Flexischooling from ad hoc to tip of an iceberg?

We’ve reported many times on the growing number of flexischooling initiatives.  The concept originated with our own leading light Dr Roland Meighan  http://edheretics.gn.apc.org/ http://www.rolandmeighan.co.uk/ and discussions held with  John Holt on his final visit to this country in 1984 before his untimely death from cancer. In 1988 Roland wrote the book ‘Flexischooling. Education for tomorrow, starting yesterday’.

One of earliest examples of flexischooling came again with our own trustee Philip Toogood … one of this country’s serial innovators and educational heretics. Philip has spent a lifetime as a leading educational whistleblower. He was a headteacher within the secondary phase. In Telford, he developed the theory and practice of mini-schooling (schools within schools) to break up large schools into small human-scale learning communities.  At Hartland, he was invited by the Schumacher Society to co-ordinate a movement to become known as the Human Scale Education organisation in 1985. Philip and his wife Annabel spent two years working at the Small School at Hartland; they then re-opened the Dame Catherine’s School at Ticknall, Derbyshire. It operated as an independent, all-ages school, and the base for the development of flexi-schooling. Philip then later established a Flexi-College in Burton-on-Trent. What Philip proved was that flexischooling was an extremely workable idea and that    ‘rigid systems produce rigid people, flexible systems produce flexible people’

Ever since these early days CPE-PEN has received numerous enquiries every month about the availability if flexischooling and how to go about it. The broadsheets have featured flexischooling  at least twice a year and usually very positively. Unfortunately they have not really followed up  and developed the narrative to the potential implications of flexischooling. They have also, sadly been prone to stereotype flexischooling families as querky, wealthy, middle class part-time home based educators. We have heard about and supported various flexischooling ventures around the country and fielded many queries from headteachers and governors. In terms of government guidance … there is little and this has always hindered the development the idea. Failure to grasp with real practical issues, legal responsibilities, funding, registration etc has made things messy for schools, families and local authorities and difficult for those not prepared to go the extra mile.

Matters have been worsened by a lack of understanding of what flexischooling can encompass. This is definitely not a fixed concept – it is a continuum that goes from a simple transaction in terms of shared time between home-based learning and school learning through to radical challenges across all dimensions including notions of curriculum, learning and teaching.   Deep Flexischooling like Deep Personalisation recognises the rapidly changing world, the ubiquitous availability and ease of knowledge access, the complexities of life and behaviour. It recognises rigid people don’t cope, flexible people have a better chance. Behaviour in the modern world is  so complex. Sometimes need authoritarian behaviour (knowing when to take orders / give them), at other times need self- managing skills of autonomous behaviours at other times the cooperative skills of democratic behaviour. The world is multidimensional whilst our schools for the most part are unidimensional , offering predominantly authoritarian experiences. Flexischooling can begin to address these issues.

Despite all this over recent years there does appear to be a growth in flexischooling in all its guises. mainstream schools like Hollingsclough CE Primary in the North Staffordshire Moorlands (HT: Janette Mountford-Lees)  http://www.hollinsclough.staffs.sch.uk/Flexi.htm and Erpingham CE Primary in Norfolk (HT: Simon East) http://www.erpinghamprimaryschool.co.uk/have both had extensive media coverage. Clusters of schools in various local authorities are known as are isolated examples across the country. There are non mainstream flexischools like the Manara Acaemy in Leicester (Principal: Fatima D’Oyen) www.manara-education.co.uk . There are also settings who offer different types of flexitime experiences split between perhaps mainstream school and some form of alternative learning centre or home-based learning and alternative learning centre… Self Managed Learning College  (Prof Ian Cunningham) http://www.college.selfmanagedlearning.org/ , The stables Project, York (Linda Fryer)http://www.thestablesproject.co.uk/ The permutations are endless.

So are these indications of a shift from the ad hoc to a growing trend… the tip of an iceberg? Well the truth is we don’t know. It certainly feels like it. The interest generated by the CfBT Flexischooling Conference in 2011 was indicative of something stirring.http://tinyurl.com/7u28k3u . The more we look into the current state of flexischooling the more we find going on.

What is most exciting is the potential to harness and network families, learners and flexi-settings and to develop ideas and practices that can be built on the real needs of learners, on what we know about learning and the needs of society. Fleshing out the possibilities can offer some real leadership in developing our learning landscape and achievement for our young people.

For 2012 we hope a number of initiatives will take this agenda forward.

  • CPE-PEN Flexischooling Learning Exchange 28th April, Loughborough (Tbc)
  • CPE-PEN Special Flexischooling Journal To Be Launched At The Learning Exchange
  • Flexischooling National Conference (Organised By Alison Sauer, Sauer Consultancy) 2nd November, Coventry
  • Flexischooling Book To Be Launched At The November Conference

If by the end of by the end of the year we could have established or at least be on the way to establishing a national network of flexischools / flexischooling families and learners it would be  a tremendous achievement. A network could be a great resource for everyone concerned and a lever to pressurise DFE, Ofsted, LAs to address flexischooling more openly. In this way we may be able influence really positive changes in our learning systems.

Further details will follow soon.

Peter Humphreys



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