Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Everything you ever wanted to know about why we home educate but were afraid to ask.

An old friend of mine, from when I studied Economics at Sussex University back in the early 1990s, so 20 years now, facebooked me about my blog with lots of questions, they were great questions, and with his permission, I thought it would be useful to turn them into the basis of a blog post. I have added some other relevant bit and questions that others have asked as well.

His first point is one that is usually made in the broader "Look at me I did xyz and I turned out okay" vein but he specifically says that he enjoyed school which, I think, many people did. I think I have been asked this question in its upside down format before which is "Are you home educating your own children because you hated school?"

My main thought on this is that school has changed radically over the last 30 years. The national curriculum and SATS were not invented back in the 70s & 80s and they mean that teachers are not really in charge in the way that they were when we were young. They have so much to cover and pressure to perform in tests to keep the school in its place in the league tables and so guarantee future pupils and more funding just to maintain the status quo.

Schools are in competition with each other in a way that they simply weren't when we were at school.

and no, I didn't hate school. Yes some of the schools I went to were better than others, yes much of what got me through my GCSEs was what I remember watching on schools television when I was off sick with glandular fever but overall it would be unfair to say I hated school. There were a few pretty good teachers and some very shockingly bad ones as well. The careers advice was terrible but University and Sixth Form College I loved because I love learning and I love autonomy and those two places offered both. Overall I would say I am surprised at how very little I remember of subjects I was exposed to daily at school for, in some cases, ten years.

He also asks about the LEA and the legal situation regarding home ed. and the protection offered to children whose parents are not up to the job. There is no legal requirement to notify your Local Authority but in reality unless you are confident that you will never have to visit A&E for example the chances are high you will be found. I often find it useful to compare what would be going on at school and I regularly read stories about who teachers take in breakfasts for pupils who are provided with none at home for example. It is not a black and white comparison. Also I would say be very cynical about anything from the NSPCC, in reality they do very little to actually protect children and have verged in neglectful in recent high profile cases when they, despite having a swollen bank account, failed to act upon concerns raised by neighbours. They are also anti home ed. Are there HE children who watch the Disney Chanel all day? is this next question. This is a really interesting question because of the children I know where television is restricted obviously the answer would be no but in families where access to TV is unlimited, outside of illness, the children self regulate very effectively and are familiar with the off switch. Forbidden fruit is always the most attractive I think. Many parents might wish for children that would sit in front of the TV all day but the HE children I know are boundlessly curious and constantly inquisitive . The stereotype that left to their own devices children will be lazy and slothful couldn't be further from the truth in my experience. Sandra Dodd has written extensively on children and television. There is a great quote on the first page.

I would say I encounter parents regularly, in parks and shops and so on, who don't want to be up to the job. Yelling at and smacking their children, are they up to the job? The home ed families we know are making huge sacrifices, mainly financial, to home ed and, in many cases, it would be much easier to send the children to school every day. You can argue whether being brainwashed at an extreme faith school is the responsibility of parents who are up to the job also. Many children are removed from school at 10 or 11 because they can't read, the trouble with the " benchmark " of school is that it is very flawed and particularly for children with learning difficulties there is no guarantee that they would be fairing any better in the school system. Home ed requires trust and I have learned to trust the smalls, more and more every day.

You can make a Freedom of information request to find out how many school attendance orders have been issued in a particular area over a specific time period but ,because there is very little accurate data on the number of HE children in the UK , it could be 50,000 or could be 100,000 it is hard to make useful percentage statistics. This link shows the type of information available. It seems after several letters Ellie Evans says there are no serious case reviews in West Sussex. 

One big thing is that the smalls don't divide life up into subject areas e.g maths, art, geography. These are very school based distinctions, they have no idea about timetabling and I can see that they are very cross circular in their approach. On one LEA visit for example I was asked if we had covered ranking. What is ranking? I asked. "It is when objects are placed in size order" came the reply. "Oh, S has been doing that with toys since she could sit up."
Our LEA representative has a form with subject boxes but you don't have to use that you can write a letter instead but you don't have to see the LEA at all if you don't wish to. The expert in this area is Fiona Nicholson who has her own consultancy. Ed yourself.

I have never fancied training as a teacher, you don't need to be a teacher or have a degree. I try and allow autonomy see myself as more of a facilitator. I don't know all the answers and, unlike many teachers, I am not afraid to say so, part of the journey is developing the investigative skills that can help us find out together.

Of course there are some exceptions (several of whom I count amongst my friends) but in the main the quality of teaching in state schools is not that great. The pay is low and if , as an economist, you believe in signaling theory the conclusion must be that talent has gone elsewhere.

My impression of teaching and schools in the UK is that you are signing up for a lottery based roller coaster in which you might have a fabulous form tutor one year and, at best, a personality clash the next year with very little opportunity to change anything. What I love about home ed is that we are in control and in charge. We haven't handed over the reigns. If we hire a tutor and they are not right for us we can replace them with no difficulties.

And I have seen from friends with children at Private School that handing over north of £10k per annum does not insulate you. One friend delayed her son starting school until the very last opportunity as she felt he was not ready. She found a school with small class size of around 8 children and a very gentle ethos where yoga was on the curriculum for example but one term in a new head comes and, bam, the school is as competitive as a formula one racetrack and opting into all the SATS it had previously sidelined in favour of a more holistic approach.

There is much choice at pre-school level. Even a rural village might have a Montessori or a playschool in addition to a preschool and then there are several primaries but as you head up the egg timer choice narrows considerably with the bottle neck of secondary where outside the private sector there is no real choice at all. Especially in rural areas secondary schools are far too big, often north of 1000 pupils. Grouping together large numbers of people of the same birthday is not natural in my opinion and there are some hotbeds for bullying. In our own area there has even been the horror of two bullying related suicides at the same school.

At the next age band college and Uni offer more choice again but what seems crazy to me is that at a hormonal whirlpool vulnerable stage of your life you should be in the weakest part of the educational framework.

Many people say to me "Well of course you will send them at secondary level." and there is no doubt that sitting GCSEs (should they want to) privately is costly but the more I see the more the secondary offering seems worse than primary. The bus for our local secondary stops right outside our house everyday and if those children are the ambassadors for the school the picture is not good. At best they look tired, fed-up and miserable at worst they are dangerous, their language is shocking and their behaviour inconsiderate. I am often a champion for teenagers and can see why many struggle so much add the early sexualisation and peer pressure into the mix and the recipe does not look wholesome. The definitive book on this is "Hold onto your kids, why parents need to matter more than peers."

Fundamentally politically I guess also I disagree with the idea of meritocracy and as I have blogged before it is simply, in my opinion, not true that if you work hard at school you will get a good job. The majority of top jobs in politics and finance for example are dominated by white, middle class, privately educated, men and whilst of course there are odd exceptions they are just that. Odd.
and moreover happiness comes from more than a job, a happy marriage for example is high on many people's lists of what makes them happy yet those life skills are not taught at schools.

Much of the time spent as school is wasted. A study I read when S was a baby suggested that after you exclude registration, assembly and lunch breaks (whether or not they are Jamie Oliver style meals!) and other administrative functions at primary school only 42 minutes of "real learning" takes place each day despite the child being at school for maybe 8 hours. This chimes in with my view of schools as free child care

and then there is the "Won't you feel really guilty if it all goes wrong?" question which we had good practice at answering when we decided to have a home birth and is wonderfully put my Mary Cronk in many of her posts online. She asserts that parents are "told" what to eat and drink in pregnancy, "told" to vaccinate, "told" where to birth, "told" their child must go to school at "compulsory" school age. The state takes over and parents are given to thinking they have no choice but when it all goes wrong the stock answer is "We blame the parents."

On the question of University my view is that the maths has changed. Human capital analysis of the cost of University shows that with tuition fees of £9,000 pa x 3 years plus a living allowance say, very conservatively, £10k pa that equals £60k per child. So for us that would mean from 2020 to 2030 we would have to find an extra £180,000. Of course by then I could work too but the bigger question is whether the maths stack up as they once did. Is the graduate premium still high enough? Add into mix lost salary of say £15,000 for 3 years and the cost of a degree is heading north of £100k. Unless you are thinking GP or Vet Uni is not the offering it once was.

Then there is the question of freedom. It is true that home education is more than about not going to school and when you are with your family all the time you can have different rules about meals, bedtimes and TV. We are not totally there, our daughter can "self-police" much more effectively than our son for example but it is a journey and that is where we would like to go.
So for us it is about being in control, not of our children, but of our lives and having the freedom to seize the moments. Ten minutes with an interested child is more beneficial than a whole day with someone who is not listening. They don't stop painting because the bells goes, they stop because they have finished.

The questions end with "Different journeys, similar end states" which I think is a restatement of the "they all get there in the end" type summing up I hear all the time but there are two major points this draws out. Firstly: Where is there or the end state? Is it the Times 100 rich list or is is it prison? Or, as in the case of Jeffery Archer and Richard Branson, both? and the second really crucial point that shouts louder to me everyday is that life is the journey as I thunder towards forty I realise the destination is death and if you can't enjoy the journey then you are in trouble. For a child always factor in that days are weeks and weeks are months. If you are unhappy at school you can't see a way out unlike an adult who is unhappy at work who can, in theory, leave and look for a new job. I see childhood as too precious to squander as a process of delaying gratification into adulthood. I am aware that since 2004 and through a journey of home births and, the currently very unpopular, choice of breastfeeding we have a arrived in a place where not many others reside. We decide for example when to go on holiday and when you have those choices the idea that others have handed them over in exchange for very little in return seems rather odd. But then I am not in the business of persuading anyone, in fact some of our best advantages would evaporate if home ed became too popular!


Aida said...
Aaaww. Thanks for reminding me Mary C's little banter about responsibility & blame. I love that.
KP Nuts said...
I hope I did it justice Aida - Wish I could remember the whole thing because it is so useful isn't it? I googled it but with no luck.

Of course many people are happy to hand over health care and education to the state but, in my oopnion, taking responsibility is really empowering.

Thank-You for all your help in getting us there x x x
Fiona Nicholson said...
My son's 18 and has never been to school. My mum often used to ask me how I would be able to live with myself if I'd taken such a huge step and it all went wrong. She also pressed me for reassurance, how did I know it was all going to turn out OK. My answer was firstly that I think everything is ultimately my responsibility/fault anyway, so I'd rather it was more directly within my control. Secondly, with home education I'd chosen a fairly low-risk route for achieving my goal, since my main objective was to facilitate my son's growing up as an independent and bolshy freethinker. (As a postscript, everyone seems to think he's doing fine, unless they are measuring by some standard which I don't respect! Here's his website http://tpn.lowtech.org/ )
Susie (September) said...
I not only agree with everything you have written, i thank you so much for writing it! Really, really great post x
Magdalen said...
Excellent post - I couldn't agree more! x
KP Nuts said...
Thank-You guys! I guess what I realised whilst writing this is that what keeps us home edding is slightly different from what inspired us initially.
Anonymous said...
excellent post-really enjoyed reading that and I'm in complete agreement. We too were told, 'of course you will send him back to school when he has to take exams won't you'. School would be the last place that I would send A now- to be 'forced' to learn about subjects that don't interest him. x
KP Nuts said...
Great comment. Once you know that you don't have to learn subjects that don't interest you the logic of everything else school wise unravels doesn't it?

S said to me once "Don't be silly Mum of course people don't learn about things they are not interested in."
KP Nuts said...
A friend sent me this bullying story http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isfn4OxCPQs I am posting here so I can find it again if I need it.
Motherfunker said...
Just found your blog, and used to live in Littlehampton so made me a little nostalgic over West Sussex! I agree with everything you've said, but there are always exceptions, on every side of any argument.

Has your friend read the book " What's the point of school?' by Professor Guy Claxton - this is not a pro home Ed book, only gets a one paragraph mention, BUT it is extremely damning of schools since he is examining the cold hard facts, looking at real data and statistics and hearing what Heads of Commerce have to say about the shockingly poor level of education young school- leavers and even graduates, a starting their adult lives with. I highly recommend reading this if anyone is in any doubt about the mass inefficiency of the school system, given how many precious hours it robs of our children's precious childhood.
KP Nuts said...
West Sussex is lovely and packed with home ed families! Where are you now? Thanks for the book idea. I went through a patch of reading stuff about how bad school is and then one day I thought actually I wanna read about how great home ed is! That is why I love home ed blogs too I think.
Had a look at your blog. It's lovely x
Christina@Interest-Led Learning said...
"They don't stop painting because the bell goes off, they stop because they are finished." This quote is beautiful. It sums up exactly the reasons why my kids don't go to school. The United States and the UK sound very similiar in how they "educate" their children. And I agree about secondary ed. In many ways it's worse than primary because they're at at age when they need to be doing real work that makes a real difference in their lives and others. Instead they are stuck inside for 7-8 hours doing mostly mindless busywork.
KP Nuts said...
Thanks for your kind words Christina.
Barbs said...
".....but what seems crazy to me is that at a hormonal whirlpool vulnerable stage of your life you should be in the weakest part of the educational framework....." this is very true. Our local FE college has been very fickle in this respect. None of our children ever went to school. Elder daughter enrolled on an art GNVQ at 14 on the strength of her portfolio and fortunately the course content suited her self directed style. Other 14 year olds were there because they'd been excluded from school and had "attitudes" (who could blame them?)The content of the course was fine but pastoral elements of college life were neglected and the student community was not well lead and much potential was wasted. Daughter navigated her way through it and gained experience and qualifications for going to art school but it wasn't perfect. 14-18 year olds who don't really know what they want to focus on are stymied in ageist society. Younger daughter wasn't allowed to go to FE at 14 as the LA had tightened their belts. Instead she worked for friends who had businesses and turned a blind eye to youth employment restrictions. She enjoyed earning money and saved up to go travelling. She's just enrolled on an OU degree at 29! Youngest went to FE at 17 after doing many adult education courses to try out skills. The student intake that year was high achieving - no school refusers and more mature students as the college had been taken over by a university. So he had a better time of it. Living in a rural area can be frustrating for teens re. transportation. Isolation suddenly becomes a factor. Even a thriving home ed group can thin out...our 3 found the local group boring as they got older. We had Woodcraft Folk and La Leche League Family Camps to broaden our social circles and the youth clubs and arts centre in town were very important hubs for the kids. The allure of the pub was a bit too great and there were more broken nights than when they were toddlers! HesFes wasn't there for our home ed teens.... I think they would have enjoyed it. I suppose what I'm saying is that our home ed teens didn't know that society wasn't going to welcome them and all of a sudden they found they couldn't be "themselves". It worked out ok because we always talked as a family... but it was disappointing to see them ducking and diving.
Katie Pybus said...
That's a really interesting comment Barbs.

I feel much of that already on behalf on my trio - I can see many places where we go that eyes are on them in a

"what are you doing here?" way.
Katie Pybus said...
Mitsigirl said...
Brilliant, thanks for sharing :)
Lily said...
Absolutely agree about there being no meritocracy. I have spent years trying to 'better my circumstances' and the goal posts just keep shifting.

It's not for want of intellect or ability to pass exams, or even for want of to socially 'pass' as 'one of the in crowd'... it is quite clear to me that lack of a privileged background has and does make everything much, much harder.

For instance, and this is more true now than ever before, the 'lifelong learning' agenda is not about getting people enthusiastic about learning as much as it is about ensuring you keep having to spend more of your money on getting accreditation (that changes regularly). As for the increasing regulation of people who set up small busineses/ work freelance - the regular financial outlay as new registration schemes and H&S laws are brought in makes it hard to justify any but a very thriving business. And don't get me started on the impact of private landlords and greedy councils imposing local taxes!

Ha ha, I'm starting to vent... well, anyway, thanks for saying it, it really helps to have someone else say meritocracy is a myth. It's easy to feel at this end of the social scale that it's a personal failing - such is the power of the meritocracy story.
Prudence Clarke said...
I agree with so much here Katie. The school system is flawed not just for those with learning difficulties but for those ticked off as high achievers as well. I was speaking to a teacher friend only a couple of days ago and his assessment of the school system was damning. He simply doesn't have the time to spend differentiating work for the 32 children in his care let alone giving any pastoral care. He is classed as 'outstanding' by OFSTED - which made me think that in the lottery of school if he is the best you can get and even he thinks he is going a pretty poor job then is it any wonder there are sad, illiterate teens arriving at high school. He is leaving by the way. I'm writing a more detailed post about this at the moment.

The idea of sending my children to high school is abhorrent to me now. Like you, I see the swearing, rude behaviour of teenagers from one of the local high schools and shudder - I wouldn't send my worst enemy there so why would I send my most precious children?
I understand that school works for many people but I do think that it is the babysitting aspect which sells the idea to them. I used to tire of the constant moaning by parents in the school yard about the low standard of education their offspring were receiving but they never acted - they never did anything. Some of these women would then drive off in their 4x4's and spend the day drinking lattes and shopping - out of sight, out of mind I suppose. As long as little Johnny gets a piece of paper which has a level and a generalised comment about his progress which mum can then compare in the school yard with other parents bits of paper then the babysitting is justified - never mind what poor Johnny had to go through to attain it, how sad he is or lacking in motivation. I'm in danger here of beginning an essay so I will stop.

Suffice it to say that this is a great post - thank you so much for sharing. 
Katie Pybus said...

Update on the work hard at school and you'll do well myth.
Katie Pybus said...

Half a decade on the failed meritocracy articles continue

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