Pupils thrive with 'flexible' lesson plans
A RURAL primary school has gone from having just five pupils to more than 50 after becoming the first in Staffordshire to offer 'flexi-schooling' to home-educated families.
Now dozens of children are splitting their time between lessons at Hollinsclough CE Primary, near Leek, and being taught at home by their parents.
And Hollinsclough is even considering supporting secondary-age pupils in future through a combination of online tutoring, mentoring sessions at school, and social days.
Headteacher Janette Mountford-Lees, below, said: "We are getting inquiries about flexi-schooling every other week. Even though I tell parents we are full, they still want to look round."
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Pupils travel from as far afield as Wilmslow, Macclesfield, Buxton and Leek to take advantage of its unique learning opportunities and idyllic Moorlands setting.
There are currently 54 youngsters on roll, including 19 who attend school full-time.
The rest spend anywhere between one and four days at Hollinsclough each week on a pre-arranged basis.
While in school, they wear the uniform, attend classes with the other children, and study the national curriculum.
Mrs Mountford-Lees said: "When we started offering flexi-schooling, I thought children would come to us for art afternoons, PE and swimming.
"But parents are interested in the more academic activities, especially science. They also come in for English and maths in the mornings."
Families can choose what children study outside of school and can use Hollinsclough's virtual learning platform to pick up ideas for activities and resources.
In exceptional cases, the school can arrange for a special needs child to have support from a teaching assistant at home rather than in a classroom setting.
Hollinsclough's success comes just three years after it was in danger of closure because it had just five pupils.
But since The Sentinel first revealed the flexi-schooling plans in 2010, Hollinsclough has attracted worldwide interest.
There have even been hits on the school website from people based in countries including the U.S., Australia, India and Kenya.
"Parents come to us for a range of reasons. Some children can't cope in full-time education," said Mrs Mountford-Lees.
"Others are really clever and are bored with sitting within four walls every day. They want a more personalised education.
"Then there are some children who have been bullied. We want children to re-engage with school and have a positive experience.
"Children need to be stimulated and encouraged to do their very best. But in a lot of schools, it can be pressured and stressful."
Flexi-learners at Hollinsclough are still expected to take SATs and are regularly assessed by staff to gauge their progress.
Yet the emphasis is on tailoring the learning to suit each child's needs.
Clare Ash, from Waterhouses, sends her 11-year-old daughter Molly, nine-year-old son Benedict, and six-year-old daughter Clarice to Hollinsclough for one day a week.
The 50-year-old said: "They have never been to school full-time. We had wanted to take that step away from the treadmill of school and home-educate them instead.
"Home education has allowed their confidence and self-motivation to grow.
"But after we heard about Hollinsclough on the grapevine, we decided to have a look round."
Although Mrs Ash is still a strong supporter of home education, she can also see the advantages of tapping into the expertise of a school and experiences there.
"There's a structure to school and they really benefit from the social interaction with other children," she added.
"They've also taken part in school productions and worked with the Peak Park ranger."
Clarice enjoys school so much she is keen to spend more time there.
She said: "I think assembly is fun and I like playtime. In lessons, I really like writing.
"But it's good being at home as well.
"Mum really helps us and I do things like read books."
Hollinsclough's flexi-schooling programme is funded through Staffordshire County Council.
And since the work began, two other schools in the county have decided to adopt similar schemes.
Mrs Mountford-Lees said: "It's been very successful. Ultimately, it is keeping rural schools viable."
Is your school involved in a pioneering project? Email firstname.lastname@example.org