There are a few questions that home educators get asked again and again.
What made you want to home school?
What about their socialisation?
What are the rules/ what curriculum do you have to follow?
What about exams?
Number 1 is the one I get asked the most, and it’s the one that is very personal so is often very different from family to family. It’s hard to answer this question from a stranger without worrying about offending them or going into too much detail. I think most ‘polite strangers on public transport types’ just want to know if the crazy hyper kid who is climbing all over the seats and barking like a dog has been expelled, or if we are playing truant and they aren’t interested beyond that. Sometimes people are really interested. Sometimes people are overjoyed and seem excited that someone is as skeptical about the state school system as they are. A lot of home educators get completely sick of the questions from strangers and I see a lot of posts on forums where people list all the sarcastic replies they give to people. I can sort of understand if they have come up with a lot of negativity, but I think it’s really important to be polite and educate people because for every ignorant rude stranger, there is one who you might inspire to home educate their own children/future children. Although it is still a small minority who chose not to send their children to school, it is certainly picking up in popularity, and fast. I think I do a good job of inspiring people to consider it, on account of my scruffy appearance and uninspiring/none existent list of skills and qualifications. If I think I am up to the job, why not them?
So here we go. I don’t think schools are doing a good enough job. The school model hasn’t changed much since it was first introduced in the late 19th century, when it was designed to train up religious leaders and factory drones. Class sizes are way too big. I think it’s bizarre that children are segregated by age and I think that impacts on their socialisation for many years after they leave school (and some people forever). They start school WAY too early. A great deal of the National Curriculum is completely unnecessary, will be quickly forgotten and is boring. On the other hand, a great deal of necessary life skills are left out. Most kids leave school not knowing any basic first aid, have no budgeting skills or knowledge of taxes and finance, have a false or very limited knowledge of nutrition, they are missing necessary IT skills such as basic coding or even touch typing. They don’t have a clue about (real) politics. They have wasted many hours learning trigonometry, or how ox-bow lakes are formed, or in primary, cursive handwriting. They haven’t had a chance to find out what their real likes and dislikes are, what they are passionate about, unless that’s a traditionally academic subject.
I’m really against ability streaming. Everyone knows about self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a wealth of studies that show humans learn best through collaboration, modelling more able students, helping peers to figure it out. Some people have different learning clocks. A student may be ready to read at eight years instead of six, so she spends three years feeling stupid. Or she’s ready to tackle complicated numeracy at ten, but she has to sit through years of intense boredom. Some students have a dominant sense of learning, just as important for dealing with daily life as being right or left-handed, that doesn’t fit the popular mould. They no longer force left-handed people to write with their right hands, but think nothing of forcing auditory learners, who learn by listening, or kinesthetic learners, who learn by doing, to sit silently for hours with books their only source of instruction.
Collective worship. This is a big one for me. Schools in the UK, even non denominational schools, (unless they have permission from their local council to do otherwise) must practice collective worship at least 3 times a week. This is usually done through singing hymns and reciting the lords prayer in assemblies. They do this to tick another Ofsted box. At primary school level this is indoctrination. They are too young in infant school, to understand ‘some people believe’. They believe the prayers and hymns they are taught and the Christianity lessons. Skylar once came home aged 5, with a colouring in sheet of Jesus nailed to a cross, she’d carefully coloured all the copious amounts of blood dripping from the nails hammered into his body and his crown of thorns. A friends 5-year-old was scared of churches after religious education lessons around Easter, another mentioned hell and death a lot. None of them were taught about the origins of Easter, spring equinox, pagan beliefs. I examined the religious education syllabus with Skylar’s class teacher and then withdrew her from lessons and assemblies. But I wasn’t happy that she had to be singled out to avoid indoctrination. There are a lot of Christian families who home educate, and I really respect that they are taking responsibility for their children’s beliefs, like me, they don’t think that schools do a good enough job in that respect. I think that most would agree with me that religious education is their responsibility, their religious communities responsibility, and not that of schools.
There are plenty of other things too, the only time children spend out side is in a large grey concrete yard. School uniforms, unhealthy school cafeteria food, poor communication between school and parents. There are many good teachers out there, with good intentions, but they are fighting a losing battle. A good teacher can make a world of difference to a class of children, but they can’t fix a broken system. And after years in the teaching system, most give up fighting against it. A lot of the home educators I’ve met so far are teachers or ex teachers. They will not put their children in the school system, and they know it best. I think this is very telling.
I will go one step further though and admit that I think schools are so poor on purpose. They don’t want to encourage creative, critical thinkers that challenge the current broken system. Why else have educational politicians been ignoring research from educational psychologists and child development experts for years? Research and suggestions that are easy and cost-effective to implement. I picked up a book from a charity shop yesterday written by an education professor, who questions why children are not learning what they ought to be in school, and how educational reform is desperately needed as the human mind is ill-suited to current educational practice. The book was published 19 years ago.
This is how I felt about state education before Skylar actually started school, but not quite as strongly. I didn’t feel I had a choice to explore my options in any more detail as a single parent, it wasn’t financially possible so I just tried not to think about it and did what everybody else did. I just hoped she’d be one of those kids who breeze through without too many struggles, so she wasn’t effected too much. At the time of removing her from school, she actually enjoyed it, so the decision wasn’t taken lightly. It was tempting to leave her in, and just focus on the baby and the break I got whilst she was in school, but the more I researched home education options (It was to be a definite with Tiggy, being an end of august born baby) the faster I wanted to take her out. Skylar and I clash horribly. She is hyperactive and very loud, and we are total opposites. I have non-existent patience with her at the best of times. I knew something had to change, and it made no sense to spend all my time getting frustrated with her over bed time battles, for not sleeping because she will be tired in the morning, getting a tired child out of bed and then losing patience when she didn’t get ready in time in the morning, dragging her to school, the arguments after school because she was tired and then her spending the vast majority of the weekend at her dads. That was no way to live, and I couldn’t see anything changing. But yes, I’ll admit that I thought seriously hard about whether I could cope with those same frustrations all week-long. But that is the nature of parenting, I wouldn’t send Tiggy to-day care all day whilst I was at home so why should I with Skylar when I didn’t think school was in her best interests. A few months in and we still clash a lot but I think there has been a vast improvement. After 7 years we have finally cracked a bed time system without tears! This is a major break through. And the times I am impatient with her (Mostly when she wails and stomps and whines because she doesn’t want to leave the house, and when she is really hyperactive at tea time) then this is balanced out by the fun we have when we are out and about and exploring. She’s always fine when we are actually out, it’s just getting her out in the first place! I don’t regret it for a second.
As for Skylar’s personal experience with school. I mentioned that she seemed to enjoy it, but overall her time there wasn’t positive. When she started reception, I had no clue at all how she would cope with school. The exact words that came out of one of her teachers mouths when I went for her first parents evening was ‘Why didn’t you warn us about her?!’. They constantly told me she had major issues listening. They said she was very immature. (funny that, being four years old). She didn’t participate in learning activities in the way they wanted her to. When I questioned the activities (because I’d been reassured on induction that the whole of reception is free play) they said it was free play, but they would hide learning outcomes within the play, such as find all the correct letters in the sandpit, and she wouldn’t do that. I wasn’t too worried because that to me was her playing freely when she thought that was what she should be doing. There were a few incidents of ignoring teachers, not sitting on the carpet, not lining up after play, pushing, biting, (err.. whispers killing the class butterfly cocoons by shaking them…) that resulted in her losing her playground times, which is when her behaviour escalated. I suggested her losing an opportunity to let off steam in the playground was making the situation worse and they needed to discipline her in a different way, and she did calm down after that. But they were still insisting she had problems with attention and concentration. She had two teachers on a job share. One was strict but brilliant. She completely understood Skylar, and used to speak to me in a sympathetic manner that made me know she didn’t think Skylar’s behaviour was my fault. She would praise me all the time without being patronising which is pretty impressive. The other teacher didn’t like Skylar at all and didn’t seem to understand and I think she made the situation a lot worse. Even Skylar, at four, knew she didn’t like her. I never said a word around her but she even mentioned the other day ‘Remember Miss D? The one who really didn’t like me?’. Skylar ended up being referred for assessment for ADHD. They said they usually refer at aged 7, but ‘there is no point in waiting’.
After the summer holidays Skylar went into year 1. They had made the decision to remove Skylar from her class and put her in a different class within the same year group. The reason being her best friend also had attention difficulties, and they felt that the main problem was they were constantly seeking each other out and encouraging each other. They chose to move Skylar because ‘she doesn’t form the same attachments with her peers’ they also kept telling me ‘she has an unhealthy obsession with shiny objects’ and that she didn’t ever show any remorse, and things like this that made me wonder if they suspected ASD. At her first parents evening with her new teacher I was told she was meeting her targets, she was average within her own ability set, and she was an excitable but polite student who was eager to please. I was stunned after all the awful reports from the previous year, and I asked what was happening with her referral. The teacher new nothing about her referral, and was surprised to hear about it. It was followed up and when I finally went for a developmental review, they said she did have a lot of ASD traits but mostly ADHD. I said on account of her managing fine at school I didn’t want to take anything further.
Skip ahead to the beginning of year 2, and her first parents evening, the teacher only said the following. ‘Skylar is in the lower ability set for numeracy. Skylar is in the lower ability set for Literacy.’ And that was it, she asked me to sign the parents evening report. I asked if she had any attention issues and if she followed instructions and if she was happy and how she got on with her peers. She then said that she had major attention span issues which was why she was on the tables that needed extra assistance. She said she wasn’t hyperactive in school but she was rarely doing what she was supposed to be doing. She didn’t tell me anything else, if she was happy, how she interacted with peers, what they were learning, if she was meeting her own individual targets. I wasn’t interested in where she was in the class, just if she was progressing. She had another developmental assessment where I was advised she did match all the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, and we should now go ahead with an official diagnosis. I asked if this would give her any extra help in school and was told it wouldn’t give her any. I asked what the point in the diagnosis would be, and they said ‘So teachers from year to year would be aware’ and ‘in case you decide to medicate further down the line’. I declined and that was that.
At the point of leaving school, Skylar didn’t seem at all bothered or aware that she was in the low ability sets. Friends that would come round for tea would sometimes try to show off, ‘let me see your homework Skylar, wow! that is SO easy! Look at all my words, they are much harder than yours, why are yours so easy?’ Skylar would just sort of reply in a ‘sucks to be you’ manner and that was that. I am glad I managed to take her out before she was aware, and the bizarre concept of ability streaming began to damage her self-esteem.
This video is excellently done and sums up exactly the problems with the education system. Everyone should watch this video.