Make flexischooling a parental right for 1 DAY A WEEK FOR the academic year 2020 - 2021.
Flexischooling is an arrangement between the parents and head teacher of the school at which their children are registered, whereby their education occurs both at school and offsite. The time offsite can be used for a variety of activities depending upon the needs of the child and his or her circumstances and by agreement with the school. Schools can use a “B” code in the register for a child during the off-site sessions as the requirements prescribed in regulation 6(4) of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 can be met and school attendance figures are unaffected. Nor is insurance or safeguarding during the session an issue since children are in the care of their parents.
Many parents are beginning to consider the implications of their children not physically attending school. If the current situation continues until September 2020, this could mean children will not have physically entered school for more than five months.
We already know that children who undergo trauma and personal difficulties which lead to extended time away from school frequently suffer anxiety upon return which can lead to anxiety, school refusing behaviour and a lasting decline in their mental health. In addition to which, due to the current crisis, many children will witness trauma in their personal lives, particularly the deaths of close relatives and friends. Even where children have not suffered personally in this way, many will have experienced distressing items on TV, radio and internet news.
We also know that prior to this crisis, children’s mental health professionals working for CAMHS were very pressed. Waiting lists of upwards of three years are not unheard of in some areas and shortages of appropriately qualified mental health professionals are common in local CAMHS teams.
Without CAMHS endorsement, parents who fail to ensure their child’s regular attendance are subject to fines for truancy; yet clearly CAMHS will be unable to deal with the expected avalanche of referrals we expect from September. Unless action is taken, we believe parents will be placed under intolerable pressure to return children suffering mental health issues to school, thus adding to their distress. This cannot be in the best interests of children’s welfare. In order to prevent such a crisis developing from September 2020, the government needs to act.
We think that parents need some level of protection against truancy fines, and all children need the option of a phased return to school. Flexischooling appears to us to be a necessary part of any strategy to address this issue.
Regardless of attendance at school, parents of all children remain responsible for providing an education suitable to the child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special needs they may have (S7 Education Act 1996). Therefore, flexischooling is not an excuse to do nothing in the sessions where the child is not at school.
Currently parents need permission from the head teacher to flexischool. While some schools happily agree to it, many schools and LAs are known to routinely refuse Parents requests to flexischool. We think this will continue to be the case in some areas.
We think that overly cautious head teachers refusing requests often flout already existing legislation such as s175(2) of the Education act 2002, which requires head teachers of maintained schools to treat welfare as the paramount concern. We therefore think that further regulatory action on this is required.
Where flexischooling is allowed, many children are doing very well. It is practiced for many reasons, often for children with a range of SENDs, including autism spectrum and social anxiety disorders. Some children have physical disabilities which make full school place attendance challenging. Others have out of school interests, such as sport, music etc. Such children benefit enormously from accessing specialist tuition in normal school hours, tuition that schools simply can’t provide.
Flexischooling should not be seen as a soft option. It is in fact an excellent way for parents to meet their obligation in law to provide an education suitable for their individual child. We think regulatory change is NECESSARY to protect hard pressed parents of children at risk of mental health decline due to the current crisis from being prosecuted.
We also think it would be a simple matter to introduce systems to safeguard at risk children by involving the child’s social workers, where they have them, in decisions regarding such children.
Similarly, it should be considered whether children who have had police involvement in their lives, such as being prosecuted, receiving a Police Caution or ASBO etc, or where there would have been police involvement, had their age permitted it, might pose a risk to themselves or the community were they to be flexischooled.
We propose that where there are no safeguarding or criminal issues
which would make it unsafe for the child or community, parents
should be allowed to flexischool for at least one day per week
if they request it.
In conclusion, we think now is the time for action, since children and parents are already starting to voice concern. Children’s anxieties need to be allayed so as not to add further concerns to an already very difficult situation.