How Flexi-schooling was the answer for us.
I hadn’t heard of flexi schooling until last autumn when I stumbled upon an article in the Independent. It was a revelation! I have two children with special needs; my eldest has mild autistic spectrum disorder and my youngest attention deficit and hyperactivity as well as social communication issues and language processing problems. To cut a long story short, I feel like I have been on the educational psychologist/occupational therapist/clinical psychologist/consultant paediatrician/child psychiatrist/physiotherapist/speech and language therapist/special needs advisor (and so on!) treadmill for AGES!
My eldest has coped: we have found our path over the years and he is doing well in full-time school, it suits him, my youngest (aged very nearly nine), not so. He is an excellent school with a great teacher and head teacher and supportive special needs in place. It is not enough. We as parents have tried everything to help him learn, to help him concentrate and attend – from traditional medication to diet intervention to advice from all those specialists listed above(!) – as well as reading probably every published parenting/education book ever written (it feels that way anyway!) – and this is on top of the expertise from my background (I have a degree in education and years of experience of teaching and facilitating learning in children from birth to secondary age) . Nothing had worked for him.
Flexi schooling has. And the results were instant.
I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to try and the night I read the article I stayed up until the small hours researching. It was the following day I approached the head teacher with my request, for my son to alternate full school days with half school days and have three afternoons a week with me. The head obviously saw that this was a fantastic opportunity for my son to make progress and pushed through discussion with the LEA quickly. We began flexi schooling on a trial basis about a week or so later (we were to review in a month). We have been going ever since, everybody involved (not least my son!) entirely delighted with the arrangement.
My son is academically very behind and our aim is to develop further his basic in maths and English. We use a well known tutoring system and at the same time work on these areas (alongside his special needs targets, concentration and listening skills and occupational therapy programme) in a very child centred way. I judge by his mood, his energy level, his interest that day and we take it from there – bringing his focus round to an activity that he can learn from. Last Friday for example, trapdoors were his fascination (he often has autistic-like obsessions) – what did we do in our flexi schooled afternoon? We drew trap doors of various shapes all over the living room floor, we identified and named the polygons, we measured their sides and learnt how to read from the scale on the tape measure and then we used addition to work out the distance we would have to saw to open our trapdoors – he learnt about a perimeter! Would he have learnt as well and as thoroughly in a classroom with individual teacher-led lessons on these aspects of mathematics? No. His interest was there – we snatched the opportunity.
Would I like to home educate full-time? No. I could not. I run a business and need to earn to raise my family. And the benefits my son gets from school, the sense of community, the range and diversity of educational experiences the school provides, the wonderful relationships he has with a range of adults and his peer group, I know I would personally struggle to provide if I was entirely responsible for all this.
Would he cope with going back to school full time? No. He wouldn’t. He is calmer, he is progressing, his basic skills are developing at an amazing rate (He can tell the time now! When we started I thought that was just utterly beyond him!) and this incredibly child-centred individual education from the person that knows him best, his mother, is just the perfect supplement to the education he receives in school.
For us, flexi-schooling really does offer the best of both worlds.