HED0280

Written evidence from Mrs F Spencer

 

In response to the inquiry regarding home education, I felt it expedient to add my own personal evidence on various points. As my document just exceeds 3000 words, a summary is included as requested.

SUMMARY:

Duties of LA / register
– duties of LA need to be clear and not encroach upon parental rights
- what would a register achieve other than numbers of home educated children?
- How can the LA treat all families across the country the same?

Support / Impact
- Support needed for Home Educators with regards to covid rules for educational meetings
- Support of Home Educating families is best achieved by abolishing the stereotypes
- Impact of home education – balanced, tailored education suitable for each child

Inspection
- Impossible die to various approaches to education within each family unit
- Educational goals, approaches and general ethos of learning  differs massively in school and home educating circles
- Learning is continuous, incorporated into all aspects of life – impossible to inspect
- Current school models are possibly failing our children – should this not be addressed?
- The love of learning, and the skills to facilitate self-learning is impossible to inspect
Not to mention it is an utter infringement of privacy.

Regulatory framework
- impossible for schools to meet the educational need of every single pupil
- One teacher with little personal knowledge cannot meet all needs and cater for each of their pupils
- A parent is much more equipped to do so in whatever capacity they see fit to
- Tailored educational and unlimited time provide the perfect framework for education, yet it is impossible to be regulated

Benefits
- These are touched on throughout.
- Time, passion, personal knowledge of the child, dedication, opportunity – these are some of the benefits to home education
- Developmentally, the scope for free play is under-rated in our culture. Home education offers the opportunity for uninterrupted play which offers so many developmental benefits.
- Safety in the home, away from peer pressure and peer comparison is also a massively under-looked aspect of home education
- Time is one of the most precious benefits that home educators take advantage of. Time to linger on subjects, time to do more practice, time to leave that area for a while and return later when the child is able to comprehend.
- Sensitivity to the child’s needs, and natural rhythms are another benefit to the home educator.

 

 

DUTIES OF LA / REGISTER
Firstly, I feel it unfortunately necessary to state that home education is largely misunderstood by a wide section of society. Many people do not understand the desire to pursue that route, and as it is not a conventional path, it is often looked upon in a negative light.
This does not just apply to society in general – unfortunately it does appear to apply to many Local Authorities too. The tactics, communication and general dealings of many LA’s with home educating families has not been positive in so many cases. In addition to this, the seemingly frequent change of staff in EHE departments adds to the poor handling of communications with many families.

A parent is responsible for their child’s education. Whether they so choose a school in order to achieve the education of the child, or whether they choose to educate them themselves, or via tutors is ultimately a parental right. The fundamental right of the parent cannot be encroached upon, yet the number of cases up and down the country whereby families are having LA’s trying to infringe on these rights is appalling.

The duties of the LA are to step in when there is a genuine concern for safeguarding within a family environment; it appears that many families experience distressing situations when there is no safeguarding issue.
My question, therefore, is what would a register achieve? The duties of the LA are not to stipulate how to educate a child, and again, herein lies so many issues. If the educational approach does not “fit” with that staff member’s ideals, what is the outcome?  A register of home educated children will not achieve anything of use, other than a firm number of those currently in home education. Anything more and it runs the risk of encroaching into an area where it is not needed or lawful.

SUPPORT /IMPACT
The recent national lockdown may have put a brighter light onto home education in some respects, insofar as many have a new admiration for families who choose to home educate their children. The fundamental point is that it is a choice. The nation was forced into it, and life was not as it normally is for anyone, including home educators. It simply wasn’t “business as usual”.

Many may think that home education is simply school at home. For the majority of home educating families, their normal approach to home education is not what the majority of the nation have just experienced in Spring 2020.
Due to restrictions, there were no meet ups, groups or classes; there were no meeting friends for social or educational purposes. For this reason, home education could possibly be portrayed as something that it is not. Home education is a different approach to education that adapts to the (often changing) needs of the child. It may consist of a number of methods of learning from some more formal learning times and structured learning, to unit studies, semi structured learning and unschooling. The main point being that it suits the child in question.
 

I would like to stress that the stereotypes of home educated children being socially inept, awkward and borderline feral, is a myth. The majority of home educating families balance education and socialisation to meet the needs of their children. They provide a range of learning opportunities, educational surroundings and methods in order to provide their child(ren) with a suitable and fulfilling education. It simply looks different to the conventional school model.

As schools have now re-opened, home educating families have had to try and make sense of the government guidelines as to what constitutes Covid secure educational meetings and balance out the risks of resuming their previous groups. Of course, some venues are simply not available now. This is an important aspect in the current climate. The rules for educational meetings do need to be clear and concise and home educators need to be sure that they are not going to land themselves in trouble for organising a group meeting. In this aspect, much more support in terms of clear guidance is needed for home educators.

However, home educators have taken the advantage of outdoor meetings across the country. But one must not assume that anyone is “back to normal”. Nothing is normal for any child at present, whether schooled or not. The impact of Covid on all children will be diverse, but just because schooled children are seemingly “back to normal” the disruption from frequent isolation, one way systems, and all the other restrictions in place, will have an effect on them in some way or another. For home educated children, learning can indeed continue without the need for constant disruption.

INSPECTION

A hugely important point I feel I must tackle is time.  Home educators quickly realise that learning between 9am-3pm, Monday – Friday is neither necessary, possible or ideal.
I strongly believe one major advantage point that all home educators would agree on is that learning takes place any time, any place, any day. Furthermore, the most optimum time for each child to learn will differ.  Some children prefer to learn in the morning when they’re fresh and full of energy; for example, between 7.30am and 9am, a huge amount of learning can be accomplished – more than perhaps in a whole conventional school day. For others, they may learn better in the evening. An home educating family can attune to this, and take the maximum advantage.

In a similar vein, for primary school aged children, there are points of the traditional school day whereby concentration levels dip. At school, the show much go onregardless.  It is at these times that a parent can be alert and aware, tailoring different tasks or activities at these dips in order to make the most of the day. A child who is tired or needing a change in pace is simply not going to learn. In a classroom there is no option but to plough on. A family environment means a short break, a story, a breath of air, or any other preferred reset method can be employed. One simply doesn’t have to plough on for the sake of it.

Home education is usually a whole way of life for those choosing that route.  For the majority of families choosing this way of life, education is foundationally about a love of learning, and instilling a sense of love for learning in their children, and as such, many don’t strictly segregate up their life into “learning times” and “non learning” times. Rather they see any life event as an opportunity for learning and exploration. This can take place whenever the child is curious. This does not mean that many home educators don’t have specific days/times for more formal learning. However, if an individual child seemingly takes little interest in the formal time, but narrates his fantasy stories about the subject at bedtime, then learning is taking place and the home educating parent can turn that into a meaningful learning opportunity. Parents of school children have little knowledge of what their child does day to day, and such a bedtime rambling might be mistaken for delay tactics….
My point is that no one can be as involved and integrated into the education of their children as the parents who are providing that education.  This is why inspection could never possibly work. Home education is not learning for a test, it is learning for love.


One of the most tragic things I have heard with regards to our current system of school education came when I was attending a course for work which was run by our Local Authority. There were various individuals from different walks of life on the course, which itself was based on ‘communication in the early years’.  Many on the course were primary school teachers in the area.  Every single one of those teachers were passionate about their roles as educators, and they all echoed the same terrible fact: “there’s no golden time. Every single one said there was no time for children to ask questions in class. No time for questions! No time to take time, go off at a tangent every now and again to answer a question from a child whose curiosity was piqued.

Personally, I have worked in children’s services, volunteered in children’s ministries and no matter who the children are or where they come from, children are inquisitive by nature.  They are full of questions, and questions invite a dialogue. Even the few non-verbal children I have worked with are curious and they just ask their questions in different ways.

What sort of society are we breeding if we don’t have time for children to ask questions? What message are we giving to children if we are telling children their questions aren’t important? We are muzzling inquisitiveness and curiosity, and we could be completely cancelling out a generation of inventors and scientists!

This breaks my heart. As a mother myself, I get a barrage of very questions from my children, but each single question, however seemingly odd, is an early step in future potential. We must encourage all children to explore their thirst for knowledge. 

This is an area that home education excels in. There is time, space and opportunity for questions and explorations. I am willing to wager that 99% of home educators will agree that when their child asks a question, their hearts soar. Not only does it mean the child has engaged, but they have taken the time to think and thirst for more knowledge. Additionally, the joy in researching together, looking for that information, and then it leading to finding something new and exciting (sometimes even new for the parent!), is the pinnacle of the home educator’s day!
This is why inspection for home educators could never possibly work in order to satisfy anyone.
 

REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

In my first week as a nursery worker, I was pretty confident I was made for the job. Training done, excitement bubbling, and ideas were flowing. However, the toughest part of the learning curve was something I knew from my training yet didn’t truly appreciate until I experienced it: children all learn in completely different ways.
Of course, we know this, but in practise, it is very different to the theory in the books. Children are individuals, with different backgrounds, experiences and preferences.

I soon realised as wonderful as my lesson plans were, it was simply not possible to reach every single pupil in a class of 30(ish) children and give them all the same level of attention and educational input.  Some children will simply not engage with the content or teaching style as others do, even with a range of teaching styles. And in all honesty, how many can be achieved in school day?  

Some are visual learners, some hands-on learners…. things we all know.  Yet in practice when faced with a group of children and our teaching plans, it is hard work ensuring each individual child reaches the same educational outcome. We want them all to understand, we want them all to learn, we want them all to enjoy the process.  In practice, it is no easy feat.

Society largely uses the school model because in general, it works for the way our society runs. Consider however, a dedicated education, stylised to the individual child, delivered by someone who loves the child more than they love their very own lives, who wants the very best for the child, and will adapt or adjust the teaching style to meet the needs of that child, and spend as much time, energy or effort as required on that child as they need.  Add to that a comfortable environment, free from (often) unsuitable peer influences, unnecessary pressure, comparison, and time constraints. 

A child that learns in a safe, fun, comfortable environment learns for life, not simply for a test. A genuine love of learning, and the skills to know how to learn independently are priceless. Some families are willing and able to provide this for their children, and we should be championing that as a society.

DEVELOPMENT / BENEFIT
I realise that development isn’t on the list, but I would appreciate your ear for a moment as this really comes into the benefits of home education point in a very significant way.

Children who are home educated are often thought to have less social interaction. This is a myth. Yet, I have personally noticed in my own children, and in children within a school setting (in my workplace) some interesting observations in regards to this very point of social interaction and development.


Children up to the age of around 11/12 often engage in imaginative play with their peers. I have personally experienced in the playground, the important steps in peer negotiation as to what game to play during break time, and then the carrying out of that game. So many times, I have seen children take more time in actually deciding on the game, than actually playing it. Whilst I agree that the negotiation between friends is important in development and for social skills, the disappointment when the bell rings just 10 minutes into the game or the imaginative play is, quite frankly, heart breaking. 
I have watched lively role play games have to come to an abrupt end after their short breaks and wonder how much we rob children of this important part of their lives. With less children playing out in the street than, say 30 years ago, when many of us were young, we are robbing children of a huge part of childhood. It begs the question, are we truly socialising children in schools? And are we doing so in a healthy way?

I wonder how many school children meet outside of school hours with their friends on a regular basis, where they can simply play their imaginative games? Many home educating families attend regular meet ups, whereby there is a much longer element of socialisation. For example, a regular weekly home education meet-up with a dedicated learning aspect, followed by a couple of hours of social time. In this time, the children get to have longer, unbroken times of imaginative play.

Although this may not be the regular daily 20-minute comfort breaks, and 30-45 (ish) minute lunch break, it produces a much deeper level of play and interaction that simply isn’t found on the school playground. This time element is, again, a huge benefit to home educated children and aids development in many areas. I have also witnessed first-hand the difference in schooled children’s acceptance of a new child. They are much slower to offer the hand of friendship, whereas home educated children seem to welcome new friends willingly. There is much less of the “them and us” mentality, and very low numbers of bullying in the home educating communities.

BENEFITS

I could go on, as there are many more benefits to home education.  I will end with these final thoughts.
There are, of course, in all walks of life, a very small number of people at each end of the normal bell curve who don’t follow the usual trends. Some schooled children come from backgrounds that are not emotionally or physically healthy. Similarly, there will be a small number of families who will be in that category who home educate. We unfortunately live in a world where some people are not parenting at good enough standards. Having previously worked for children’s services I have seen this first-hand (although I will add that not one has ever been a home educator, and 100% have been schooled children that have come into care whilst I was working with children’s services!)  However, we do not tar all schooled children/families with the same brush, and neither should we do so for home educating families. I mention this, because the phrases “under the radar” and “invisible children” are often banded around completely irrationally when it comes to home education. It is usually the case that home educated children are actually just as visible – they are out in the community, in national parks, in nature reserves, in libraries, museums, village halls and other meeting places regularly (pre-covid, of course).  They’re popping to the shops, going to music lessons, brownies/cubs, attending sports classes, and many are regulars in their local stationery shops/craft stores! They are anything but invisible.

We must not become a society whereby we judge a section of society based on a few isolated incidents, otherwise we would shut schools down based on the number of abuse that has occurred in schools in the past 50 years, let alone the rise of bullying that schools seem completely powerless to stamp out.  With the rise of social media bullying, and the number of associated child suicides that have arisen from bullying in the past 5 years, we (as a society) should be concentrating on eradicating this tragically increasing trend.

CONCLUSION

Home education is not an easy route. It requires copious amounts of patience and taking the weight of the educational future of your children onto your shoulders is certainly no light matter. With the exception of the small number of cases whereby a school has given the parent no other option, home educating families take this decision with much care and deliberation. The bond that develops between you and your child(ren) is priceless, though.
Seeing your children bloom, being alongside them on the journey to discovery of their passions and interests and championing them in their achievements is the reward for the home educator.
Whilst many parents are praying for half term to be over so they can send their children back to school, home educators relish every moment with their children, and the “in joke” in home educational circles is that they can’t wait for the schooled kids to go back to school so that the parks, libraries and museums are quiet! Quite frankly, home educating families savour the time with their children – even the tough ones – because we know it passes by so very quickly, and find those social media posts of parents praying for school to start back, quite alien and frankly very sad!

I am sure you will receive many more eloquent responses, however, I do hope that you recognise that home education, for some, is part of their very raison d’etre for that season of their lives. 

 

December 2020