Monday, 5 January 2009

My Home Education Story

I've been interested in home education for many years.

We moved house to a different area 11 years ago when Claire was about nine. She was struggling at her old school and I thought I would 'catch her up with some 1:1 time'. I was a single parent on income support with my other daughter just starting boarding school.

What! you say? Isn't that incongruous? Home education for one child, boarding school for another, income support too? Yes, well I've never been 'normal'.

Those were the days when the government paid tuition fees for deserving cases. It was a Quaker girls' boarding school. We needed to find an alternative because she was being bullied at her local state school and they did nothing about it. We looked at several brochures of schools nearby in Newcastle but none appealed to her. Then I saw an entry in a book in the library about The Mount School in York. And I remembered when she was a baby, holding her on my knee at a Quaker meeting, thinking that one day she would go to that very school.

We went to visit and she felt immediately at home. She said to me "Mummy the girls are just like me!" - She was a girl behind the times because at 11 years old she was not interested in pop music, fashion or boys.

So she passed the scholarship and I obtained a bursary for her boarding and she went to the school. Unfortunately we lived too far away for her to come home each day. We lived in a council house at the time and I swapped to a place as near as I could. No-one wanted to move out of York so I moved to Wakefield,40 miles away. She still had to board but at least she could come home at weekends. I tell you I hated Sunday evenings when I had to take her back!

It didn't occur to me to educate her at home. I only home educated Claire because I wanted to help her 'catch up'.

Claire had just completed her First School and we moved the summer before she went to the Middle School.

Home educating Claire was not a success. This was before we had the internet, and the support it brings.

The person who we swapped with had been a chain smoker and the house was decorated with brown nicotine. So we camped in the least awful room and gradually expanded our living space as I decorated the rooms. So I was busy doing this and feeling guilty because I wasn't teaching Claire. But Claire did not want to be taught by her mum! We had a rocky time of it I can tell you. I had not heard then of autonomous learning.

I could not find anyone else who was homes educating in the area and Claire was lonely. She did not make friends easily and she became very unhappy. So things came to a head, especially when I realised that the money I had borrowed to pay for Helen's school uniform and to help with the move ran out and I had to pay that back plus £100 a week as my contribution to Helen' schooling. (You think I would have worked all this out but I've never been very good managing money.) So I had to do some supply teaching to earn some money.

Well that is tricky when you have a child who is being home educated (or not, as the case seemed to be then). So, much to Claire's relief and trepidation she went to the new school.

Well, that was the start of my interest in home education.

A few years later I got a proper job and a computer and learned more about the subject. And kept up my interest to this day. I now know where I went wrong although at the time I did the best I could with the knowledge and resources I had.

I have been one of those rare teachers who have encouraged people to educate their children at home. A lone voice in that environment.

Well my children are grown and I realise that autonomous learning is an excellent way for the nation's children to be educated. I am still teaching in schools, doing supply again because I resent using my personal time on doing all the paperwork - marking, planning, assessment etc.

However it pains me that I am still part of the system that tells children whether they can visit the loo, or talk to their friend, or get out of their seat. Now I say to the children, "I'm sorry you have a hurt finger. I can kiss it better for you if you want but there are 30 of you and I can do no more than that because we need to finish this." or "I know you are not interested in muscles, and that's OK, but the government says you need to learn this. If you were home educated you could learn whatever you liked when you liked, but your parents chose to send you to school so please be quite so we can get on with the lesson." I want the children to go home and ask why they are not being home educated. I may get into trouble one of these days!

The reason why I moved to this large house was so that I would have space to facilitate children's education here. I know the best teachers are the parents but the reality is, not all parents think they can, or want to facilitate their children's learning each day. Anyway it has not happened yet because I'm really not sure how to go about it. I do know that many children are being harmed by being in the school environment. I see them each time I go to work. They are classed as disruptive or naughty when really they just don't want to sit and listen to a teacher going on about something that does not interest them. And why should they?

An alternative would be to be a governess in someone's home but I have not seen any openings for that yet either.

So I had thought of opening my own school along the lines of The Little School

I am also thinking about fostering. I think this time next year, something will be happening but I'm not sure what at the moment.