For the past five years we have been officially home-educating our eldest son. I say officially because we have actually been home-educating him for nine and a half years – since the day he was born. In fact, we are educating all four of our children every day in so many ways, and often completely unintentionally. The truth is, if you are a parent, so do you. The only thing we are doing that’s different is choosing to trust that our children can explore the world and gain the tools and knowledge they will need with just a little guidance from us, rather than a decade of “teaching” by others. All the fundamentals of life they’ve conquered without any intervention – they’ve learned (or refused) to eat, they’ve shouted, cut their teeth, walked, talked, kicked a ball, held a pencil, sang, and crayoned on the walls – all without so much as a by-your-leave. If they ask us what a word means, we tell them. If they ask to help prepare dinner, we hand them the peeler. If they announce they are going to recreate Tutankhamun’s tomb (lifesize), we show them the contents of the recycling box (and buy shares in Sellotape).
Many parents comment that they think it’s great that we are confident enough to homeschool our kids, and they would love to have the same confidence but don’t. Some are concerned. And still other friends contact us privately to enquire about it as they are considering it for their own children for a range of reasons. There are many compelling reasons for considering a different sort of education.
We marvel at the cost involved in the schooling of children. A state secondary education currently costs the taxpayer £4,500 per pupil per year, and often buys parents schooling and childcare of a highly variable quality. Then there’s the pocket money provided by parents – to the tune of £1,600 per pupil per year – to cover transport, school dinners and sports kit. The annual cost of sending one child to private boarding school is in most cases greater than the annual salary of many of the teachers at those very boarding schools, and it comes at the cost of term-time family separation. There is, however, an education which money cannot buy, and which most rich people cannot afford because they are too busy making their fortune.
This is known in UK law as education otherwise:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age 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.
It is referred to by our American cousins as homeschooling and by local authorities and other government agencies here it is known as the mouthful, ‘Elective Home Education’. To refer to it in the singular, however, may be misleading, for it is as diverse as school-based education is uniform. You’ll find de-schoolers, un-schoolers, Charlotte Mason and classical homeschoolers, project/unit-study schoolers and co-op schoolers. Such education is little known and widely misunderstood, although it is an opportunity being seized by an ever increasing number of families.
We are passionate about raising awareness of it and to share what a great choice it can be for the education of children, for the success of the family, and to the benefit of society. For it is a choice, and a responsibility. A choice, because wonderfully in Britain we are all still free to educate in whatever way we see fit (in some other liberal democracies, like Germany, parents can be fined or imprisoned for home educating their children.) And a responsibility, because as you see from the wording of the law reproduced above, the buck stops with you for the education of your children. If you refuse to ensure they complete the all-too-frequent-or-demanding-homework, or if you take them on holiday during term-time so that you don’t have to file for bankruptcy, I will back you to the moral hilt my friend, but you are defaulting on your side of the home-school agreement. If your kids’ school fails their Ofsted assessments then they’re defaulting on their side of it. These are the realities that we often give little thought to, but which we are legally bound to.
Those of us who choose to bear fully the responsibility of educating our children may feel that burden on a daily basis. Am I doing enough? Are we pushing them too hard? I stressed quietly for several years about whether our eldest would ever read. Oh alright, I stressed loudly at times (entirely the wrong thing to do), declaring that if they couldn’t agree to 10 minutes of maths and reading then maybe they would have to go to school after all (sort of like the opposite of grounding). I had read of all the boys who don’t read until they are 12, or even 14 (yes, I reminded myself that many boys spend 10 years at school and still can’t read at 14), but I am so institutionalised that it seemed incredible. I was too scared to discover how many years ‘behind’ he probably was. Then he underwent several developmental spurts, and I introduced one 5-minute lesson a day from the McGuffey readers. We also discovered that if I insisted he sit and read one page of a good story to me while I loaded the dishwasher, then he would sneak off to his bed and finish the entire novel that day.
This is the stuff of teachers’ dreams, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a penny.