24 March 2012

Home Education

Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure that their children are educated.  Most parents choose to delegate this responsibility to a school.  The law states:   "The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable;  a) to his age, ability, and aptitude, and b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."  It is the last two words of this statement that entitles parents in the UK to lawfully home educate.

Deciding to home educate is a big decision for a family and one that is taken for a variety and complex set of reasons.  This may be because you feel your child is too young to start, they may be at school and being bullied or have particular needs that are not being met, you may feel that the environment in a school will not enable you child to learn, you may not like the idea of your child being tested at a young age.  Whatever the reason it is not one taken lightly.

Home education can and does take many forms, as parents you have autonomy over the way this is delivered, you can choose the method most appropriate for your child(ren).  You my decide on a structured approach for some or all the time with lessons and workbooks, or a more autonomous approach, which means that the child takes charge of their own learning.  Although this may seem like a riskier path to take it is exactly the path that your child follows until they reach school age.  We don't teach out child to sit up, to stand up. to walk or to play they learn this by their own means.

In most school environments, children are taught much of what they learn.  The subjects are taught using the framework of the National Curriculum, a set of guidelines which outlines what should be covered at each 'key stage'.  How a school chooses to follow the National Curriculum varies greatly.  Some take a topic lead approach.  and then apply each area of the National Curriculum for example food, in history you could look at what people were eating 100 to 200 years ago, geography what food is grown in different parts of this county and the world, science how and what plants need to grow and so on.  Others will teach each subject in isolation with no cross curricular activity at all.

Whatever you think of the National Curriculum and how your local school applies it, a child has little or no autonomy.  If they are not interested in a particular subject or topic and find themselves switching off, you have to hope that they will switch on again when they are interested.  If they don't learn to read at the age set down in the National Curriculum will they get extra help later and will this make it harder for them to engage at later key stages?

Allowing your child some or complete autonomy may feel like a huge leap of faith, so why do we feel like that?  Have we become conditioned to believe that they only way to learn now is by sitting in a room at a desk?  That all the learning taking place needs to measured regularly to ensure that learning is actually taking place, that we cannot trust our teachers to enable this?  There are so many ways of learning, if that happens entirely outside of a school, the route is tailored to the needs of the learner as opposed to the education establishment, where they are governed by the teacher(s) and the ethos of the establishment.  

For our family we decided that home education was for us.  I worked for a while in a local school primarily to get to know more people in the village and whilst I achieved this aim, I also got to know the national curriculum.  I completed my own schooling before this was introduced fully, so had no personal experience of it.  For me, the National Curriculum, the monitoring and the testing was not a framework or method that I could reconcile with at all.  I had assumed from what I had read and heard in the media that it is child centred and that each child can and will be able to learn at their own pace.  My own experience in my local schools was that this was far from the case.  The emphasis was on how the children could be taught to improve or sustain good results for the school.  So what else?  My issue with the local schools was the National Curriculum, there were no schools near to me that used any other curriculum unless I was prepared to travel 40 + miles (one way) to our nearest Steiner school.  I knew that you could Home Educate, I had had a friend whilst at school who was home educated and I had met children where I live who were home educated, so I set about doing some research.  I looked on the internet for local groups, for useful websites, for information on how other families went about it.  I discussed it at length with my husband.  I would never have taken this path if one or other of us had any doubts, it was very important to me that we both on board 100% from the start.  I did decide first that I wanted to follow that route, rather than suggesting this to my husband this was the route we should take, I opened the discussion as to what path our children's education should follow.  I didn't present him with a fait accomplit.  We follow an autonomous route at the moment, this could change as the children get older, for now it works for us.

If you are considering home education and you have concerns, fears and questions they will be valid.  Write them all down and do some research, if does not allay your fears and concerns maybe it is not for you and your family.  If your family is two adults and your children, do discuss it!  If you do decide to follow that path then I hope that it will be an inspirational and enjoyable way.

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