Best of both worlds: The new trend of flexi-schooling

Niamh, aged six and a half, is in our garden at home, looking inside our chickens' nesting box for eggs. Afterwards, she goes in to read her picture encyclopaedia, occasionally pausing to tell me something new or to ask a question. It's a Thursday in term time, but she's not at school. Nor does she attend on Tuesday or Friday afternoons, although she's a registered school pupil. Niamh isn't truanting – she's flexi-schooling. Education shared between home and school is a legal option for any schoolchild, if the head teacher agrees.

The exact number of flexi-pupils in this country is unknown, but there are thought to be about 400, mainly in primary schools, and numbers are slowly growing. Some parents, like me, want a compromise between full-time home-educating and full-time school. At first, I considered home education for Niamh: I wanted her to be able to learn informally, to have plenty of freedom and to spend time with her family. As a former primary teacher, I was confident about facilitating her education, but I wasn't convinced I had the time and energy to commit to it fully, and I knew Niamh would benefit from regular contact with other children her age. Researching alternatives led me to "Free Range Education", a collection of essays, one on part-time schooling. This offered the solution.

Some parents have different reasons for flexi-schooling. Children recovering from a long illness may need to get back into the school routine gradually, or children who were fully home-educated may try flexi-schooling before going full-time. Ruth Owens, from Lancashire, home-educated her daughter Amelia between the ages of five and seven, but, when family circumstances changed, Ruth enrolled Amelia at school – part-time at first. Four months later, Amelia went full-time. Ruth praises the school, which went out of its way to help. "They were fantastic," she says. "Although they'd never heard of flexi-schooling before, they were very accommodating."

Many schools are unaware that flexi-schooling is an option. They often don't hear about it unless parents request it, and are then hesitant to agree. One common misconception is that local authorities will disapprove, although they have no power to decide – it is the head teacher's decision. There can be concern that the school's global absence scores will suffer, but if the child is registered as "educated offsite" rather than absent, for home-based sessions, this will not be an issue. Another worry is the absence of flexi-pupils during SATs, although parents normally agree to suspend the part-time arrangement while they are on, letting children sit them. In most cases, though, schools are doubtful simply because the arrangement is unusual and outside most teachers' experience.

I am fortunate in that the school I approached (a mainstream state primary) was happy to try flexi-schooling. A new head teacher started at the beginning of Niamh's second term, and a new Key Stage 1 teacher arrived last September: both are happy with the arrangement and pleased for it to continue. I feel it helps that the school is small – with fewer than 40 pupils in total – as this makes it easier to cater for individuals.

People often express surprise that flexi-schooling is legal: "Don't children have to go to school full-time?", they ask. The answer is, no. Although full-time education is compulsory, full-time schooling is not. School hours and home-learning sessions add up to a full-time week. I'm also asked whether flexi-schooling is inconvenient for teachers and pupils: won't flexi-children miss out on things and need extra help given to them? This hasn't happened with Niamh. Most academic subjects are covered in the mornings, and her timetable means she is present four mornings a week. Although I don't often teach formal lessons on non-school days, and there is no obligation to follow the National Curriculum at home, I try to fit in with school topics as much as I can. We also play word games, go on outings, talk about anything and everything and read to each other. Niamh's newest project is helping her dad to plan a playhouse, which will involve practical maths and technology.

All this sounds slightly haphazard, but it really works. I keep a diary, recording all I've done at home with Niamh. After reading my account of our activities, it's clear a lot of teaching and learning has gone on amid the fun. Niamh's teacher has access to the diary, and is pleased with the progress she's making and the work she does in and out of school.

Though some schools remain uncertain about, or even unaware of, flexi-schooling, it is becoming better known. More parents now would like part-time schooling to be an option, especially would-be home educators who can't manage to be with their children full-time. Heroes Alternative School in Berkshire, (www.heroesberkshire.co.uk) exists solely for part-timers. Open four days a week, it offers a broad range of subjects and activities to children from eight to 16, including history, dance, art and craft, English, maths, science and drama. Students can attend as little as one day per week, and accredited courses, including IGCSEs, can be followed.

Most important, do children benefit from flexi-schooling? Kate Oliver, who flexi-schooled her son and daughter, (now grown-up) during the 1990s, believes they do. She says: "My children's education was broader than it would have been, with school balanced by less conventional activities – bell-ringing, soap-making, visiting a boat-building yard and doing an early milk round. They were avid book-lovers, and loved listening to the radio and just discussing things. They developed confidence and good life skills."

From my perspective, the flexi-arrangement suits Niamh's needs. She gets one-to-one attention, the chance to find things out for herself, and freedom to let off steam when she needs to. This is complemented by time at school, mixing and learning with other children – valuable experience as she's an only child. She is more than happy with the arrangement: while enjoying school, she likes time with me, and realises more time at school would mean less at home. In the future, she may want to go to school full-time: if so, I won't stop her. For now, though, we have the best of both worlds.

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice