Mum's three-year battle with trust over daughter's forest attendance

Forest School teacher Michaela Darford, with her daugther Aeryn

Forest School teacher Michaela Darford, with her daugther Aeryn - Credit: Michaela Dartford

A mum has told of a three-year battle with an academy trust to grant her daughter more flexibility with her education.

Mother-of-two Michaela Dartford is herself a teacher, running the Wildlings Forest School in west of the county, and has been at odds with the West Norfolk Academies Trust (WNAT) for the best part of three years.

When her daughter Aeryn, now seven, started at one of the trust's schools at the age of four, it was agreed she would spend four days a week in traditional school, while accompanying her mum to the forest school on the fifth.

After seeing her daughter flourish under this arrangement, Ms Dartford had hoped it would continue beyond her reception tenure - but despite the school appearing supportive, the trust has repeatedly declined her requests for flexi-schooling.

Michaela Dartford, with her daughters Aeryn and Willow at Wildlings Forest School

Michaela Dartford, with her daughters Aeryn and Willow at Wildlings Forest School - Credit: Michaela Dartford

The trust has told Ms Dartford that the arrangement would not help Aeryn prepare for her next stage of education, despite holding "respectful talks" with her on the matter.

But Ms Dartford argued that while Aeryn was in reception and attending Wildlings once a week she was "exceeding in most areas and targets" set by the school.

She said: "I think the most frustrating thing is every single teacher I have talked to about this totally supports it. She may fall behind but I've always said we can catch up on any work missed and so far all her school reports show she is meeting and exceeding targets and her behaviour is exceptional.

Michaela Dartford's children Willow and Aeryn enjoy activities at her forest school

Michaela Dartford's children Willow and Aeryn enjoy activities at her forest school - Credit: Michaela Dartford

Most Read

"Last term I 'conformed' and didn't allow Aeryn to come to forest school and it had a really negative impact on her well-being - she really struggled. 

"One day for her seems to make all the difference between a happy, relaxed and confident girl and a sad, tearful and frustrated one."

But a WNAT spokesman said: "School leaders have met with Ms Dartford to discuss her views on several occasions - these meetings have been respectful and considerate to the views of both parties.

"Our trust has always promoted full time education through our enriched and stimulating curriculum offer, which includes connections with the outdoors and our local areas.

"But we are under no obligation to agree to Ms Dartford's arrangement and we have shared our attendance expectations with her."

What is flexi-schooling?

Otherwise known as flexible school attendance, flexi-schooling is a way for children to attend traditional educational settings on a part-time basis.

The method is perfectly legal, but has to be done with the specific agreement of the individual school or academy trust.

One Norfolk school which has seen success from the approach in the past is Erpingham Primary School, near Aylsham

In 2010, the primary school agreed to accommodate its first flexi-schooled pupil.

In the years that followed, more and more of its parents opted to take this approach, and by 2018 around a third of its pupils were taught in this way.

And the approach contributed to the school receiving praise from watchdog Ofsted in 2018, with an inspector saying: "The parents who choose to send their children to the school using your flexi-school approach are highly committed to the school. Consequently, attendance of these pupils is good."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter