Home Education? Is that legal, then?...
One mother's experience of "Separation Anxiety"...
As we walked across our frosty little town on an errand last night, my ten year old daughter turned to me with shining eyes and announced, "I love my life!" My heart did a backflip... isn't this how it should be, at ten?
A year ago, S was hunched and pinched, pale and miserable. She lurched from one genuine infection to another, but in between there were constant mysterious headaches and tummyaches, nightmares, wet beds and broken nights. Only by subterfuge or force could I leave her for any length of time, except with a few trusted friends; her brothers and sister had come to resent her deeply for this frantic clinging. And I knew all about so-called "Separation Anxiety" as we had been through something similar with my eldest, when he was very ill aged 10, and was unaccountably reluctant to return to school as soon as he was physically capable of being upright for half an hour or so...
S, however, had hated playgroup from the word go and felt exactly the same way about school. Things had got to the stage where I even had to stay in school with her, some of the time - I had always tried to be involved in their education, to ensure that they all knew that home & school were working together, for their benefit... But even this was not enough (and was unmistakably a burden to some of the teachers) and she took to voting with her feet whenever I wasn't free to be there with her. She ran straight home, mostly, sometimes lingering in the nearby woods for long enough to try to shake off the teachers who were frantically pursuing her. Bless them for trying to keep my rebellious child safe! But no way was she learning anything that any of us wanted her to learn...
After dragging the poor child off to the obligatory psychologist to be told the usual tale, that we were lackadaisical parents and that if we just pulled together she would soon toe the line, I rebelled too and deregistered her. I'd looked into home education when M was ill and we were being heavily pressurised to get him back to school, with threats of court and care orders; now I wish I'd had the courage to take him out of the mainstream education system at that point, rather than going through the deeply unpleasant process of "returning" him. I'm very glad he has become who he is, possibly in spite of our attempts to "do the right thing". However, I can see that the things he excels at and enjoys the most are things he is almost entirely self-taught at; he has never fulfilled his "academic" promise. But he will undoubtedly achieve great things in real life, where it actually matters... All this could, indeed, be the result of my less-than-perfect parenting - but is it just remotely possible that school is not, in fact, the perfect environment for all of our children, all of the time? That it might - whisper it quietly! - be wonderful for some, but not for others? And why is it that "Separation Anxiety" nearly always seems to occur only in relation to school, nursery or playgroup? Luckily, in home education, we do have a real, legal alternative.
Meanwhile, S is blossoming. The nightmares vanished, the aches and pains subsided although they sometimes return briefly when she feels opressed for one reason or another, and the constant infections are a thing of the past. Her cheeks glow and she grew 4" and two shoe sizes within weeks of leaving school. We walk a lot and talk a lot; we cook and sew and look after our animals and plants, and do a bit of "curriculum" work every now and then. She's always producing newsletters and magazines and is an expert internet researcher, often asked to help with homework by her "schooled" friends. And when her sister triumphantly asked her, "What's the square root of 64, then?" yesterday, she answered "8, of course!" with absolute confidence, much to my surprise - I didn't know she'd "done" square roots! She can count in French and Spanish, thanks to her sister; J only lasted a few weeks at our local monster secondary school, where all three of their brothers have settled happily, before she asked to join her sister in home ed. And whyever not? They have been curled up on the sofa this morning, doing codes and puzzles and laughing together, after a couple of hours of intensive language work. This afternoon S and I will walk, and J may write, or produce some art work, or do some more formal work if she doesn't care to join us; her sixth-form brother and a friend or two will be at home to fill the house with music and freewheeling conversation.
We are lucky that financial pressures haven't forced me back to work full-time; raising five children in an affluent area on a police officer's salary is a nightmare sometimes but it's not completely impossible. There are jobs and other earning possibilities (internet businesses, for example, or music tuition) that can be worked around or even into home educating, too. And budgeting & frugal, healthy living is a subject worthy of study in its own right, not unconnected to the self-discipline that is one of the key skills they really need in life.
So if your child is stressed, anxious, always ill or even voting with their feet, don't panic, or believe there must be something wrong with them or with yourselves as parents; for some children, school itself really is totally opressive and the exact opposite of an ideal learning environment. S may not be passing constant achievement tests but I can see her growing in confidence, knowledge and understanding every day even though I can't measure any of these. She sees plenty of her friends, old and new, and is far better company now she's not stressed all the time. Best of all, she will cheerfully wave goodbye to me when I go out now. And J, at 13, is maturing into a graceful and accomplished young lady whose love of learning for its own sake is beginning to resurface; in the constant social & academic pressure of our huge comprehensive, I suspect that would have sunk without trace and she too would have done just enough to get by and no more. We are planning ways and means for her to take a respectable number of GCSEs over the next year or two - home education does not mean condemning your children to a future with no qualifications, as some people believe - far from it! But it can free them from the horrible pressure of taking a large number major exams all in one month, and allow them to work towards their future at their own pace, which might be at breakneck speed in one subject but slow and steady in another. They can spend all day on one subject if they're "on a roll" or determined to master something, not have to pack up and move on after an hour. The only drawback we've found is constantly being stopped and questioned when we're out and about; many people seem to believe that it's not "legal" for children to be visible at all during school hours, except safely locked away in playgrounds. But yes, it IS legal! Are they really that dangerous, accompanied by a moderately-respectable adult? And is there really only one possible way to learn, and only one place to do it in?
Anyway, here we are, at the start of our "family learning" journey, forced on us by one small girl's utter misery and rebellion, but looking forwards now to a much happier future - better late than never!
Education Otherwise - a fantastic resource for those thinking of home ed - covers all the legalities, lots of interesting articles, and has a very supportive online community Home Education Advisory Service - another useful & helpful site
ParentsCentre - our Government's own official advice
Freedom In Education - a wonderful resource from a home-educating family.