Going to school by staying at home

by RACHAEL WASS

DURING his run in office between 2010 and 2014, ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove introduced a number of schemes into UK schools that are now deemed neither effective financially nor educationally.

Years of unnecessary changes to the education system has resulted in an overstretched and notoriously inflexible one, it is claimed.

Studies from 2016 show that around 40,000 pupils in primary schools were part of a class size of 36 or more, even though the legal limit is 30. Now add an excessive amount of exam stress, limits of the National Curriculum, and an increase in mental health problems to the lack of student-teacher interaction, and you might begin to grow a highly unappealing perspective of state schooling.

However, the presumed path of a child attending primary and secondary school is not the only route to a successful education.

Home schooling not only offers a last resort for children with special educational needs that are not being met by state-funded schools, but offers an opportunity for unhappy children to escape the ‘one size fits all’ education system.

With a rise in home schooling by 20 per cent each year over the past five years, it is believed that around 41,808 children and young people were home schooled in 2017/18 – over double the figure that was collected in the year 2013/14.

The children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, highlights four overarching reasons why parents and children might opt for a home education. The phrase encompasses a wide range of parenting styles including philosophy, ability, special educational needs and off-rolling.

For some parents, sending their children to state-school is not a choice, but a forced response to the difficulties their child faces fitting in at school.

Children with special educational needs often don’t get the specialist help that they may need by being in an overcrowded classroom and little possibility of thriving in a rigid environment.

Likewise, students that are ‘illegally excluded’ from schools fall under the category of home schooled pupils as a result of being off-rolled. Ofsted defines off-rolling as “the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion.” In this case, the removal of the child is solely in the interest of the school.

However, the process of actively removing a child from state education, or not even registering them in the first place, is on the rise.

‘Off-grid’ parents Adele and Matt Allen featured on ITV’s This Morning in 2016 with their sons Ulysses (eight) and Ostara (one). Their philosophy of parenting is to provide a natural lifestyle for their sons outside of a stressful and technologically oppressing society.

Alongside their views on natural health and a no-rule approach to their children, they have opted for an unconventional style of education.

They explain their approach to learning as “home education but it’s freestyle. You don’t follow the National Curriculum, you follow [your child’s] lead. Whatever Ulysses is interested in, we provide opportunities for him to learn about it at that time.”

The philosophy that a child determines the structure of his education provides a tailored learning programme fuelled by enthusiasm and passion.

Former primary school teacher Catherine Lynch, of home schooling resource company PlanBee, said: “From the age of five, all children in the UK must receive a full-time education, but it does not have to follow the National Curriculum.

“One of the main benefits of home schooling is that you can follow your child’s interests and be led by them.

“However, it is expected that your child will develop their knowledge and skills in English, Maths and Science.”

At the end of a child’s home education, it is expected that they will possess a standard of knowledge that can be placed against a child of the same age taught in a state school. However, by focusing on subjects and topics that the child is interested in, they practise learning based on stimulation and self-motivation.

Home schooling can provide an opportunity to harness a child’s interests and educate deeply in a flexible curriculum.

Of course, recognising a child’s ability and capacity to learn plays a huge role in deciding whether or not home schooling is a suitable method of educating them.

Special educational needs present themselves in children in multiple ways. A child who struggles to learn in a stressful environment such as an overcrowded classroom where one-to-one interaction with a teacher is restricted would greatly benefit from an educational experience such as home schooling. The undivided attention of a tutor or parent would mean that any difficulties regarding the learning can be properly addressed, and quickly. Time can be spent helping the child to understand a concept and in a way that is accessible to them.

The relaxed environment of a personal study desk or even kitchen table reduces the pressure of keeping up with peers, providing a better opportunity to succeed in their education.

In addition to those who struggle with the standardised learning environment are those who find the National Curriculum unchallenging and tiresome.

Lyn Kendall, British Mensa’s gifted child consultant. recalled Channel 4’s Child Genius contestant Jocelyn, daughter of Jo Gower-Crane and Chris Butler. Where Jocelyn proved to have an exceptional capacity to learn (as shown by her reading age of 12 at the age of five), her step-brother struggled in the education system due to severe dyslexia.

Both children demonstrated special educational needs which could be met through the experience of home schooling.

A home education seems to provide a depth of interest in learning and support for children that simply can’t be found in an overpopulated classroom.

For those who worry about the social aspect of home schooling, there are active home education networks nationwide which provide opportunities for home schooled pupils to meet fellow peers. Children are able to interact with others who educationally operate in a similar way, while subconsciously strengthening their ability to converse with adults in their day-to-day life.

With issues surrounding mental health being aggravated by peer pressure, use of technology and coercion surrounding expected success, schools are increasingly viewed as a breeding ground for stressed-out children. The pressure of exam performance starting at the age of 11 could be seen to restrict a child’s freedom to enjoy what they learn. The ongoing discussion of whether or not SATs should be banned reiterates the controversy of the value of childhood and why education is currently viewed as an oppressive and restricting system.

Home schooling can be considered a refuge from the unnecessary stresses of state education which improves a child’s confidence in learning, their enthusiasm, and the satisfaction of recognising their own capabilities.

Whether to opt for home schooling is a difficult choice to make for parents who only want the best for their children.

Home schooling lesson planning experts PlanBee offer six benefits and disadvantages of a home education, which gives parents something to think about –

Six Benefits of home schooling

1 – You decide what your children learn so you can cater their needs and interests. You can also be as flexible as you need to be.

2 – You can spend longer on a topic if it captures your child’s imagination. If something is proving a tricky concept to grasp, you can move on only when your child is ready to. You have the freedom to decide how and when your child learns.

3 – There is more one-to-one attention for your child than at school.

4 – You can go on as many educational trips as you want to, giving your child more opportunities for real-life experiences.

5 – Home schooling communities tend to be very active allowing you and your child/children to meet lots of new people and make friends.

6 – You are not bound by school holidays and can take family holidays whenever you want.

Six disadvantages of home schooling

1 – Responsibility for your child’s education means taking on the roles of teacher, mentor, curriculum designer and careers advisor. This can feel very daunting.

2 – You don’t get a break, which can be difficult if you are finding some aspects of life or behaviour challenging so it’s important that you guard against burn-out. Constantly adapting to meet your child’s needs can be difficult and feel relentless at times.

3 – Creating opportunities for your child to meet their peers is likely to cause some parents anxiety.

4 – The local authorities have a duty of care to the children living in its area so it will carry out checks, which may feel like undergoing an inspection.

5 – Applying to sixth form, college or university may prove tricky without standardised test results such as GCSEs and A-Levels. Providing references will also be more complex.

6 – It can be expensive. Take into account of your potential loss of earnings as well as the expense of the educational resources and trips you will need to complement your child’s learning.

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