This week, with the start of the new school year, I finally managed to make contact with the Head Teacher of the school I mentioned in my previous post "The Rise of Flexi Schooling". This tiny village school has opened its doors to home schooled children and flexi schoolers in a bid to boost student numbers. I found the school surprisingly welcoming, open and flexible. After a tour of the 3 classes and lovely outdoor spaces, the Head said the boys could attend as little as 1 day in 10 to be considered flexi schoolers and would, in addition, be able to join in extra curricular and enrichment activities which are normally not accessible to home educators.
In order to accommodate home educated children, and to make it workable for families and for the teachers, the school has set one day of the school week as a topic day. This day stands apart from the rest of the week's activities and curriculum and will be organised as a round robin of cross-curricular tasks based on a half-termly topic in each classroom.
Our visit to the school was so brief and positive that I was rather swept along with it and found myself agreeing to give two days a week a go without having much chance to think about it. At home, with reflection, I felt that would be too much and would impinge on what we are doing at home and our desire to instil an independent work ethos with the boys. One day a week, though, or one day in each fortnight, might be a good thing providing opportunity for the boys to work with others, as well as a break for me. Since our new baby is proving to be quite a handful, this would be welcome.
So, without much time or opportunity to think and worry about it, we found ourselves pulling up to school one day last week ready to go. Our third son had never been to school before. 2 out of the 3 boys were quite excited. They were whisked into their classrooms and I was soon settled in the staff room with the baby and a cup of tea. I confess I was feeling really anxious about the whole thing, but everyone was very friendly and the boys seemed to settle in alright and get on with it, so after break I left them to it, kicking a football around in the playground.
I was so disappointed when I picked them up and all 3 told me it was really bad. I felt like someone had popped the balloon of hope I had inflated in my mind at the possibility. However, as we talked it over, they revealed that it wasn't so bad at all and might indeed be worth a try. Unschooled son said he liked the children and the teacher and had made a friend. He didn't like the lunch and he was disappointed that they didn't do more fun stuff! It was encouraging to hear that all 3 boys had found the level of work manageable and I had positive comments from their teachers about their work.
My eldest son could see the advantages, but "School is school, Mum," he said. Given the choice between a day a week there, though, and a home education group which this term is lacking any similar aged boys, he would choose the school. My second son, who is the most sensitive and likely to get anxious, was the least keen but, even he, on reflection, is willing to give it a go.
In the days since, it has been nice to see links made between what had been done at school and what we are doing at home. For example, we have been reading Roald Dahl in preparation for Roald Dahl Day next week, and the school is doing the same. So my third son and I have enjoyed reading "The Enormous Crocodile", "Esio Trot" and "The Twits" along that theme. My eldest son has been preparing a Chinese activity for his class at the teacher's suggestion, as the children are learning some mandarin - one of their teachers being taught by the same lady as teaches our boys! So that is a nice link and makes my eldest son feel he has something to contribute, which he always likes.
It is early days, and we have some weeks to trial it before anything is formalised, but I like the idea of school being one resource to utilise amongst others, of maintaining our autonomy whilst being able to access opportunities offered through school and of being part of a learning community. If it works, it is a glimpse of my idealistic vision of school as an open community learning hub. Can we build a bridge between the ideal and the reality? Well, let's see ....