So why home school?
Hello! This article below was originally published in May 2014, so references are based at the time. It's a long read but the decision took some thought as you'll find out...
This is a blog about our new education adventure. I am a little bit excited by it all so can’t resist sharing some of the things that are going on in our heads. Daz and I were sat doing our usual sad, late-night laptop session alongside one another last week. We both run our own businesses and once the kids are finally in bed you can almost hear the machines groaning in their laptop bags, reminding us of that little job that desperately needs doing…on top of packed lunches, ironing, sliding the bomb-site of toys under the sofa – you know, the usual domestic chaos. So – I happened to switch over to ’16 Kids and Counting’ – a show that reminds me that things really aren’t that difficult in my little world. There is a mum featured who has twelve children; she had impressed me in the previous series as she seemed so serene whilst bringing up what seemed like a gazillion kids and home educating them all. I watched two of the boys discussing their parents and thought they sounded rather lovely, well-rounded, pleasant and well-spoken. What I would hope my three boys would end up being a little like. What started as a little internet search entitled ‘home schooling UK’ ended up changing our future with our young children forever.
Anyone can do it? It is not monitored? You don’t have to tell anyone your plans unless you want to? (Unless they’re already registered at school.) Was this for real? For quite some time, having worked in mainstream secondary education for over ten years, I had had a sickening feeling about letting my children loose into the hands of another person’s ethos, another headteacher’s vision, another LEA’s strategy. There they would go, battling the beasts of identity, peer pressure, testing, mixed ability large class sizes, bullying, while jumping through the hoops demanded of their teachers by the education machine. Picking up and working tirelessly with the borderline students while the most intelligent and quiet are gently neglected (well, hey, that’s just my viewpoint; I remember how the C/D borderline kids in one school I worked in had their school photos splashed across the staffroom walls like a series of ‘Wanted’ mugshots, reminding us teachers that we had to ‘zone in’ on them in class, for the purpose of improving the school’s percentage of A-C grades at GCSE). I already have a child in a mainstream junior school, my eldest, from a previous relationship. Bright but a little slower than the top flight students, very capable but anxious. During his time in primary and junior school, he has gone from being one of the brightest in his class to just clawing on to above average in literacy and reading, and being fairly reasonable at Maths. This may be the norm, but I have found that when I had the chance to do some coaching from home on a regular basis, his confidence and performance improved. So what was he doing with the 6 hours he was in school? Why did slip by the wayside? It also seemed the norm, when speaking with a wider circle of friends, that additional tutoring was the norm. Teachers cannot be accountable for everything, but I truly believe that trying to push a group of thirty primary students through the basics of literacy and numeracy where their abilities are so widely different when classes are not settled, must be nigh on impossible. My hands are tied with Will though, as it is not just me that makes the education decisions. His dad and I are qualified teachers with very different views on education.
Middle son is currently in Kindergarten at a local Independent school (May 2014). Flourishing, and doing things I never would have dreamed of doing with Will at his age – he is 4.5 years and knows his upper and lower case letters and phonics, can read phonetically correct words, can read most digraph phonemes and hoovers up the facts of the world with an insatiable appetite. I can’t keep up with him. I have embraced the learning he has done, but I certainly didn’t instigate it. Amazed and so taken with the methods they used at his school, I eagerly shared his books and techniques with friends, as his place in the school certainly wasn’t out of a desire to be elitist and above others, it was what sat right with me as a parent. I can choose whether I want my hair long or short, I can choose whether to eat meat or not, I can decide which music I like to listen to, and I can choose a private school for my child if I want to. Can’t I? I avoided discussing my plans for middle son Indi with my wider circle of friends, as I didn’t want to go through the whys and wherefores. They would form their own opinion regardless of what I said, and I found myself gabbling ‘we’re not high earners or anything’ many times, almost sounding embarrassed at my choice. Grrr – I annoy myself sometimes!
So – boy number three, beautiful Eti, is two in August (2014). Daz and I would discuss at length the potential investment opportunities we had that we would throw at the private school so that they would both attend. This would leave us with….a begging bowl? I think we were kidding ourselves for a while, but in my head, I was so determined that we would be able to cope with this massive money hemorrhage that even I didn’t see that we were depriving ourselves of so much ‘now time’ as it might burn into those all important savings.
I hold my hands up – I’m a control freak. I run my own little drama academy and I teach all of my classes. It exhausts me on top of looking after the three children, two of them at home most of the day, but I felt worthwhile standing on my own two feet financially – providing an income, not having to rely on childcare…but sometimes I feel like a husk, so emptied of resources emotionally and physically. I realised a couple of months back that it won’t always be like this. I was reminded I’d have so much free time when the children went to school. Drip…drip…went my mind. OK, yes, I thought, this is a positive, I can sit and write stories and drama plays and teach my classes in the evening….drip…drip…so when would I see my children? Whilst the general consensus from many people was ‘you’ll get your life back!’, my feelings went from mildly concurring to feeling desperately unsettled, with my conscience hitting me over my head with the giant bombshell – ‘At the moment – your kids are your life’. They’ll always be your kids, but they won’t always be totally and utterly in awe of you, and the world. They won’t always jump at the chance of a trip to the river or the seaside or the theatre. How can I let them pass me by, with only memories or ferrying to and fro in the car to school, haranguing them about homework, eating their fruit, getting organised…I already despised the school run as it turned me into a monster.
Within a day or two of watching the programme – we had made the decision. Our two little ones would be educated by us. And of course, by family, friends, life, and the world around them. The research had begun!
"A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path."- Agatha Christie