There are many reasons to decide to home educate your child and when Prudence and I have were trawling the Internet for advice in the matter, we came across some very good justifications. These are some of ours. They are lengthy, but important points and important to consider when taking a decision of this magnitude. I hope you enjoy reading them and that in some way the following article is helpful to you.
It’s my opinion that people – all people – have a responsibility to contribute to the world. Whatever skills, talent or enthusiasm you have should be tapped and incorporated into the human endeavour as a whole. As far as we know, we are the only species that has evolved to the point of being self-aware, of being able to question our own existence, the universe around us and our place in it. All of our lives are vital little finger-holds in the climb towards knowledge and understanding and those of us that enlighten the species in even the smallest way add to the momentum of our presence.
It naturally follows that all children should not only be educated, but given the best education it’s possible to give them in their environment. It’s a captivating idea that any one of the children you see around you today may be the next Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking, and terrifying that many may have potential to become such but are completely overlooked due to social or economic issues, or just plain apathy and lethargy.
The world we live in has never been more conducive to the development of the mind. Each of us holds devices capable of accessing most of the worlds information (and disinformation) at the press of a few buttons. I heard a statistic somewhere that struck a chord with me and like many ‘facts’ presented nowadays it could well be an untruth, but even if so it indicates a comparison I think is valid. The claim was that people today have to take in the same amount of information in a day that our parents generation had to in a week. It’s a bold claim that may well be exaggerated yet I have no doubt that there is some truth to it.
This is evolution in action. Because of our technology our minds have actually changed. The way we access and assimilate information has changed. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is for young people to interface with technology than the older generations? Surely it isn’t simply ‘age’ that is responsible for this but the world we were brought up in, exposure to computers and gaming improving speed of thought and hand-eye co-ordination as a matter of course. Neural pathways are altering, the very way that we think.
There is an immediacy to the world that was not there 20 years ago and we as humans have adapted to the increase in speed. We do everything fast which is not necessarily a bad thing when you consider the finite nature of our existence. The time we have, even day-to-day is much more valuable now because there is so much more to do, there is so much more that we are capable of.
All of this must also be seen in a context of health and wellbeing – rushing around trying to achieve things is certainly no good if it forces stress levels through the roof. There is a mentality in Britain and the USA that we should be working, working, working. All the time. Even if we aren’t actually achieving anything as long as we’re seen working by our peers, by our bosses and by our families we give this impression of being a ‘good worker’. We have a mentality of ‘just find something to do, anything’ without considering if this is the most effective thing that we could be doing.
We can’t all be superstar astro-physicists or world famous, but we can be what I like to call “boutique-effective”. We can all try to be the best that we can be in our little circles. We can do what we do for the good of us all rather than simply the self and this helps our entire species land another solid finger-hold on the rock-face.
It translates nowhere more clearly than in state education. In recent memory state education has been primarily a political tool and a scorecard used to measure how effective various shades of the British Government have been versus other countries. Our children are ‘this’ much more clever than that countries’, and ‘this’ much more stupid than theirs. Successive ministers for education have become obsessed with reform for reform’s sake, changing things, then changing them back and never seeming to go quite far enough or try anything radical. Our latest minister seems obsessed with a 1940’s style education and this is just another in a long line of fads and opinions executed with no thought for continuity. State provision of education should never be used to discredit the previous party or minister, this should be a punishable offence.
State education fails on a number of points and the failures are endemic. The most obvious and disturbing of these is the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach which simply does not work and fails innumerable children. Couple this with class-sizes (too large), teacher pay (too low), micromanagement, bureaucracy and bad communication and we really have a recipe for disaster.
We were not satisfied with the education that Theo (our son) was receiving at his primary school but more importantly Theo was not satisfied. The first year we wrote off as a ‘getting-to-know-you’ phase between the children and the school but in the second year we decided to monitor what was going on a little more closely.
I noticed several discrepancies in his grades and the reporting of them to us that suggested the teachers may not have been wholly paying attention. For example in one term he scored the highest mark he could possibly achieve in his SAT test and yet received blanket solid B’s on a simultaneous school report. Alarm bells rang because at the time I knew Theo to excel at certain things yet struggle with others. In music he had already taken ABRSM Grade 1 Piano, Grade 1 Violin and Music Theory. Some children had been given A* grades for being able to clap in time and sing nursery rhymes yet Theo was awarded a B. He also got a B for PE and I knew he was terrible at sport. In fact he got B for everything and this lack of variation worried me. It screamed to me that an overworked teacher had rushed through the grading as quickly as possible. I don’t particularly agree that children this young should be graded in this way, but if we’re going to do it surely it should be done effectively with accurate feedback.
This is a child’s life. It is a full year of that ever-so-valuable commodity ‘time’ which once spent we never get back. Unless my son’s time at school was contributing to his life positively and effectively what was the point of him being there? Simply to satisfy the status quo, to fall in line with social imperatives?
We had a meeting with the school to raise the concern in which they promised to give us regular updates on his progress so we could (at home) support any gaps in his learning. They of course admitted no culpability or malaise with grading and stood by their solid wall of B’s. We left the meeting with the distinct impression of having achieved absolutely nothing and getting through to absolutely no-one, an outcome that would soon become a pattern when dealing with the Local Education Authority in Bury. The promised updates of course never happened and communication from the school continued to fail. Any further attempts to speak to the teacher or the school were stonewalled from their end. We would later be told by a review board that we were not entitled to any feedback save the 5 minutes we received at parents evening each term.
We heard ongoing reports from both Theo and parents of other children that there was excessive ‘video watching’ going on in class – and not educational video. We did not believe Theo, who is a bright boy was being pushed enough. He was on the top table in his class and yet the work he was being given to bring home was almost remedial given his abilities. He had started reading novels and the teachers were still providing him with picture books. He would run through a homework reading book replete with large colourful images and oversized writing in under 60 seconds and then move on to a young adult novel, clearly displaying that the school and the teachers had absolutely no idea of the level at which he as reading. Theo himself was saying he was bored in class. On one occasion when Disney’s ‘Cars’ had been put on to mollify the children, Theo had asked if he could quietly read a book instead. The request was denied and he was made to watch a one and a half hour animated movie. In the light of any real education not being forthcoming, Theo had taken it upon himself to provide himself some input of knowledge, essentially doing what the teacher should. Even self-betterment was denied in favour of Pixar and an easy life for teacher. Quite frankly I could plop him in front of a movie at home, that is not teaching and certainly not satisfactory education for a bright and inquiring mind.
As you probably see by now, Theo, my wife and myself were very disappointed in the education he we getting and had resigned ourself to the fact that that just might be the way of things; Theo was our first child after all. Then our hand was forced and it was religion that forced it.
The school in question was and is a Catholic school. I was born into the Catholic faith and remember being confirmed in this diocese at about 12 years of age in St. Mary’s Church in Radcliffe. Although I was lapsed we decided to send Theo to the Catholic Primary School in the area as it had a very good reputation and OFSTED report. This was in retrospect the biggest mistake we have ever made.
When Theo was 8 years old and he was expected to undertake communion and confirmation. Although I have since been told the age has been 8 for confirmation for some time now, it came as a surprise all the same. My instinct (which was shared by my wife) was and is that 8 is far too young for a child to understand the magnitude of the thing they are being asked to undertake. At 12 years old I had developed the requisite shield of sardonic cynicism due in no small part to the lessons of Blackadder and Comic Relief as a child. When I endured my confirmation I did so secure in the knowledge that there was in all likelihood no god and if there was he was a mean and petty one that I wanted nothing to do with. Although not entirely comfortable with it, we decided to let the sacramental programme play out a little to see if both Theo and ourselves could at least tolerate it.
Theo and his mother were required to attend regular meetings, services, classes and ceremonies in the evenings and at weekends to support the confirmation sacramental programme. After normal school days and trying to cram in extra-curricular piano and violin practice this was often quite tiring for both of them. I could not help out as much as I would have liked as my job was very involved and required long hours and some intercontinental travel for a few weeks at a time.
Eventually Theo voiced his displeasure to us, although not in regard to the time he was spending on the task. He told us that aspects of the religious teachings were bothering him. He did not believe in trans-substantiation, the process whereby the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ at the priests hands. When he had voiced this to one of his religious instructors he was told that it did not actually happen, it was just a metaphor. Yet he knew that a defining factor of Catholicism was that the bread was the body and the wine was the blood, it DID physically change. So already we were into realms of subjectivity.
It is sometimes said that there are as many versions of christianity as there are christians, and this certainly applied when Theo asked questions; he seemed to get a slightly different answer from different people. He concluded that none of them quite knew what they were talking about. He had other questions and again he got a different answer depending on who he put them to. The more he studied the faith, the more questions he had and the more unsatisfactory answers he got.
He was expected to carry out hours of religious study during the day in school time, some days the religious content being in excess of the academic content for the day. One day I often harp back to contained only one, one hour lesson and the rest of the day was religious instruction or assemblies of one form or another.
The problems were mounting for Theo and he told us that he did not want to be confirmed immediately until he had thought through all of these issues properly. We would never dream of forcing him to do anything let alone make him make a life decision of this magnitude under duress, so we told him it was fine and indeed we thought it would be. We were extremely mistaken.
When we asked to postpone the confirmation until the following year, the headmistress became hostile citing in an email that the teachers and support staff had all worked very hard on the sacrament and threatening Theo with exclusion from the selection process for the associated high school. We of course took exception to both the tone and content of the email and responded by saying that the welfare of our son was our only concern, not what work people may have done on the project.
I found it disgusting that she thought we should force our child into accepting a god because some people, people who we did not know and had not asked to be involved with our child in any way, had ‘worked hard’.
My wife (who is the most caring person and wonderful mother I know) was very upset. I reassured her that if the result of this was that he could not go the catholic high school, then so be it. Perhaps I was brought up differently than other catholics because a powerful point on my own moral compass is that bullies should not be allowed to win (there’s more on the schools appalling record on bullying in another post), and the school went about trying to bully belief from my son.
The matter escalated with attempts to coerce Theo back to the Catholic way of thinking. When he was apart from us at school, isolated, he was approached by staff, support staff and the clergy who all tried to sway his opinion. He was told in what ways he should think of god, how no one was really sure about HIM and how you didn’t have to FULLY believe to be a Catholic. For Theo this made no sense, he expressed directly to me that confirmation was surely to ‘Confirm’ a belief that as a baby you had not been able to.
He also endured a certain amount of bullying from other children in the playground who apparently took exception to Theo because he ‘did not have the Holy Spirit’. We had experienced an unrelated bullying incident the year before in which the school failed to intervene. It was only resolved when we approached the other family ourselves. A third family who were friendly with us had their own experience with this and eventually had to move house in order to get their son into another school where he would not be bullied. The school had a terrible record when it came to dealing with bullies anyway, now the bullies were arguing the school’s position so we didn’t hold out any hope that this would be dealt with fairly. We asked Theo if he could endure it and he said he could. It was mostly verbal attacks and we had no worries about Theo physically as he has always stood a full foot above most of his classmates.
The situation was becoming uncomfortable for the whole family so we appealed to the Local Authority for Theo to move school. We were given an appointment to attend the town hall with an impartial panel,however; the impartial panel contained at least one openly Catholic Ex-Teacher who took everything we said on an extremely personal level. She became angry when we spoke of the religious elements concerning us and became downright rude when we spoke of the academic failures of the school. She seemed to think that our asking about the academic progress of our child was unreasonable, and asked us when the teachers would find the time to give us this information. We thought we could convince the remaining two panel members, but as the meeting progressed at least one of them was evidently more in line with the Catholic panellist.
In our opinion teaching is a vocation and a ‘clocking-out to the second’, or ‘work-to-rule’ attitude has no place where the welfare of children is concerned. We know many teachers, my wife was a substitute in a local school and we know exactly how stressful a primary teacher’s role is. That is to say not very stressful when compared to most private sector jobs. Having worked in advertising for many years the amount of hours teachers work is very limited to me so this woman’s line of reasoning brooked no sympathy and I think even now it is an unacceptable position to take where children are involved. I do think teachers should be payed more by all means, and agree that there are certain difficulties in the role but we all face difficulties in our professions. They knew the wage and conditions when they took the job, they knew the government would likely continue a pattern of financial cuts as they have been doing for as long as I can remember. The reaction of this woman, the incredulity on her face when asked to contemplate that a teacher work even 30 seconds past their contracted hours in order to communicate with parents is a testament to the failings of the profession. This contact would most likely not even have been necessary had the school not appropriated so much of the academic day for religious purposes. None of us pay taxes to support faith indoctrination and I think we are fast approaching a stage where this needs to be made illegal.
The school move was of course denied and so after much discussion that very evening we made the decision that we had no choice but to withdraw Theo from the school. We could not allow him to stay somewhere that he was experiencing this level religious prejudice and the oppression of his own opinions. We were prepared mentally for the choice and had been discussing and researching it for around a week. Before the meeting it had been our absolutely last-chance-saloon recourse. After the meeting I think we all felt bullied enough to see it as the only way out to a rational and reasonable life free of indoctrination. Nobody’s education should be conditional on whether or not they accept a particular mystical assertion. My son’s decision also helped me finally throw of the remnant of Catholicism in my own life. I had been quietly atheist since my teenage years but an assumed familial pressure kept me from expressing it clearly. That an 8 year old could independently shrug off the pressure of his church and school and embarrass people his senior with simple reasoning, that made me realise how ridiculous my own position was.
So we now moved in to homeschooling more properly and the more we read about it the more we wished we had done it years before. The pro’s were huge, the cons were few. The amount of free resource out there was enormous. We came across review after review of UK National Syllabus packs stating they could be done in a few hours each morning leaving us wondering exactly what schools did all day. We came across testimonials from home schoolers who said they would never go back to a traditional school. We heard of a friends daughter and her husband, both teachers who refused to send their own children to a school because they simply did not trust them with their child’s education.
As we searched more we came across advanced materials, accelerated learning and articles about how the National Curriculum is not good for brighter children or children that struggle. It teaches to the middle, to an average and as every child is different this simply does not work. If class sizes were smaller affording teachers more one-on-one time with each child it would be less of an issue but schools being the production lines that they are (I always think back to the exaggerated Gerald Scarfe cartoons of a school master forcing children through a meat grinder) leaves little time for anything other than a Fordian approach.
Some of the things pointed out by home educators made so much obvious sense. In what other situation in life would you be put with 30 other people all day, every day of exactly the same age as you? The natural way to interact with people is to converse with many different people of varying ages making children more adept verbally and socially. Perhaps the school system is partially to blame for generational isolation. We believe home education can be superior to a paid private education, because even in those high quality fee driven schools, classes are still taught and one-on-one time is still rare. In homeschooling the student can ask a question and not stop asking questions until they are fully satisfied that they understand. They are never told to ‘shut up’ or that it’s time to move on. One day, around the time Theo had just turned nine we followed the periodic table and some other science courses right up to final year GCSE level because at that moment, at that time he was curious about it. When he is that receptive to learning our job as home educators is to simply keep feeding him with good and accurate information. This is what homeschooling can do and this is what appealed to us.
These new directions ticked our boxes and we developed a plan and a mission statement to deliver not only an education for Theo, but an excellent education with the intention of being equivalent to that of a paid, private institution.
It is this education and this programme which we will document here in the hope that it will help others who may otherwise be too nervous to take that first faltering step into unknown territory.
We penned and delivered a letter to the LEA and to the school, telling them it was our intention to homeschool Theo. We removed him from school the next day. We fully complied with all laws and invited the LEA to come and visit us. We bought a fantastic set of resources (descriptions of which can be found on this site) and prepared ourselves. It is not a legal requirement to allow the LEA to visit, but the position we took was ‘why not?’. We knew we could provide a great education and one of the LEA officers that attended (a former history teacher) even said as much, he said that (paraphrasing) we would be hard pressed to find an equivalent education in a state school and even some private ones. This was a great affirmation of the curriculum we had assembled and gave us a confidence boost.
The other officer from the LEA was a child welfare officer and this is why we accepted a visit. It’s probably better to work with them rather than against them. The law is quite loose regarding the curriculum so they couldn’t be too fussy over content (although they loved it), but for the wellbeing of children everywhere it was our opinion that it was better to allow the council access rather than deny them. It will only raise suspicion and reinforce the perception of homeschooling as weird and isolationist, which our homeschooling certainly is not. If there’s nothing to hide why not have the visit? Remember that most of the people that work in child-related services whatever their specific positions may be, got into that line of work because they care about children. They even have some useful contact for when you’re just getting started. The meeting took an hour out of our day and they haven’t requested to see us since. They do have the address of our blog so they can see our day to day activities.
People now ask us quite often whether our youngest child will go to school – he would be due to start his foundation school year this year. Our answer is a resounding ’no’, we see no reason to embark upon a foolhardy mission with Tristan. He is already well ahead having sat and studied with his older brother for a year. As well as the basics of reading and writing he is already familiar with a number of scientific and mathematical ideas. He loves using the microscope and loves learning about history and geography. He loves to paint and draw, loves using and iPad and a computer. He loves his homeschool friends from the Home Education Group we run and loves playing with the kids from the school in the local area (when they get back of course). To send him to school now to go backwards intellectually would be unfair to him, so as of this year we will have two full time students in our homeschool. Of course, it has already been like this for a while. Now it is simply official.