Home Education: the 411

A lot of people have been asking me questions recently about the in’s and out’s and how’s and why’s of home education and I realised that unless you already know people who are home educating, it must be a totally foreign concept. So, I thought I’d write a post just to explain it a bit more and our motivation behind choosing this option for our children’s education.

Firstly, is it legal? Well the answer to that is obviously yes or there wouldn’t be so many people in the UK taking this road. HomeEducation.org estimated that in 2012 60,000 UK children of compulsory school age were being home educated, that amounts to about 0.6% so a significant minority. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which applies to England and Wales state that it is the duty of parents to secure an education for their children which

‘shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-

a: to his age, ability and aptitude, and

b: to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.’

Home educating is covered under the ‘otherwise’ option. To this end, what you choose to teach your child is up to your assessment of what is suitable for your child and what you would like to explore with them. Your local education authority may ask to visit you annually but it isn’t a mandatory requirement. Some families accept the visit (and may find it encouraging to receive feedback), some opt out but send an annual report of their child’s progress instead and some decline to do either. You do not have to follow a set curriculum and your children don’t have to do GCSE’s when they reach that age although some families choose to do one or both of these.  The world is really your oyster.

The way that home educating families ‘do’ school is incredibly varied and ranges from those that practice unschooling or an autonomous approach and believe in child-led education with parental encouragement and access to a wide range of resources to those that do ‘school at home’ with a bought curriculum and a timetabled day.  From the many families we’ve encountered in the last few years I think it’s fair to say that most fall somewhere between those two extremes in accordance with what works best for their families. A lot of families are influenced by people like Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, Rudolph Steiner and John Holt and their respective (and very different!) theories and approaches to education. It’s a wide and interesting world to explore! I also think that it’s not too broad a statement to make to say that a large majority of families choose to delay any formal learning until their children are 6/7 and keep the emphasis on learning through play until that age.

So why do people choose to home educate and not send their children to school? Again, the answers to this are varied and differ depending on every family and their circumstance. Some parents believe that children start school too early in the UK and so opt out of at least the first few years, some withdraw their children from school after problems with bullying, some do so because their child has asked to, some think their child will struggle from either being too far ahead or behind of their peers and some parents simply want to take charge of their child’s education and share that experience as a family.

And the big one that always gets asked, how do you manage the ‘social’ side of things (or lack of it as the question implies)? The majority of home educated children that I’ve met have been articulate, confident and enjoy spending time with people.  In most areas of the UK you can find home education groups where children can meet up with friends and parents can chat and share ideas and there are a wealth of ‘extra curricular’ after school activities that children can get involved in from dancing or sports teams to french classes or chess club. Rather than spending every day with 30 other children the same age as them, children who are educated at home are likely to have a wide exposure to children and adults of all ages and from all walks of life. It is often observed that home educated children get on better with a larger age range of children and are more confident with adults. A brief overview of some research related to this issue can be found here. I really think question is almost a non starter.

So why did Dan and I choose to educate the children at home? I think there isn’t one clear cut answer for us. I think that 4 is so young to be starting school and that is a driving factor for me to at least delay starting school for a few years, even if we don’t home educate for the long term. A lot of European countries don’t start school until 5 or 6 and research seems to show that this is better for the success both academically and emotionally of children. We also want to have the freedom for Sophia and Isaac to learn at their own pace, rather than having to keep up with something they aren’t ready to do yet or be bored by having to sit through lessons designed to teach them things they already know.

Aside from the three r’s (reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic) the national curriculum is both fairly arbitrary and also constantly changing. For example, there is no way one can study the entire world’s history as a child so why do certain moments or era’s deserve our attention more than others? Why do we study one style of art but not a certain type of music? By educating the children at home we’re hoping to be able to follow their interests and expand from there into different subjects that apply. One example that I think is great is that a child’s love of trains can result in a project that could include the mechanics of trains, mathematics regarding movement and speed, the history of trains and literature that includes trains! Subjects don’t have to be taught individually, they can all cross over and become intertwined.

Lastly, we’ve chosen to home educate as we’d like to continue the learning that is already done in the early years. I love spending time with them and watching them grow and we are loving the fact that we will  be able to explore and pursue passions and interests with them and actively participate in their educational journey.

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I hope that this post might have been of some use or interest to people and if anyone has any thoughts they’d like to add or questions to ask, I’d love to hear from you!

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