Parenting is always an experiment so why not collect the data?
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Exploring Flexischooling – A Q&A with the Centre for Personalised Education

We were pleased to welcome trustees from the Centre for Personalised Education, Dr Harriet Pattison, Alison Sauer and Emma Dyke to our Q&A this week. Harriet Pattison is a lecturer in early childhood education at Liverpool Hope University, and has a particular interest in home education and learning to read. Alison Sauer has been involved in the flexischooling aspect of the Centres’ work for around 10 years, visiting schools, setting up Facebook support groups and liaising with the DfE. Emma is continuing with much of this work in the future.

Q: Does anyone have figures on how many kids are flexi-schooled in Scotland?

Alison: Finding the numbers in Scotland would be easy (and no, they haven’t been done yet). As flexischooling in Scotland is part time school plus part time home education then all flexischoolers are registered with the LAs as flexischoolers. So a simple FOI (freedom of information) request to the 32 LAs in Scotland will do it.

 

Q: Who exactly has the power to say yes or no to you flexischooling? I thought it was down to the head teacher, but someone said recently that Edinburgh council have a blanket policy of schools not being able to offer it.

Alison: In Scotland it has to de facto be agreed by the school and the LA. So if you have a stroppy LA it may be more difficult. That said, you can say “Oh well, I’ll home educate then” and most LAs will jump to stop you doing that LOL!

 

Q: Are there any areas that are supportive of flexi schooling?

Alison: Borders seems good with Flexischooling.

 

Q: What makes flexi schooling work/not? I guess it’s different for each family-school pairing, but are there any general lessons that have been learnt?

Emma: Flexibility and working with the school to develop a good relationship are really important.

Alison: Communication is key…all the way along. Plus, celebrating achievements.

 

Q: Is there any kind of framework that schools use re communicating etc with flexi parents?

Alison: In England we have produced an agreement that forms a basic framework. You can read more about this on our flexischooling pages here: http://www.personalisededucationnow.org.uk/concept/. I am sure a similar thing can be done in Scotland.

 

Q: We’re having trouble finding much information about flexischooling in general! Can you point us to any resources?

Alison: You can read our 2012 flexischooling special of the PEN Journal on our website: http://www.personalisededucationnow.org.uk/pen-journals/. Much of it is relevant to Scotland and in any event it is worth reading. [Ed: Note this is also available on the Dumfries and Galloway Parenting Science Gang Facebook group]

And you can read all the information that we have gathered our flexischooling stub: http://www.personalisededucationnow.org.uk/concept/

 

Q: What sort of research is going on at the minute?

Emma: There is specific research on flexischooling by Dr Clare Lawrence. She built on her own experience with autistic boys. She quite independently developed flexischooling arrangements to secure their best interests. It worked wonderfully well and she wrote about her findings in ‘Autism and Flexischooling. A shared Classroom and Homeschooling Approach’ (2012) Jessica Kingsley.

Clare’s work can be located at https://www.clarelawrenceautism.com/

The key finding is that with regard to autism, flexischooling appears to offer the best of both worlds for children/young people. The formality/boundaries of school are balanced by the flexibility, time to de-stress, re-process and re-focus available in the home.

Clare’s recent PhD research has confirmed this and highlighted the desperate needs of ASD youngsters and families who would benefit from flexischooling should they be able to access it.

PSG E: That looks really interesting thanks 🙂

 

Harriet: I conducted an interview with Peter Humphreys in 2013 for the journal Other Education which gives an interesting overview of Peter’s wealth of knowledge and experience (http://www.othereducation.org/index.php/OE/article/view/65 Note that the full article can downloaded from the “PDF” link).

Also, there is a lot of information specifically about flexischooling, including some research by Alison, on the CPE website: http://www.personalisededucationnow.org.uk/concept/

 

Harriet: There is some important research into flexi-schooling currently underway. Fiona Beavan is a doctoral researcher at Liverpool Hope University and a trustee of the Centre for Personalised Education. She is researching specifically at Hollinsclough School.

Alison: Fiona, do you want to come in here and tell us what you are studying for your PhD?

Fiona Beavan joins the session

Fiona: I am researching how embedding flexible education into mainstream education can enable learners to engage more successfully with the curriculum as well as holistically from the mother’s voice. This under acknowledged in academic writing.

PSG C: Hi Fiona, thanks for joining us! That sounds really interesting.

Harriet: I think this is just the kind of research which is both academically exciting but also terrifically relevant to those contemplating or involved in flexi-education. Just what we need!

Fiona: This is borne from 15 years, with some of my children, for whom, the education system as it stands (one-size-fits -all) does not work. I flexi-educate without the school or the LA’s consent- not a position for the fainthearted!

PSG C: Wow – just not sending them in on some days?

Fiona: I have done it a variety of ways. Until my children were C.S.A. (compulsory school age), the school could grudgingly do very little. The kids attended one, then two days a week. After this 3, then four days, as they are now. This is very fluid, it’s about playing ball, getting the school on side, and being aware when to pick your battles.

Also I am a teacher,  so I can speak from both sides of the fence.

Alison: Am I right in remembering ASD (autism spectrum disorder)  is part of the picture here Fiona?

Fiona: Yes, 16 years of daily battles to get children diagnosed and their individual needs accepted, respected and plans implemented. After a long, long fight this is slowly being done.

PSG D: Sounds like you and I would have a good deal to talk about Fiona!

 

Q: We want to do some research on flexischooling in Scotland. Where do you see gaps in current research?

Alison: These are the areas I would like studied:

  • A comparison of the outcomes of flexi students with those of non flexi students.
  • A comparison of the achievements and behaviour of flexi vs non flexi students who are on the autistic spectrum.
  • An analysis of where the “sweet spot” is for the number of days in school and the number of days at home – Hollinsclough (primary school with an established flexischooling cohort http://hollinsclough.staffs.sch.uk/ ) have done this and find 3-4 days at school per week is optimum.

Emma: I think other conditions could be well worth looking at too; anxiety, emotional wellbeing and I’m sure many others. Parents often see a big difference in their children’s behaviour when they flexischool. Things can calm down greatly at home.

PSG D: Yes, that was our experience.

PSG C: Supposing you were going to look at the outcomes, which outcomes would you be most interested in?

Alison: Teachers make internal assessments of the children regarding the Curriculum for Excellence, so maybe the rate of rising up the levels? Also the results of Nationals (were standard grades).

Emma: Flexischooling at secondary level is less common but potentially just as important and so it would be good for any research done to cover education from 5 -18yrs.

Harriet: I think we can see outcomes in flexi-schooling to be much more than just the usual school metrics.

PSG C: Harriet – what sort of outcomes would you hope to investigate in research?

Harriet: I think that flexischooling, like other alternatives, can give us the opportunity to think about education more holistically than is the norm across school and national test metrics. We don’t have ways of ‘assessing’ things like self-confidence and creativity or enjoyment and motivation but they are also things critically affected by schooling and we could spend more time thinking about them too.

Alison: And doesn’t the UK officially have the unhappiest children in Europe? It would be nice to change that!

Harriet: Wow, yes it would!

PSG C: We’d love to hear some kid’s voices, hear what they think about their education arrangements – I think we all suspect that flexischooled kids may be happier in general – but might we run into ethical problems?

Emma: You can talk to my kids :-). Interestingly though, I think that my oldest, now a teenager and in full time school, only now really gets why it was so important when she was younger.

Emma: Julia Black at Explorium has some fantastic examples of children who had benefited from flexischooling. I think she would be happy to tell you about hr experience of taking kids out of the classroom for a few hours a week and working with them to find their passions.

 

Q: Do you know how “stable” flexischooling relationships tend to be? What I mean is, if a child starts by doing 3 schools days per week, do they tend to stay with that arrangement long term, or is there typically variation – sometimes fewer, sometimes more days?

Emma: It varies greatly. Some reduce the number of hours flexischooling over time aiming towards full time, others stay the same. Ours varied each year depending on the teacher and how much time we could convince them to let us take off 🙂

Also, flexischooling isn’t just about he head teacher agreeing. Each year in primary the teachers change. The degree to which the teacher supports flexischooling often impacts on how successful the arrangement is.

Harriet: The thing about flexi schooling is it exactly that – flexibility. In principle at least, partnerships can be as creative as people want and open to negotiation and re negotiation throughout the flexi schooling period.

 

Q: I think the group as a whole really value the wider outcomes of education, which is why we are so interested in flexi-schooling. But we don’t really know how to examine them in such a way that we can link it to flexischooling. Any thoughts on where this sort of investigation might start?

Alison: A FOI request to the LAs looking at numbers and how many applications to flexischool they approve vs reject, then dig down in specific areas to see what makes them good or bad at flexischooling

Harriet: I think with qualitative research amongst those involved in flexi-schooling. There are questions around things like creativity and what happens to it in very prescribed curriculums like the national curriculum. That would be an opening point.

Alison: The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence luckily is somewhat better than the English National Curriculum luckily…and no SATs! Hurrah!

Emma: The Flexischooling Families UK facebook group has an active flexischooling audience as well as members who have flexischooled in the past. There are also many more who wanted to flexi but didn’t get the opportunity. These families could provide a wealth of knowledge

 

Q: We’re aware there are sensitivities among home educating families, and that some people are cautious about data collection, especially in Scotland where there is some concern about the named person scheme. Are there any specific sensitivities within the flexischooling community that we ought to be aware of?

Harriet: I understand that many flexischoolers like to stay under the radar so that they can keep quietly getting on with what they are doing. Like home education it can be hard to explain to those who have never heard of it and don’t understand it.

Emma: I think information could be collected anonymously. Some people may want to avoid mentioning specific schools or where they are flexischooling as many do it unofficially and some schools do it but ask parents to keep it quiet in case the flood gates open (which we’d love to happen, but in reality is highly unlikely).

 

Q: If we wanted to explore the effects of flexischooling vs full-time mainstream schooling on a child’s keenness to learn, could you give us any idea how we could we go about looking into this?

Emma: See my comment above about Julia Black at Explorium. She has some dramatic examples of a finding a child’s keenness to learn by taking them out of the classroom and being helped to find what they are really passionate about.

 

Q: Do you have any idea roughly how many people might be flexischooling unofficially, compared to official numbers – would it be more or less?

Emma: Possibly more but impossible to say.

Harriet: I believe we will not know unless and until a specific registration code for flexischoolers is introduced.

PSG E: I totally agree! I’d be very surprised if they don’t exist! I was just wondering if anyone had an idea, from experiences talking to families.

PSG D: I never once filled in anything in relation to flexischooling

PSG E: By “official” I meant ones where the school agrees, and would say they were flexi-schooled if asked, sorry if that was confusing! Unofficial would be those where the school doesn’t agree – it’s just something that the family is doing unsupported.

PSG D: I think our school were totally honest about the flexischooling so if you asked them they would say yes. But I think that if you asked the local authority, which is who you would normally approach for figures, they wouldn’t have a clue.

Fiona: From my very limited research for my MA, many parents like me prefer to stay under cover for obvious reasons!

PSG D: Yes, I found staying under the radar most useful.

PSG C: We’re under the radar, but due to the school’s desire to not get the LA involved rather than my feelings!

Fiona: Yes, my school are fearful if they ‘let me do it’ everyone will want it. This is simply not the case, as most parents want their children in full-time school.

PSG D: Yes, I think that’s an issue for schools. I’ve heard people say that our authority doesn’t allow it, or our school doesn’t allow it, when obviously I know different. They don’t want it to become a “thing”.

 

Q: Would it be a valuable exercise for us to try to compile numbers of officially flexischooled children in Scotland, or would we be better directing our efforts elsewhere?

PSG D: It would be interesting to see what came back, if anything! Do we know if it’s a ScotGov required statistic?

Alison: I think if you did that you would get a feel for how amenable various areas are to flexischooling

PSG G: From my experience it very much depends on your authority in Scotland.

PSG E: Do you think if we did a FOI request and found out which areas were more likely to let people flexischool, that we could potentially have an effect on new requests to flexischool? Or on the attitudes of the public / LAs?

Alison: Well it would help you look at what best practice in Scotland looks like and try to spread that practice throughout Scotland.

 

Q: Although we don’t have the time or resources to do a large scale research project, it would be great if we could do something that would make the case for future research. Any thoughts on what might be particularly useful in that respect?

PSG D: I think we probably do need to establish a baseline. Even if all we achieve is highlighting that it’s not reported (this happened with the ASL figures two years ago).

Emma: Fiona, anything come to mind that that would be mutually beneficial to these guys and the work you are doing?

Fiona: I have started a local Facebook page for parents in North Wales. It is interesting to see exactly why local parents desire this form of education, it also gave me ammunition for the director of education as well? Just a thought….

Harriet: We do need good qualitative data though. As with home ed, numbers can turn out to be a double edged sword as in ‘the invisible children’ scares…

Fiona: Yes agreed. That is why I want/need to do the doctorate to gain good quality, ethical data, over the long term from schools and parents.

Emma: You could open a dialogue with the authorities who are open to flexischooling to understand their thinking and use this information to improve things with the less willing authorities.

PSG G: Maybe head teachers of schools that accommodate it too. I think there are quite a number that may be totally unaware of flexischooling.

Fiona: The trouble is with most head teachers is they are under enormous pressure for their school to perform. Why take on board something they don’t have too and give themselves more grief?

PSG F: It would be interesting to find out why people flexi. E.g. because school day too long etc. Perhaps if there were findings like this it would make the government think twice about increasing our children’s time in institutions!?!

 

Thank you so much Harriet, Alison and Emma. And also to Fiona for jumping in! You guys have given us a lot to think about. I hope we can come back to you when we’ve got a clearer plan about what we would like our research to look like.

PSG E: Thank you! Really useful 🙂

Alison: You are welcome. If anyone wants to come and look at our work please join us on the Centre for Personalised Education Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1607166472854561/

We offer mini conferences on a regular basis around the country. We could possibly come and do one in Scotland if there is interest. Our next one is in Conwy in November: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/educational-difference-flexing-and-personalising-education-cpe-learning-exchange-lex-tickets-38494263378

The head teacher of Hollinsclough will be there and available for questions

Emma: As will Clare Lawrence, talking about her PhD on flexischooling and autism. And Fiona Beaven is organising it so she’ll definitely be there too 😁

Harriet: Thanks for having us! Good luck with your project!

Fiona: Good luck with bringing about change in Scotland too.

Alison: Yes, good luck!

Emma: It will be really interesting to follow the work you are doing. All the best


If you would like more information, check out these resources:

Or read our previous flexischooling Q&A with Dr Helen Lees from Newman University.

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