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Education: Homeschooling

September 26th, 2007 · post by isy · 1 Comment

In the UK, education is compulsory, but schooling is not – which means leaving school and sorting out your own education at home or elsewhere is legitimate and legal. I’ve been working as a facilitator for the Creative Kids Club, a club for home educating kids aged 6-11 that’s self organised by parents. Not having children myself or even planning to, it’s been a privileged insight into alternative parenting and what home education involves. The club is very much child led, and the kids really take initiative in what they want to do and how they want to be with each other. Home education is DIY education, and a real opportunity for parents and kids to take control.

What is essential is to realise that children learn independently, not in bunches; that they learn out of interest and curiosity, not to please or appease the adults in power; and that they ought to be in control of their own learning, deciding for themselves what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. John Holt, author of ‘How children learn’

I thought the best way for others to understand what it’s all about would be to talk to other people involved in home schooling so I interviewed a few of the parents involved in the kids club.

LH: People choose home education for many different reasons, from wanting to give their child more freedom to learn and develop at their own pace, to finding that their child isn’t suited to the classroom situation, whether it’s due to bullying, the teaching methods, or the discipline, to finding the national curriculum too limited or too liberal! What is the main reason you home educate?
Venetia: I guess it’s out of habit now, because I’ve always done it and now it’s normal. Starting out was because I used to teach adults French, and it made me think of effective ways of learning that are not just putting someone in a classroom and teaching them.
Lucy: I was first interested in the idea when Ione was about 18 months old. We were living in London and people had started saying what school is she going to go to? And we couldn’t think of anything we would like to do less than send her to a school in London.
Kathy: My first son wasn’t happy at primary school. He was completely not ready to hold a pencil or do reading, writing, maths at that age. Also he found the social thing very difficult, and I noticed him becoming withdrawn. Now, your childhood is a one off thing. It seemed terrible to me that for a large part of his life as a child he was unhappy. And I had some friends who had moved to Brighton who were home educating, and they had lovely, well balanced children, and it seemed to me to be a good option.

LH: Was it a difficult decision to make? Do you think anyone could do it? It must be quite a time commitment, and an emotional one too.
Lucy: It is, both, and I don’t think you fully realise the extent of that until you’re several years in. It does change your life and you have to find a lifestyle that works.
Kathy: Also you have to accept that your life is going to be different than from the majority of other people’s. Living in Brighton, I think we’re in a little bubble, because there’s a lot of home educators, but I can imagine if you’re in other places, without that, it’s harder. You don’t need any qualifications, you don’t even need to be particularly well educated – in fact, it can be a real benefit to the kid if you don’t know about something because then you can learn alongside them, which can be really empowering for both of you. And these days, we live in a very information rich society where you can learn about things in so many different ways. I think the only thing you need to home educate is the willingness to spend a lot of time with your children and be available to them.

LH: Can it be difficult to de-register a child from school?
Venetia: All you have to do is write to the head teacher and say that you are educating your child at home. It’s just informing them, you don’t have to ask their consent.
Kathy: The Local Authority tend to get in touch with anyone who’s de-registered, but actually legally, they’re not duty bound to do that. Education Otherwise can offer information and support on your legal rights, because understanding about home education and the legal situation really varies from Local Authority to Local Authority.

LH: Have you had any hassle with truancy accusations?
Kathy: They get cards – I haven’t got them for my children, though I really ought to – that say you’re home educated. The small part of the Local Authority that deals with education are quite clued up about it, but that doesn’t extend to the police or the social services so people do get in trouble and it’s important to know your rights.
Lucy: I think there’s a bit of a class and race thing going on though, any people who differ from the educated white middle class are likely to have more trouble. They assume that Guardian readers can educate their own child, but they don’t have such a tolerant attitude towards others.
Kathy: There’s a shocking attitude to travellers, and we’ve certainly encountered quite a racist attitude.

LH: What do you think the demographic is for home education?
Lucy: It’s mostly white middle class! Home educating is a legal right, and damn right it should be, but we’re lucky that the environment and the stimulation we can provide is a better learning environment than schools. It’s not the case for every child and every family, certainly not over the whole world, where for many school education is a blessing.
Kathy: The people who are having harder times do get more flak when they home educate, ironically. Those very people who should be given plenty of support are treated by the authorities as if it’s absurd, they shouldn’t be thinking about it. I used to be a teacher, so I can talk the talk when anyone from the Local Authority comes to talk to me, but I’m bringing up my children no different, certainly no better than anyone else.

LH: How does a child learn at home?
Venetia: They learn because they’re human, and you find out about what’s around you because it’s your way of being you. It’s not separate from other activities in your life. Having said that, there’s a range of approaches people take. People vary over time too, sometimes if they have just come out of school, they adopt a very structured approach, and then other people have a much more laissez-faire kind of approach which is just seeing what crops up in the day and taking advantage of it.
Lucy: Well some say laissez-faire and some say autonomous! One thing that I find absolutely ridiculous is this new government initiative called ‘Every lesson counts’. It’s about stopping people taking their kids out of school for holidays in the middle of term, it’s so ridiculous, I can’t think of anything more life enriching and educational than going on holiday. But people are being fined hundreds of pounds.
Kathy: It’s about the school statistics, and not about the child and their experience of life, and they have to enforce it because they get hassle from the Ofsted advisers and the inspectors or whoever gives them their money. I remember someone asking, do you carry on with home education during the holidays, and Lucy said, no we shut them in a cupboard then to make sure they don’t learn anything!

LH: Can a home educated child sit exams to gain qualifications? Do many do this?
Kathy: Some kids do them over a period of time from home. A lot of kids wait until they’re 16 and then they go to sixth form college.
Venetia: It seems many colleges are happy to accept home educated students on the basis of an interview and maybe a portfolio of work, because often home educated children have quite a mature attitude towards learning, which fits in well with further education.

LH: Many home educating parents support each other, network and organise mutual childcare, activities, clubs and more. This seems to be vital to making home education work. What kind of organisations exist, how do parents help each other out?
Venetia: One benefit of networking is not having that weird feeling of sticking out in a crowd, then there’s all the mutual childcare. Also you can talk over issues that arise with your children, which may be educational or just general what’s up with your kid things.

Lucy: The first thing that a lot of people say when they hear you’re home educating is what about their socialisation? But once you’re in a situation with lots of other home educating families around, it just becomes a non-issue. I think that our children are socialising well, with children much younger and older than them, and they’re mixing with adults in a much more equal way because they see them as friends and mentors and not the enemy, which I think a lot of kids at school feel.
Kathy: A useful national contact is Education Otherwise, through which you can get hold of a local contacts list so you can find other people in your area. Depending on where you live there’ll be a different level of things set up. But if for example you would like there to be a social group for your children to meet, just find a venue, find some other families, and set one up! It’s very grassroots, while doing it as cheaply as possible, because no one’s got much money because everyone’s sacrificed at least one income to home educate.

LH: What’s happening with the new government consultations that may be threatening the autonomy of home education?
Venetia: The consultation is about developing national guidelines. The positive outcome would be consistency and better informed local authorities. The deadline is finished now, so it’s a question of them digesting the contributions from home educators and the local authorities on the draft they put out.
Kathy: The guidelines they put in the consultation were actually very positive. They acknowledged what home education is and its diversity, and that you don’t have to follow the national curriculum. But the local authorities have been pushing to have more control and want to be able to define what full time education is, they want to insist on home visits, which are currently not a legal requirement. There would be a huge financial implication for all that though, so I’m hoping that it will be unlikely to happen. And the truth is that there is no evidence that home educators are turning out badly, quite the contrary!

Homeschooling: three kids’ perspective


Pearl goes to kids club, and George and Jake both went for a good few years but are now older, so I asked them a couple of questions too.

Jake: I’m 13, I’ve been home educated since I was five.
George: I’m 13, and I’ve been home educated all my life, apart from secondary school in year seven for about half a term.
Pearl: I’m 10, and I’ve been home educated for four years. I went to school before that.

LH: What did you think about school?
George: I liked meeting loads of new people, but I didn’t really like any of them. And it was winter, so you get up and it’s dark, and you get home and it’s dark, and that’s your whole day. The only time you get to be away from school and go outside is on weekends, but then you’ve also got all your homework. So there’s not really any time to live.
Jake: It’s really isolating.

LH: That’s funny you say that, because a lot of people think that home educated children must be really isolated, they don’t meet others?
Pearl: I know lots of people, of lots of different ages. In school you’re just in a class with kids your own age.

LH: And what’s the best and the worst thing about home educating?
George: My favourite thing is not being kept in a classroom all day! Of course I still have to do work, but not as much. And you don’t need to be learning French or maths or English to be actually learning. Learning is life, really, as they say, ‘You learn something new every day’.
Pearl: And people of different ages can have different abilities. If you were eight, and you were in school and couldn’t read very much yet, that wouldn’t go down well. But if you’re home educated, everyone would still be your friend, and you may be a really good drawer or something and it’s not a weird thing.
George: And you don’t get encouraged to do different things in school, be individual.
Pearl: And it’s so authoritative. In the school that I went to, if you did something a little bit bad, they’d send you out, even though you’re supposed to be there to learn!
George: I didn’t like assembly because you were supposed to sing Christian songs, and I didn’t want to. But I probably would have gotten into trouble if I hadn’t. I don’t agree with that, it’s making you sing something you don’t believe in.
Jake: I just pretended to sing. I think everyone did that.
George: The annoying thing about home ed is that people treat you a bit like an outcast. They think you’re not very clever.
Pearl: Yeah, there were these people in the park, and they said what school do you go to, and we said we don’t go to school, and they were like what’s three times five, and my friend said 15, and they said Hmmm…
George: But actually, I think the majority of home schooled people do better in their GCSEs than people who go to school.
Pearl: I think people who go to school must be more stressed by all their other work.
George: When I went to school I found myself really tired all the time, and really stressed. If anyone annoyed me a bit I snapped at them. I didn’t have the energy to do anything. Even though most of school is just sitting in a classroom. But as soon as I stopped, the week after I was really happy!

LH: Home education is a lot about your individual strengths and interests and building on them. What kind of activities do you do?
Jake: I play the drums, we’re all in bands.
George: We used to go to kids club!
Pearl: And there’s other non-just-home-ed things that we do, like trampoline and capoeira and sports.
George: And every year there’s the HES FES festival in Dorset. It’s hundreds and hundreds of people, it’s the biggest home ed festival in the world.
Jake: The next biggest thing would be Glastonbury! They do a thing where anyone can perform on stage, we’ve all done that.
George: There’s also loads of workshops, like wood workshops, bow and arrow, metalwork… You can also just play football or hang out with your friends. It’s a week long and you can meet home ed people from all around the country, or even other countries.

LH: Sounds like fun! Is learning important to you? Do you think you’re getting a good education?
Pearl: I don’t think I would learn as many different things if I were in school. They always just repeat the same stuff to make sure you learn it.
Jake: Yeah, I do maths, but I don’t have to learn everything twice.
George: In a class it takes four times as long to explain one thing. So you can learn four times faster at home than in school! If there’s something you don’t understand, you can ask straight away, but in school, you may not get it explained to you.

LH: How do you imagine the rest of your life? What are your dreams for the future?

Jake: Rock and roll. I’m also kind of into gaming.
George: It may be a bit ambitious, but it would be nice to be earning my money doing something I actually like doing rather than a job I don’t like. I’d happily skateboard for the rest of my life as long as I could pay my bills so I’d like to get sponsored.
Pearl: I want to be an author or a postwoman!

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1 response so far

  • robert posted:
    Feb 4, 2010 at 2:14 pm. Comment #1

    Hi

    Just like to mention that it’s interesting that all the parents interviewed for this article are mothers. One thing I have found as a father who is in favour of home education is that as far as society goes, what the father thinks doesn’t matter very much. My partner is not so very in favour of home education and when I said I wasn’t going to support sending our daughters to school, it led to major rows which nearly caused us to split up… at the moment we’re together and the girls are in school but I’m still working on it. In any case I’m interested to know how many fathers are involved in organising this not-after-school club…