexi-schooled child regardless of how often they attend school…”
(Ridley, Julie, CEO of Education Otherwise in Hill, Amelia, The Observer 31st July 2005 on http://www.guardian.co.uk)

it is does not appear to be a widely utilised model. Leicester County Council is one example of the model in practice and they offer advice to other LEAs to help to tackle the practicalities of the issue. While the funding for the child remains with the school, the attainment levels of the child are included in the count returns.

On ‘home ed’ days there is no statutory requirement but school days must follow the statutory curriculum unless exclusion from the statutory curriculum is part of a formal statement, it is a temporary measure in extreme circumstances, it is done with the permission of the secretary of state to allow for curriculum development and experimentation to take place. (Sadler, H. Rees, J. Darvill, A, Flexischooling: guidance for schools, version 7 Leicestershire County Council 24th September 2008 p2) The use of code C (leave of absence) and B (approved educational activity) can be used when registering attendance.

The ‘suitability’ of the home-educated component is the responsibility of the Local Education Authority and would be dealt with using the same processes for Home education proper. This is managed by a written agreement stating the roles and responsibilities covering both the school-based and home based components of the flexi-schooling provision.

And this is where Cameron’s Big Society might play a part – how many community organisations, businesses, charities, museums, galleries are tasked with community engagement? How much learning could take place if these places offered learning experiences and even qualifications? Would parents want to pay for these services? Could they be offered subsidised or free to those from poorer backgrounds? Could school fashion itself in such as way as to make learning inside and outside of school add up in some coherent way, like lego.

I think I like this idea. I think there remain some problems; the best opportunities may be paid for, leaving the gap between rich and poor, but perhaps schools could give up some of their funding if flexischooling became well used. Perhaps there could be a voucher scheme? What comes first, widespread take up of flexischooling, or widespread alternative provision?

I would really value your thoughts on this.