Flexischooling in Scotland – the facts

Flexischooling was in the news last week in Scotland, as Aberdeenshire Council debated a motion that would ‘allow flexischooling’ in the county. There have been numerous press articles, and helpful, ‘what is flexischooling’ explainers. Radio Scotland’s morning phone-in show devoted an hour to the topic. (Mornings with Kaye Adams, from about 7 minutes in)

Our group of citizen scientist mums in Dumfries and Galloway has been interested in flexischooling for a while. We discovered that there is very little research on flexischooling in a UK context, and none, so far as we know, in Scotland. So we did some.

  • FOI requests to every council in Scotland to find out how many flexischooling pupils they have and what their policies are
  • Surveys for parents of flexischoolers, to find out their motivations and experiences
  • Interviews with teachers with experience of flexischoolers to find out their experience

You can read our full report here: PSG Flexischooling in Scotland research final report.

Some of our key findings:-

  • There are officially at least 345 flexischooling pupils in Scotland (0.05% of the school population).
  • (Some councils didn’t give us the numbers but told us it was fewer than 5. These are not included in the 345 total, so it will be a slight undercount.)
  • Fife Council has the most (156), followed by Dumfries and Galloway (62) and Edinburgh (45)
  • 12 councils said they have no flexischooling pupils
  • Students with additional support for learning needs are over-represented in flexischoolers. (Not all councils gave us this breakdown, but based on the figures from those that did, it looks like 35% of flexischoolers in Scotland have ASL needs).
  • These numbers may also under-count as we believe some ASL students in some councils have individual part-time school attendance arrangements, but the council would use a different term for it and may not have included these numbers in their FOI response.
  • Procedures and policies vary widely across the country and there seems to be little clear guidance, which has an effect on teachers and schools, and, of course parents. As well as meaning there are no reliable figures.
  • Parents overwhelmingly felt flexischooling benefited their child’s education, social confidence and overall wellbeing, as well as family relationships.
  • Teachers clearly and unanimously felt there was no negative effect for them as teachers, or on the rest of the class.
  • Teachers views on the effects on the child were slightly more mixed. But in most cases they felt there was no effect on academic achievement, and positive effects on the child’s family relationships and from experiencing different learning environments.
  • Some felt that it could affect children socially (i.e. dipping in and out of school friendships), but that it would depend on the child – some would gain in adaptability, and new skills.

Something all the press reports seem to miss is that Scottish Government guidance on flexischooling makes clear that “The feasibility of each request [to flexischool] should be considered on its own merit” https://www.gov.scot/publications/home-education-guidance/pages/3/
This guidance has statutory status. “It is not the law that local authorities must consider each flexi schooling request, but it is the law that they should have regard to the guidance which tells them that they should do this.”

None of the press reports clarify the legal situation or fully explain exactly what policy change Aberdeenshire were considering. But it would appear on the face of it that ‘not allowing flexischooling’ is contrary to statutory guidance.

A short paper based on this research is due to be published soon in Other Education. First published in (in press, 2019) www.othereducation.org, issue 8, vol 1

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