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Part-time school attendance and homeschooling

by Beverley Paine

My family enjoyed part-time attendance at school as home educated students in South Australia for several years and I've written about our 'flexi-school' experiences in my book Learning in the Absence of Education. Ours was an informal arrangement we negotiated with the children's teacher and principal. Several of my homeschooling friends had set up similar arrangements with their local schools, both public and private. The SA Department of Education did not support or encourage part-time schooling: it was left up to individual school principals. About ten years ago our local state school set up a more formal part-time school arrangement called 'shared schooling' and as far as I know it is the only state school in the state to offer this option to home educating families.

Over the years I've heard of similar incidences of informal part-time school attendance from interstate homeschooling families. One of the continuing frustrations was that not all homeschooling families that wanted or needed to access part-time school attendance could; the school had the final say which meant that many families were told it wasn't possible, even though they knew of families in other towns or suburbs enjoying part-time schooling. Only Victoria has made a move to legislate to allow the provision of partial enrolment for home educating students. In 2008 it became possible to enrol as a part-time student if you are registered with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (see guidelines at http://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/commrel/aboutschool/partenrolguidelines.pdf )

Victorian home educating mum, Maaike, investigated and took up this option last year. Before the legislative changes, Maaike had sought contact with the local school but had been given the 'cold shoulder'. Small rural schools often resent home educators as many of them depend on maintaining sufficient student numbers to retain teachers or to obtain funding for extra staff or resources. When Maaike found out about the new partial enrolment provision she wrote a letter to the principal outlining the changes, attaching a copy of the guidelines from the website. She also stated the activities and lessons in which she was keen for her girls to participate. The principal replied promptly indicating that they could enrol immediately and start the next day. Even so, his reluctant but polite manner and vagueness about the enrolment procedure meant that Maaike had to chase him to arrange a meeting where she could discuss points such as access to the school newsletter, library use, policies, transport, and which events and activities her daughters could access, and so on. At the meeting it was agreed that the family would contribute to the school fees. The girls were enrolled as attending 0.2 on the roll.

Since then the family has been very happy with the arrangement. They are able to pick and choose activities and lessons and the girls have attended arts performances, excursions, school camps, athletics, a dance evening and more. The girls are also happy and fit in well with the other children, and although they knew many of the children already at the school, enjoy that they've been able to make new friends too.

As a member of a small rural community, Maaike felt strongly that she wanted her family to participate as much as possible in community life. The local school is a community hub that draws families together; working together with the school and sharing resources was always Maaike's hope when she started homeschooling. She saw it as an essential aspect of building a sense of community as well as tapping into some of the exciting opportunities the school had to offer at the local level. The girls were also excited to participate in group and team activities, like sport and camps.

Although they are partially enrolled, the arrangement is fairly flexible; the girls don't attend every day and may not attend at all for weeks. A lot depends on the nature of the activities offered at the school. For example, when the swimming program is underway the girls go every afternoon, or they take the school bus once a week to do physical education, with Maaike picking them up from school after the lesson. There are five arts performances a year that the family attends, and the camps are once a year. They have attended quite a few of the excursions as well. Maaike finds out what is on offer through the school newsletter and phones the school to arrange participation.

The children went to school full time for two weeks at the start of this year as a project and decided that they liked homeschooling better. The family feels they are able to tap into some great educational opportunities for the girls, but lament that their social skills have suffered, with the girls being grumpier and not getting along as well together during periods of more intensive attendance.

Maaike's positive experiences have encouraged other homeschooling families to give partial enrolment in the local school a go. Provided the ability to remain flexible isn't eroded in the future, there is the opportunity for such arrangements to be mutually beneficial to both the school and homeschool communities. Partial enrolment has allowed Maaike's family to integrate more fully into community life and the school and local families no longer see homeschooling as a threat. There is no pressure on the family for the girls to attend full-time or more often, or to attend more academically oriented lessons. Maaike sees partial enrolment as neither making homeschooling easier or harder, only more enriching. She is happy that the Victorian government has made it a legal option for her family and for the school.

For Maaike's family and my own, our interest and participation in part-time attendance arrangements at school were driven by our remoteness from other homeschooling families. We both live in small rural communities. Had there been dozens of homeschooling families living nearby we would have put our energy into building strong and vibrant homeschooling groups that tapped into and contributed to community life.

See also Beverley's Thoughts On Part Time Homeschool

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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