Registration: The Legal Basis
In law, the overall responsibility for the education of any child of compulsory school age, whether at school, home or anywhere else rests with the parent (The Education Act 1996 s.7).
In addition, the law maintains that pupils should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents where possible (The Education Act 1996 s.9). It therefore follows that when a parent requests flexischooling for their child, the request should be approved unless there is good reason not to.
During the non-school based periods of education an appropriate mark must be put in the register. There are two options:
Code C (Authorised absence). This is usually used when pupils are absent from school because of ‘exceptional occasions’ such as a family wedding, bereavement or prison visit. It may be used to denote sessions where a flexischooled pupil is being educated away from the school, but only as a temporary measure. The school’s attendance figures will be adversely affected by use of this code.
Code B (Attending approved educational activity – off site). This is the code most commonly used to record flexischooling. An approved educational activity is one which takes place away from the school, but is supervised by someone approved by the school, in this case the parent (The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 s.6 (4)). In order to grant this approval the school must have some oversight of this non-school based element. This oversight may be conducted by either the school or the local authority. This code makes it possible for the pupil to achieve 100% attendance on the register by following the contract and attendance agreement.
The Issues and Detail
Unfortunately, flexischooling is not yet defined in law and references to it in DfE guidance and guidelines are scarce and even contradictory. Some Local Authorities have no policy on flexischooling; others have attempted to write their own. With so few resources available for them to refer to, it should come as no surprise that the quality of these policies varies widely.
Flexischooling is described in section 5.6 of the Elective Home Education Guidelines 2007 as:
‘an arrangement between the parent and the school where the child is registered at the school and attends the school 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. ‘Flexischooling’” 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. Local authorities should make sure that head teachers are made familiar with flexischooling and how it may work in practice.’
A similar definition is given in the Pupil Registration Regulations Guidance (Keeping Pupil Registers – Guidance on applying the Education Pupil Registration Regulations. DCSF [now DfE] June 2008) which also sets out the marks that should be placed in the register for flexischooled pupils. There are 2 marks available for schools to use: ‘B’ or ‘C’.
‘B’ means that the child is being educated off site, as part of an educational activity which has been approved by the school. Most flexischooling schools would prefer to use this mark; however they may only use it if they have verified that the educational activity took place during the school session. This verification is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it may be difficult to prove that learning has taken place at a particular time of day. Schools attempts at verification may be interpreted by parents as interference or mistrust. Finally, the requirement that home education takes place during the school session contradicts the description of the home-based element of flexischooling given in the pupil registration guidance: ‘(it) often does not follow strict timetables or the patterns of a normal school day. The families involved like the flexibility…’
‘C’ means that the pupil is absent, and the absence has been authorised by the school. It is often used for flexischooled pupils as it is the only mark schools are allowed to use if they have not met the verification criteria described above. This mark was intended to be used for pupils missing school for special occasion such as a wedding or funeral. Use of this mark suggests that the pupil has not been involved in any educational activity during his or her absence from school, it is therefore not a suitable mark to use when a flexischooled pupil is being taught at home because the education taking place outside normal school hours is not recognised. Further, when schools use this mark for flexischooling it can cause serious problems with their attendance statistics.
In practice, some schools use ‘B’ for flexischooled pupils without carrying out checks as to when education is being provided by the parents. These schools would argue that so long as a suitable education is taking place, the time or day it takes place is unimportant. This avoids the problems caused by using ‘C’, but is only possible if head teachers are willing to take a pragmatic approach with the rules.
These issues could be overcome if a new flexischooling registration mark was introduced. The criteria governing the use of this new mark would effectively form a new national flexischooling policy, thus ending the current confusion felt by many head teachers. It would eliminate the problems currently caused by using ‘C’, as flexischooling would no longer have a detrimental effect on a school’s attendance statistics. The contradictions in the current guidance regarding ‘B’ could be eliminated by removing the requirement for off site education to take place during school hours. A new mark would also enable the DfE, and others, to collate statistics on flexischooling.
Flexischooling should be part of a range of educational models available to all children. The current lack of clear comprehensive flexischooling policy, and uncertainty over registration marks, along with head teachers fears of damaging the schools statistics / Ofsted results has led to many schools being either unaware of flexischooling or afraid to try it. As a result, many children are being denied the opportunity to experience such a personalised education.
Keeping Pupil Registers – Guidance on applying the Education Pupil Registration Regulations. DCSF (now DfE) June 2008