Sunday 20 December 2015

The Government's forthcoming review of home schooling - an opinion!

Nicky Morgan's review of home education as a means of preventing the radicalisation of children needs to be cautious, to avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water!  Whilst there may be worries about such radicalisation, it is certainly not the case that all home educated children are radicalised in any way, and indeed many kids benefit from the home education environment.  The news stories about the review made me think back to my own experience of home education with my son, who is now approaching 30 years old.

My son was home educated because of bullying in a village school that no-one would deal with despite several children suffering this and ultimately being removed from the school by their parents. Not the head teacher, the governors, the PTA, the LEA, no-one, so we opted for home ed for him from age 7-16.

Our home ed was nothing to do with radicalisation, it was all about doing what was best for my son. When a child is so traumatised by school that he cries all the way there and people stop you in the street and ask you if he is OK you know there is something badly wrong!

Home ed allows families to educate their children according to the needs of the child. The current school framework of one size fits all doesn't work for all children!

The charity Education Otherwise were a fantastic support to us as a family. At that time there were 22 home ed families in the county we live in, so having EO there as a support network was invaluable to us at the start, and being able to help and support other families as we went through our home ed. years was rewarding in itself.

During the home ed years we had inspections by the LEA which were supposed to last about an hour. The inspections were designed to check how well the child was doing, and how well the parents were providing the education. Without exception the inspectors who came to see us were very supportive. None of our inspections lasted an hour. Most were around 2 hours, the longest was just over 5 hours, as my son and the inspector were so involved in everything he'd been doing they totally forgot the time. The inspector was enthralled by our way of home ed - he was, he told me, a former head teacher who had been seconded to the county's education welfare team as an inspector.

One of things which we discovered was that the National Curriculum did not apply to home educated children, in the same way as it did not apply to children educated at private (i.e. fee paying schools) - only pupils at state-funded schools were subject to it.

Home Education Guidelines (taken from

The Government's home education guidelines say that the parent is not required to provide any particular type of education and is under no obligation to:
  • teach the National Curriculum
  • provide a broad and balanced education
  • have a timetable
  • have premises equipped to any particular standard
  • set hours during which education will take place
  • have any specific qualifications
  • make detailed plans in advance
  • observe school hours, days or terms
  • give formal lessons
  • mark work done by their child
  • formally assess progress or set development objectives
  • reproduce school type peer group socialisation
  • match school-based, age-specific standards.
The clear message we read was, if it's not good enough for the children of those who rule the country (most politicians seem to have been privately educated and send their kids to private schools), it's not good enough for any kids! So we devised our own curriculum which included not just the academic subjects but also creative arts, and lots of fun science stuff.

Bear in mind, if you will, that we began home ed before the internet was widely available to families, so we used books a lot; we visited libraries, museums, art galleries; we walked a lot, peered at plants and wildlife, collected leaves and pine cones, and explored the great outdoors. Later we were able to benefit from having access to the internet, although in 1998 this was still on a very slow pay as you go dial up service, unlike today's superfast always-on broadband connections.

Despite not being a religious family we felt that socialisation with other kids was needed, so my son joined the local Boys' Brigade troop, won several awards during his time there, became a squad leader and later a corporal, he learned First Aid, table tennis and chess with them, went on camps with them, went fishing in the English Channel with them, and completed the challenging West Lowland Hike as part of the local BB team. He remembers,
"One year I was in the second team for the West Lowland Hike at Muirkirk, a two-day endurance walk, in which we finished 33rd out of around 50 teams. I gained my President's Badge and my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award whilst in the BB. "
One of the noticeable things about him as a result of his home education was that he feels comfortable chatting with people of any age, not just his peer age group. This is something I have noticed very much in home ed families, that the kids adopt a more equal and mature attitude to others. I recall long conversations he would have in shops or when we were out and about, where at any age he would happily and confidently discuss all sorts of issues with complete strangers, no shyness at all and no feeling that because he was younger his views were invalid.

At the age of eleven he decided he might like to attend a secondary school, so we went and checked some out. He wasn't impressed with what he saw so decided to continue home ed. The teen years were more challenging, but then teenage years usually are regardless of whether a child is home educated or at a school, as there are all the hormone changes happening as well as everything else!

We worked through all the stuff that kids in schools were doing but we did it at home, and included all the extra stuff we'd always done. Come the time he was 16 we had another decision to make - what to do about exams? If we did them from home the LEA would charge us £70 per GCSE exam which, as there would be 5 or 6 of them, we simply couldn't manage at the time. The other option was to do them at a local college where we would not be charged, and that's the route we went down. Lancaster & Morecambe College were intrigued by the idea of having a home educated student - he would be their first - a guinea pig, if you like!  Yes he could do English, Maths, IT etc... but no he could not do a Science GCSE as, in the college's opinion, this could not be satisfactorily taught at home (no labs or chemicals!) He could though, do a lower level Science course, which we finally agreed to, under protest.

At the end of the year he successfully sat his GCSEs and passed them all, along with the Science course, and received two awards for achievement in the annual prize-giving, along with his GCSE certificates! We also received an apology from the Science tutor, who admitted that his refusal to allow my son to take the Science GCSE had been wrong, his words were, "he would have walked it!"  So you can teach science at home, and we had done so, very successfully!  A-levels followed, along with a successful application to university.

So, our experience shows that home ed is not a disadvantage for kids, but that the attitudes of the establishment towards home education certainly can be a disadvantage. I would urge Nicky Morgan to tread carefully in any review of home education provision, and in particular, to protect the right of parents to opt for home ed if they believe their kids will benefit from it.

The right to educate your children at home was originally enshrined in the 1944 Education Act which said,
"It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." 
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 confirmed this right by saying,
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable (1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (2) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." 
It's important that parents continue to have the right to make this important choice on behalf of their children!