For my autistic (PDA presenting) and dyslexic son mainstream school broke down for him at the end of year five. He limped through the first few months of year six attending an interventions service for just 2 hours twice a week at a forest school, still on roll yet unable to attend school, being expected to learn isolated and outside and never know what fresh hell was going to be thrown at him in terms of change of service or expectation lead to a decline in his mental health so dramatic that I feared for his life. He was 10 years old.
Skip forward two and a quarter years and he is a happy engaged boy who is learning at home in a warm, safe, environment that caters for his specific needs. I went from being a reluctant home educator and feeling I was forced into it to becoming a fierce advocate of home ed. With that in mind and the current media climate of fear and negativity towards home ed I would like to try and bust 8 of the most common myths around it.
1.Home education is not a valid form of education.
This is not true. Many gifted children are taken out of school to be home educated in order for them to reach their full potential and work at a pace better suited to them. Many SEND children come out of education through parent choice or, like my son because of unmet needs, and find an environment much better suited for them to learn in. School education is often promoted as the best or only true education when in reality for many children that could not be further from the truth. The environment of mainstream schools often does not allow learning to take place for a lot of children with a great many distractions, sensory challenges and large classes, what home education offers is a bespoke education for children with them and their needs at the centre. Maintaining and supporting the myth that home education is not a valid education is both hurtful to parents and damaging to the self esteem of home educated children.
2.Home educators are not qualified to teach and therefore home educating parents can not offer the same quality of education.
A lot of what teachers learn during teacher training is to manage classes, design lessons for large groups, meet the national curriculum and the requirements of the government targets. They have very little training in teaching SEND children or their specific needs, equally they have little or none in teaching gifted children. While secondary teachers will have training in their particular field, primary teachers are expected to have the same well rounded education many of us have prior to teacher training. Home educators do not need skills in managing groups or adhering to government targets. They know their children and their needs and strengths better than anyone else can. They have already supported their children before school age to be the best they can be and so there is no reason they can not continue to do so.
3. Home educated children do not have the opportunity to get qualifications.
It is perfectly possible for home educated children to get qualifications through a variety of routes. Many colleges except children from 14 and some home educators go on this path, likewise with night schools. All GCSE material is available through work books or online and GCSEs can be paid for individually by parents and if the expense is too much to take a large amount at once can be staggered between the ages of say 14 and 18 at 2 per year. Private tutors are also available if required. Other children, who, like my son, may not feel able to attend college or sit in exam situations can go straight into open university, or online college, which they can build on their educational specialisms through assignments. My friends daughter took GCSEs and A levels through night school and then went on to university where she got an excellent degree and went on to become a primary school teacher, just one pathway example to qualifications among many.
4. Home education does not have the same facilities and equipment to allow for the same level of education as school educated children.
I am not denying many schools have amazing equipment particularly in science and the arts however home educated children can be allowed to follow specialisms so parent budgets can be used to concentrate on these areas, to pay for science clubs or pottery classes for example, where it may be advantageous or inspiring to have extra equipment. However most basic science can be taught by home experiments or watched online anyway and often practical experiments are used in school to keep a class focused rather than them being essential to the lesson.
5. Home education is lacking because it does not follow the national curriculum.
When I was at school there was no national curriculum and in my opinion school was better for it as they could be more flexible and adaptive to their pupils needs. The National curriculum was brought in to give continuity across schools and make schools basically interchangeable in a society where it was becoming increasingly common for families to move around the country so that children could leave one school and effectively pick up where they left off. As a child who was moved at 15 and left floundering because the lessons in the new school were being taught in a different order I can understand the benefit of this however you could argue that the pros do not out way the cons of the restrictions it places on schools.
The only benefit to a home educated child being forced to follow the national curriculum would be if they returned to school, otherwise it is the very flexibility that not following it brings, means home education can be better for many children in terms of being able to follow specialisms and work to a child’s strengths. Stretching a child over many different subjects some of which they many have no interest or aptitude for is not, (in my opinion), necessarily a good thing. If a child wishes to concentrate on what they are really good at and interested in this can really channel these skills into great employment prospects for the future rather than becoming a Jack of all trades in what is often described as a well rounded education.
Of course, not all children are hugely academic and for these children home education allows them to explore and hone practical skills too. I read recently about a young lad of 12 already training and competing with sheepdogs as part of his home education journey for example, something that I am sure will stand him in good stead for his future prospects.
6. How educated children do not have access to services.
All services can be accessed at home or by taking children to appointments, there is no necessity to go to school to have access to speech and language, OT or any other service a child may need. Some may argue that the need for such services may be picked up in school but actually they are more often than not missed in a busy class and be far more likely to be recognised by a home educated parent with a close relationship with their child.
7. Home Educated Children are invisible and so in danger of harm.
As a parent of a home educated child I know my child is about as far from invisible as he can be. If you have ever had a child off sick from school and had to pop to the shops with them you will know how likely you are to be asked why your child is not in school, this is an everyday question for home educated parents and one people are not afraid to ask. Home educated children regularly use facilities and attractions during the week when they are quiet and I can tell you that you and your school age child stick out like sore thumbs on a midweek visit to the zoo for example.
Neighbours, doctors, dentists and so on will take a greater interest in a home educated child and are not afraid to ask questions so if you wanted to go under the radar I would not recommend home education as a good way of doing it! Of course there will always be abusive parents but parents who lock their children up or keep them in basements are not home educators, they are abusers and many abusers send their children to school, many more than don’t for the reasons I have already outlined.
Parents who want a say in their child’s education or are prepared to sacrifice aspects of their own life in order to protect the mental health of their child or give them the education they deserve are, in my experience, caring loving parents. It seems madness to me that it is perfectly fine to hear people say how they can’t wait for their children to go back to school as they are driving them mad but not fine to say you prefer to teach your own child rather than hand them over to strangers for their education.
8. Home educated children are isolated and do not get enough social interaction.
This is the worry that many, many people have about home education and the question most home educators will tell you they are often asked. In order to answer it I must first ask you to look at the things in your life you consider social interaction. When was the last time you socialised with a group of people who were all born in the same year as you or even of the same generation? It is taken for granted nowadays that children should mix exclusively with their peers, personally I would say this is a misguided theory.
Where children have the opportunity to mix with people of all age groups they learn much better social skills, they have learning and teaching opportunities by meeting and socialising with older and younger children. Within our own families is where we all first learn about how to relate to others, those close relationships are what shapes us.
The point I am trying to make is when people talk about socialising they so often over look contact with different age groups and their own family and extended family and concentrate on how often they mix with children of their own age. Aside from this there are so many opportunities for children to mix with other children through the myriad of home education groups and camps that have become available across the country, where they can meet other youngsters without restrictions on friendship through age or gender, as there are in many schools. Home educated children may not be forced to be social everyday with large groups of children of their own age but that does not mean they do not get enough of the kind and quality of social contact that is right for them.
If the powers that be are really concerned about children in home education they could open up exams and after school clubs to home educated children (as some independents already do), they could have a website recording lessons from the national curriculum (TES does already offer this but much of it costs), they could make legislation to include home educated children in price cuts offered to schools for museums, and activities, they could fund home ed groups and things like forest schools. They could offer subsidised tutors. All of these things would cost far less financially and in terms of emotional and mental health, than forcing home educated children back to school. The saving could be used to improve schools and then perhaps more children would be able to stay in school and the numbers leaving would stop increasing. Just a thought……..Do feel free to add your own noughts in the comments below.