Extreme-schooling vs Free-schooling: why (and how) we should be putting the learners in the driving seat

I’ve watched with interest – and at times disbelief – as story after story pops up, about schools imposing rigid new behaviour policies, strict discipline measures, and new, non-negotiable uniform regulations. ‘Cracking down,’ so they say.

 

Often, it’s schools that have been deemed failing, due to low exam results, or that have found themselves converting to academies. Often it seems to be at the hands of a new headteacher, drafted in to ‘turn the school around’.

 

I wonder how successful these changes will be in the long run. Recent cases include the school that turned students away at the gates because their shoes, although they were the right colour and style, had the wrong colour stitching around the soles ; the school that sent pupils home because their trousers were the wrong shade of grey ; a school placing children in isolation over lunchtime because their school dinner money was late ; schools banning students from talking to each other  as they walk between lessons, and – at that same school – a rule that students must only ever look at their teacher, or where their teacher has directed them to…  Wow!

 

But, in schools that (in many cases) are already ‘failing’, and in which morale among both students and parents may already be minimal, will such drastic and antagonistic policies really help? Will having every student looking identical result in a more successful school? Will stopping students from talking to each other grow them into more successful adults? Will imposing such strict and controlling rules about where you are and aren’t allowed to direct your eyes result in better grades? And will punishments for breaking these bizarre rules really turn these kids into better learners and more successful adults? Or will they further demoralise an already demotivated, reluctant and frustrated community?

 
I can imagine, in the short-term, that this policy would probably make teaching a breeze. I can see how a school where teachers have “unquestioned authority”,  where children behave – dare I say it – like robots, following every instruction without question and with fear of severe reprisals if they fall out of line, may seem like education at its finest… if you are very traditional in your thinking.

 

But how can these children (yes, still children, despite schools’ insistence that they must maintain a business-like environment) be expected to grow into self-disciplined, critical thinking, decision-making adults, when up until then, they are consistently stripped of those opportunities? How is this teaching them to make their own choices, form their own opinions and forge their own paths through life, if the whole time that they are supposed to be preparing for adulthood (as school is often described), they are rigidly controlled in every aspect, even down to where to direct their eyes. This isn’t healthy. It is far from healthy. It is over-controlling and extreme. This is what I’m calling ‘Extreme Schooling’!

 
Thankfully, most of our schools are not like this. I’m sure if all schools were placed on some sort of ‘scale of control’, this extreme schooling would surely be… well… at the extreme, with the majority of schools, sitting much more central. Rules in most schools are more reasonable and tend to be rooted in respect for learning and caring about each other, rather than in bowing to authority. Children are given perhaps a little more leeway in their behaviour, or in their appearance. But worryingly, the trend for tighter uniform restrictions and behaviour expectations does seem to be increasing.

 
However, despite what our government and our traditionalist society would have us believe, there are other, equally (perhaps even more so) successful ways to school our children, which are very, very different.

 
Unbeknown to most parents, there exists a style of schooling which lies at the opposite end of that spectrum: schools that, rather than seeking to control every aspect of their students’ behaviour, learning and appearance, seek to hand that control to the individuals themselves. Schools where students are allowed, even encouraged, to have individuality, not only in their clothing and appearance, but also in their learning choices and styles. Schools that allow students to choose their own paths, their own subjects, their own curriculum. Schools that do not overload children with excessive workloads for unwanted GCSE courses. Schools that, instead of seeking to achieve more A-C grades than all the others in their area, are seeking to create wise, thoughtful, critical-thinking, self-sufficient and motivated adults. You may never have heard of these schools… they aren’t much talked about, but they need to be.

 
They are schools like Summerhill, in Suffolk, Sands School, in Devon, and Wicklow Sudbury School in Dublin. They are education centres, like The Greenhouse Education Project, in Bath, Place to Grow  in Gloucestershire, The Self Managed Learning College  in Brighton and HEET in Hampshire. And they are projects that are just starting up or newly formed, like the East Kent Sudbury School, in the Southeast,  and Alexandra Park, in Manchester. Further afield, in countries with more flexible school registration requirements than ours, they are growing even faster. They are at the opposite end of that ‘control scale’. This is schooling rooted firmly in freedom and choice, or as I’m calling it here, Free-schooling!

 

 

You may have heard of the concept of unschooling; in a nutshell, this is a style of home-education, which is about as far from school as one can get. It is a totally autonomous (self-directed) way of learning that involves no imposed curriculum or structure, no timetabling or expectation to complete certain activities or assignments, or to study certain subjects. The child can steer their own path, decide when, what and how much they want to learn. And the remarkable thing is, evidence has shown it to be very successful. (www.self-directed.org/sde/why/)

 

These ‘free’ schools (not to be confused with the shambolic and divisive Govian free schools project!) follow a similar autonomous, self-directed educational philosophy. It’s not a new concept. In fact, according to Wikipedia the 1960s saw a surge in ‘Free Schools’ in America, as people became increasingly disillusioned with institutionalised learning. Sadly despite our very own Summerhill being one of the main sources of inspiration, the trend wasn’t echoed here in the UK; perhaps back then, there wasn’t such a need for it here. But that is changing. A new wave of democratic schools and learning centres is now beginning to emerge, not just in the UK, but across Europe and the world, too. Democratic schools have, at their heart, trust in the child. Unschooling and democratic schooling styles trust students to make choices, to follow their interests, to motivate themselves. And surprisingly, without the pressure of being forced to follow someone else’s plans, it absolutely works.

 

The concept of total child-directed learning, is largely unfamiliar, and often unpalatable to much of our population. The traditional, mainstream methods of schooling are so entrenched in our society, that suggestions of different, more successful, more effective schooling styles has become hard to swallow. But increasingly, parents are turning their backs on the rigid and controlling school system, and seeking out more flexible options such as home education. Now is the perfect opportunity for alternative schools like these, to rise and shine.

 
In fact, all over the country and beyond, groups of people are committed to making this kind of education more accessible. Groups such as Eudec and  The Phoenix Education Trust and the Alliance for Self Directed Education are working hard to raise awareness, and push forward a shift in our thinking about education. There are lots of preparations underway, ahead of what looks to be a real turning point in our education provision. It is possible that fully autonomous education, free-style education, may soon be available to more than just the home educating community.

 
If you are curious to know more about this style of education, I invite you to delve deeper, using the links above. If you look into it, there may well be a group of people near to you, beginning a journey into democratic ‘free’ education. And if there’s not, you could always put the idea out there locally and see if there’s interest.

 
Education does not have to be rigidly directed, imposed and controlled. It works better if it is fluid, dynamic and most importantly, self directed.

 
It works best if we trust learners to direct it themselves.
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Falling at the first hurdle: the real reason our 4 and 5 year olds are not school-ready

Few things get me as riled up, as the unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure that our school system puts on our children.

This headline appeared in today’s news:

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“Too many new pupils not school ready, say head teachers”

Apparently, according to 86% of headteachers in this survey from the NAHT (a leading headteachers’ union), the number of children starting school without being “school ready” is increasing, and they believe the top reasons for it are:

  • failure to identify and support children’s additional needs;
  • parents having less resources;
  • pressure on family life;
  • reductions in local services to support families.

Really? I mean, REALLY?

What planet are these headteachers on? Was the survey written so as not to allow respondents to give the real reason – that the expectations now being placed on our 4 and 5 year olds are, at best, simply unrealistic and, at worst, dangerously damaging?
The brains, bodies and emotions of 4 and 5 year olds are not developmentally ready for academic schooling. It’s as simple as that. It’s not down to parents not having resources, or families not being offered educational support. It’s because we are expecting too much, too young. And nothing else.
There are numerous, very reliable and expert studies into early childhood development and early learning, that prove beyond doubt that 4 or 5 is too young for formal schooling. Some of that evidence has helpfully been collated here by the University of Cambridge, in support of the Too Much Too Soon campaign, whose aim is to get this message through to the people that need to hear it.

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And yet our ministers and our Department for Education are simply not listening!
And although many schools will have you believe that their reception year is “largely play-based” (or words to that effect), walk into any Year R classroom at 9.30am on any given day, and I could almost guarantee that you will see teacher-led, formal instruction, most likely in either English or Maths. Maybe not during the first few “settling-in” weeks, but certainly by the end of the autumn term, it’s all systems go.

Because Foundation Stage teachers are under just as much pressure as any other teacher, to prove their students are performing. They still have to provide evidence and assessments and progress reports, to prove those children are continually learning. And since the rearrangement of the national curriculum, every single year group in primary schools, is finding themselves teaching content that used to be reserved for older children; more complex and often developmentally inappropriate skills. From the moment the new curriculum was proposed, teachers, headteachers and education experts expressed their concern, as this article from 2013 clearly shows. No wonder our Early Years staff are having to force these unrealistic expectations on our 4 and 5 year olds. It’s affecting every class in the school.
Now the problem of “school-readiness” is apparently so dire, that almost a quarter (24%) of those asked, estimated that over half of their intake was not school-ready, with concerns including speech, language and communication issues, personal, social and emotional development, behaviour issues, and physical development.
But can we really expect children of 4, especially those summer-borns who have only just turned 4, to be expert enough in all these areas to be able sit still, listen intently, not distract others, take in everything a teacher is saying, while trying to block out the other 25 children around them, follow instructions without question, remember new routines, cope with long days, wrap their brains around whatever new facts or information or skills they are expected to learn that day, and do all this while behaving themselves according to the classroom rules. There is so much here that simply goes against their human nature – against their desire to play and explore and experiment and steer their own learning, and against what their brains and bodies are actually capable of doing at that age. Some may say that this has happened for many years, and nobody had a problem with it until now. But you cannot deny that the pressure on teachers and schools, to churn out impressive data and test results, has certainly skyrocketed in recent years. Perhaps before, the stakes were not so high as they now are, with schools being threatened with special measures or even closure or academy conversion, if progress data and results are not good enough.
I can’t help feeling, when findings such as these are published, that the onus is being wrongly shifted – away from the school system itself and onto preschools, families and support or intervention terms – the scapegoats. In truth, the problem is not that those groups aren’t doing everything possible for their children; the problem is that traditional schooling requires far more than its youngest cohort can manage.

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It’s not the children that need to change. It’s the ridiculously low school starting age, and the detrimental forcing of an academic curriculum onto them.
In other words, the whole thinking behind school-readiness needs to be turned on its head. Perhaps we do not need greater government investment in early years education (including more education before school) or family services, as the NAHT suggests. If children aren’t coping with the expectations of schooling at such a young age, and with the plethora of supporting evidence from psychologists and child development experts, why aren’t our education ministers listening, and suggesting alternatives? A later start to formal schooling, would bring us into line with the rest of the world, and radically ease this whole “school-readiness” problem.
And it would give our nation’s school children the fair chance at success that they need when they first enter the school system, rather than causing so many to fall down at the first hurdle.

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Can’t we just let clothes be clothes?

Recently, social media has been flooded with posts about kids’ clothes. The cause? A couple of our UK high street retailers (John Lewis and Clarks ) announced their plans to do away with “boys” and “girls” labels, and sell their children’s ranges as unisex.

Well, the internet went mad!

A read through the flurry of social media comments reveals a nation divided: one side thankfully commending the retailers for their open-mindedness, relieved that their children can now freely choose clothes they like without stigma, and without being made to think those were “only for boys” or “only for girls”; the other side complaining, either that this would make clothes shopping so much more laborious, or that this was political correctness gone crazy, that boys should wear boys’ clothes, girls should wear girls’ clothes, and that’s that.

Personally, I find myself firmly on the thankful side.

Jessica (my 6 year old) is very sensitive, both emotionally and physically, so clothes are a big issue in our house. Anything with frills, lacy edging, capped or puffed sleeves, or fancy embellishments (ie the majority of the “girls” section in many shops) is out of the question for her, because they feel unbearably irritating on her skin. And while both she and Amy (my 5 year old) love unicorns, kittens and “fashion” dolls, they are also massive fans of Star Wars, dinosaurs, Minecraft, Pokémon, Paw Patrol and Blaze, all of which I’ve noticed (at least where clothes are concerned) are often marketed towards and labelled for boys, rather than girls, by many retailers. Which IS frustrating.

Thankfully, in the last couple of years, in the shops we use (mainly supermarkets and budget-end clothes shops) there has been more overlapping of styles, colours and especially character designs, across the girls’ and boys’ sections, but still I find myself browsing both sections, to find the right T shirts, tops, hats etc. When I’m shopping alone, this is nothing more than mildly annoying, but when I’m with the kids, it’s an uneasy feeling having to coax your sensitive 6 year old daughter into the boys’ section, to show her that there’s more clothes in there that would be right up her street. Then come the protests: “No, look, it says those are boys’ clothes! These are the girls’ ones!” And despite being on a mission to teach my kids that conformity is overrated, sadly they are bombarded with it from virtually every other angle, that girls should stick to certain designs with their specific selection of colours, details and characters, and boys should stick to theirs.

Perhaps the most noticeable culprits are the characters and colours of underwear. Boys’ underwear (understandably) is shaped differently to girls, making department-hopping less of an option. But have you ever tried finding Star Wars or Pokemon themed girls’ underwear? Everything, frustratingly, is pink and emblazoned with princesses, unicorns or equally stereotyped designs. But it hasn’t always been this way…

Interestingly, customs and traditions around children’s clothing have varied widely throughout the generations. Did you know, for example, that (according to this article) throughout much of the 19th century, it was normal for all young children, regardless of their sex, to be clothed in plain white dresses? Practicality overrode fashion: the dresses were easy to get on and off, and allowed for relatively fuss-free nappy changing, and the plain white colour allowed for easy bleaching.

Things gradually changed later in that century, with the introduction of more colour, until it was customary for little BOYS to be dressed in PINK, and GIRLS to be dressed in the “more delicate” pastel BLUE (yes, you DID read that correctly).

Later still, according to that article, moving into the 20th century, children’s clothes once again became much less segregated, with no particular colour or style associations. Gender-neutral romper suits were the order of the day. It wasn’t until the 40s, that the whole pink and blue thing began again, this time with boys’ clothes predominantly blue and girls’ pink. Marketers must have jumped at the opportunity to persuade us we needed to kit our babies and kids out in the correct colours. And as consumers, we fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

And the characters? Well, that’s the product of our obsession with media. Film-makers and TV producers very cleverly market their characters to very specific audiences, and their merchandise follows suit. But what if you’re a girl that likes Transformers or Ninja Turtles? What if you’re a boy that wants to wear a pink or purple shirt, or buy a Paw Patrol hat with Skye on it, rather than Marshall?

And why are some people so opposed to allowing our kids this autonomy, this freedom of choice?

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In most cases, it’s not a practicality issue: the clothes are functionally the same (with the exception of perhaps underpants or trousers that may be shaped differently for obvious reasons). So why the segregation? When you consider the way kids’ fashion has changed throughout history, to insist we should keep things this way forever, seems pretty closed-minded and stubborn. Future generations do not have to live exactly like past generations, surely? We learn from history and move with the times, don’t we?

And will it really make the task of shopping more arduous and laborious? I can understand this point, that it won’t be as simple as walking straight to the “girls” section or the “boys” section (or clicking on one tab or the other on a website). But on the other hand, it opens up a whole load more options for children and their parents. Maybe there were some great t-shirts, that would have suited your kid perfectly, but you never saw them because you never ventured into the other aisle. Maybe your child will have the opportunity to brighten up their wardrobe with a whole new range of colours that were previously “unavailable” if you only ever shopped in that one section of the clothes shop. Maybe your child will leave a shop, even just a tiny bit happier that he found the perfect pair of shorts that felt just right and made him feel like a million dollars. Maybe your daughter will finally feel comfortable wearing sturdy, protective shoes that are more suited to playground running, climbing and scuffing that all children should be free to enjoy. So if it really does mean a shopping trip takes a little longer than it used to (though I’m skeptical that it even would in reality), then that’s not a bad thing.  A browse around the shop might just open your eyes – or your mind – to some new products or designs you weren’t aware of.

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But even without all that, why should we be told what colours, designs or styles our children can or can’t wear, by the very businesses whose purpose is to serve us? We are the customers, not the slaves. We should be telling THEM what WE want to buy, and if they want our custom, they should be taking notice and delivering the goods, not the other way around. Thankfully, parents and families ARE speaking up about the types of clothes we want for our children, and thankfully, retailers like Clarks and John Lewis are listening.

This is not about political correctness. This is not about denying that “boys are boys” or “girls are girls”. And it’s not about somehow forcing “gender fluidity” on people, as some of the protestors in the social media comments seem to be very wary of. It is not denying anybody anything, or forcing any ideals on anyone. In fact, it is the opposite; it is about retailers listening to, valuing and responding to their customers. But more importantly, it is about widening choice for our children, freeing them up to wear the clothes that they find most comfortable, most practical, or most appealing, no matter who they are.

Clothes don’t need to be assigned a specific gender.

Can we just let clothes be clothes?

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7 reasons why home educators don’t worry about “socialisation”

“Home education sounds great, and I’d love to do it; but what about the whole social aspect?”

This is a comment I’ve seen and heard (or variations of it) many MANY times, since beginning to consider home education. It’s the one about socialising… and friendships…

There seems to be a widespread misconception, that home education somehow denies children the opportunity to socialise or make friends. I can kind of understand where it comes from… I don’t know for sure, but I suspect there may have been a time, in generations before this one, in which home educated children spent their “schooling” hours sitting  at a desk in their home, being tutored.  Or perhaps that’s the way it has been portrayed in books, films, photographs from yesteryear. But today, this is by no means the reality. Far from it, in fact.

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I have to admit, before I had children of my own and began to look further into home education (many people here in the UK prefer the term “home education” to “homeschooling”, for this very reason), I think I shared this flawed vision. As a teacher I’d known a few students who’d left the school system to be home educated, and I guess back then I imagined them sitting at a table, with workbooks in front of them; a parent sitting opposite, teaching them. It would never have occurred to me that perhaps families that aren’t bound by school expectations might do things differently.  I had no reason at the time, to educate myself in the ways of home education. Nor (as brutal as it sounds) was it any of my business. So yes, I probably shared the same misconceptions, ignorance even, about how home educating families function: a misguided image of each family, operating alone, in their home. A vision – apparently – shared by so many who are unfamiliar with it, totally oblivious to how it really works.

So here is the truth. A window on our world, which will hopefully put some minds at rest, whether you are considering home educating your own children, or concerned about others. This is why there really is no issue with socialisation for home educated kids…

1) Home education doesn’t all happen at home.

Sometimes I wonder if this might be the biggest and most confusing misnomer of all. It unfortunately does nothing to dispel this myth that our education happens in the home, within the family, when in reality it happens all over the place, with all kinds of people. In fact, there must be as many ways to educate, as there are children, but legally the umbrella term “home education” is the one we all find ourselves grouped under: those children who are not registered at a school are considered to be “home educated”. But it certainly doesn’t all happen at home. It can, and does, happen anywhere… and everywhere.

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There is no rule that says you have to be at home studying for a certain amount of time; no rule that says you have to sit and learn from a teacher, or from books; no rule saying you have to have a timetable or a curriculum. It is nothing like school. It is a totally different way of learning. Many families, in fact, spend no time whatsoever sitting and intentionally learning at home, because education happens perfectly adequately without any of that. It happens in the shops, in the playground, at the library, in the swimming pool, at playdates, at the beach, in the woods, at a theme park… If education is intended to be a preparation for living a happy, independent life, then it’s not hard to see why many  families choose this way of educating through real experiences.

Some families choose to adopt a school-like structure, with more formal lessons, even a timetable perhaps – it can work very well for a lot of children – but even those children are not deprived of opportunities to be social. Structured learning can be done with other families (we see group tutoring sessions organised, workshops, group educational visits to museums etc). But beyond that, even for families that do their structured learning at home, it doesn’t take all day, as it would in school. Learning at home can be much quicker. A day’s “lessons” can be accomplished in a couple of hours rather than the 5 or 6 hours spent at school, leaving the rest of the day available for socialising.

If you are interested in reading more about the real time spent “curriculum-learning” in school (you might be surprised), I wrote about it in another article, here: Time is Precious.

2) There is a home-ed community, that most non-home-educators know very little about.

It is massive; it is local; and it is growing by the day. My children have never set foot inside a school, but they have plenty of friends from this community. Just in our corner of the UK, there are groups and activities, full of home educated kids, every day of the week. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a day without some home ed activities going on. Non-home-educators don’t hear about these or see them, because more often than not, they’ll be at work or at home, or elsewhere, and because these things aren’t advertised outside of the home ed community. I find that when I explain this to people, they are visibly surprised. If you’re considering home education for your child, but have been worried about this, a quick Facebook  search with “home education” and the name of your county or region, should put your mind at ease.  The community is growing rapidly, with more and more parents and children becoming disillusioned with our broken school system and looking for an alternative. The extent of opportunities to develop friendships and social skills within the local home ed community, is vast, and incredibly varied. Which leads me on to…

3) Home educated children socialise with the full age-range and with children from all kinds of backgrounds.

The social groups, learning activities, outings and informal meet-ups are often open to a wide range of age groups. Admittedly, some groups may be limited by age, of course: for example a sports group or forest school might be split into older and younger children, so that appropriate skills can be focused on. But in most cases, all ages are welcome, often including pre-school aged siblings, right through to teens. And it’s fascinating to watch how they interact with each other. Psychologist and advocate for autonomous education, Peter Gray, wrote a brilliant account of the value and benefits of this kind of age-mixed learning, here.

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But it isn’t just in its age-range that the home ed community is diverse. It includes families from all kinds of backgrounds, faiths, social classes, ethical beliefs and philosophies. What better way to help children to learn how to socialise, than to allow them to encounter such diverse beliefs and customs for themselves, and to chat freely with peers from all walks of life?

4) They can socialise without unwelcome interruptions.

Putting my school teacher hat on for a moment (one I wear less and less nowadays), I can attest that a lot of children say the best part of school is seeing their friends. But can’t they still do that without school? Without school, there’s the opportunity to play and learn without being interrupted by a bell or whistle that’s telling you to stop playing and come back inside and learn; there’s the opportunity to work together on something with a friend, and get really stuck into it without distractions from 25 other children in the class; the opportunity to take your focus off on a tangent and discover something new without being steered back onto the course that someone else had planned. Real, true, uninterrupted, social learning.

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5) Home education allows children to retreat when necessary.

As a parent to two highly sensitive, introverted young children, this is perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for us right now. When necessary, there’s the opportunity to take a break from people (even good friends that we love dearly) and be alone for whole days at a time if the children need to. In my family we call it “home days”. Some will call it downtime. It’s time for them to retreat away from others and allow themselves the space and time to think about themselves, and the things they’ve been doing. To reflect on things. To re-energise and recharge. Perhaps for some children, spending 6 hours a day,  5 days a week, with the same group of people, may sound like heaven. But for many it’s exactly the opposite, and the source of much stress and anxiety. With home education, you can be busy with other children all day, every day, if you want to. But you don’t HAVE to. It’s a choice that each family can make based on their own children’s needs, and a choice that schooled children definitely do not have.

6) Home educated children DO learn about authority.

It’s another question I hear, often: “How will they learn to listen to people in authority?” If I’m totally honest, I’m often a little confused by what people really mean by this… I think it’s actually them asking one of two things:

A) “How will they learn skills or knowledge from an (authority) expert?” In this case, I wonder why some people think that all these experts are ONLY found in schools? There are experts in real life, doing these things for real, and often writing books about how to learn it, or making online tutorials… why would anybody need to be in school to learn specific skills from an authority figure in that area? In fact, I wrote about this before too, in an article here, entitled “Why homeschoolers don’t need “qualified teachers

More often, though, I think it’s:

B) “How will they learn to do what they are told and obey a superior?” To this, I say, actually… maybe they won’t. Not in the way that you mean, anyway.

They will learn about having true respect for the authority figures they encounter in everyday life. They will learn to assertively put across their own viewpoint and enter into discussion or negotiation with them. Surely this has to be better than learning how to blindly and dumbly follow an adult’s instructions, simply because that’s how you were taught that authority works? Not much progress would be made anywhere in the world, if all adults simply followed their superior’s instructions. Imagine it in government… a dictatorship in which every citizen plays along, every politician is a yes-man. Imagine it in a business… no bright new ideas offered up, no entrepreneurial opportunities or risks taken, just mindlessly following orders. Imagine it in a family… a domineering, authoritarian parent and spouse, imposing their will on the others in the household, who follow without question. And if you consider this notion in regards to exploitation, it can become really scary. Do I really want my daughter to feel like she HAS to do what this person says because he is the adult in the room, even if her inner voice tells her NO? I realise this sounds extreme, but do we really want to teach our kids to blindly obey orders? Isn’t it better to show them that authority figures may well be deserving of respect, but that it is also ok, in appropriate ways, to ask questions, suggest alternatives, propose ideas?

I’m not saying I want us to raise a generation of anarchists; our children can learn about authority and respect, but without being compelled into thinking that one person should be obeyed at all times. With the many opportunities we encounter in our everyday lives, we learn about respected authority figures – police officers, gymnastics teachers, sports coaches, tutors, bus drivers, shop keepers. And, anyway, how people can believe that school is the place to learn a healthy respect for authority, when so many children rebel against it as they grow towards adulthood, is beyond me.

7) Children don’t have to be bullied to “learn how to deal with bullies”.

Here’s a thing… parents don’t send their child to school to be bullied… So why do home educators hear this so much – that one of the reasons school is good, is that it allows children to experience bullying and learn how to stand up to bullies? It’s UTTER nonsense and it makes me so angry when I read it (mostly on the comments of media/news articles about homeschooling – it literally always comes up!).

Imagine if, when you registered your child at a school, they said to you, ” Thank you for registering your child… just so you know, we have a policy of enforcing bullying, and will ensure that your child is bullied… don’t be alarmed by your child’s depression, self harming or suicidal tendencies, it’s all good preparation for dealing with bullies in adulthood, we promise…”

Honestly, I despair at this one. Surely, no loving parent would purposely cite this as a reason for sending their child to school? I’m sure any parent who has been on the other end, having seen their child’s life made a misery by bullies, or even just any parent who cares *an iota* about their child’s wellbeing and sanity, would be horrified by this! It’s absurd!

So how DO home educated children learn to cope with bullies? Through observation at the playground, or in local groups, through reading novels and reflecting on the characters, through characters on TV, through talking with parents or family members. They learn that you don’t have to sit next to them (or opposite them) day-in-day-out, and put up with them; that you can speak your mind to them and/or walk away; or that in a situation with a bullying group-member or co-worker, that the group leader should be consulted to help resolve this. It’s not rocket science, and it’s pretty much the same strategies they would learn in school, except that they’re not then forced to sit in a classroom with that same bully for the next three years. Even in a workplace this wouldn’t happen. Either the bully would be fired, or you’d find another workplace. Whoever came up with this idea that you have to BE bullied, to know about bullying? It’s really very strange! So the whole dealing with bullies issue, really isn’t an issue at all…

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So there we have it: the whole socialisation thing… debunked, surely?

Is it an issue for people who are home educating? No.

Is it an issue for people who don’t know very much about home educating? Most definitely. 

But by sharing a few reassurances like these, maybe we could begin to change some of these misconceptions.

By the way – I finally have a Facebook page! Click here! I look forward to seeing you there!

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Why homeschoolers don’t need “qualified teachers” 

It’s one of the arguments I hear all the time; a reason for sending children to school…

“They need properly qualified teachers who are experts in their subject!”

“They need people who are qualified to teach them, and know how to make them remember it!”

Please let me put this myth to rest.

I am one of those “expert” qualified school teachers;  I also home educate my own children, and I absolutely do NOT believe that our children all need qualified teachers to teach them. Here’s why…

Firstly, what makes a “qualified teacher”?

Qualified Teacher Status is the certification given on completion of teacher training. It used to be the case that schools only appointed teachers who had QTS. Incidentally, this is not the case anymore (more about that later) but let’s just, for the sake of this argument, assume that all teachers in schools are properly “qualified”. What does that really mean?

It means they have trained (and been assessed) to have the competence and knowledge to enable them to teach schoolchildren in a school. However, teacher training courses, with their lectures on pedagogy, and classroom management, and their in-school placements, bear no relation at all to home education.

They are designed to train schoolteachers to teach schoolchildren, in schools – a very, VERY different scenario to home education.

In teacher training, for example:

Teachers are trained to deliver a set curriculum, to groups of (30 or so) learners, in 60 minute slots (give or take);

They are trained in how to deliver that content in a group setting (organising activities for whole groups rather than one-to-one; lesson set-up and organisation; planning differentiated activities for children learning at different levels);

They are trained to deliver the curriculum to groups of children with different learning styles or preferences (eg visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, learning by rote, learning by teaching others, learning in a group or individually). Each child in that group of 30 has a unique learning style, so teachers are trained in a few of them);

They may be trained in how to assess whether or not their students have learned what they taught them, either during lessons so they can make ongoing judgements about groups of students, or perhaps by setting a test, or assessment activity that will provide a picture of whether they’ve understood a whole topic or concept;

And they might be taught how to meaningfully feedback, to 30 learners at a time, whether or not they’ve been successful in that lesson (that’s marking books, because they can’t keep 30 children waiting, while they go round the class one by one, telling them).

These are all essential skills for a  school teacher; without them, the task would be impossible. But home educated children do not need teachers who are qualified in all these things, because none of these things are necessary in home education.

You know your child and how they learn (or, if you don’t when you start out, you will soon). This means you can plan (or even allow your child to plan) how and what to learn, to suit your child and your family. You aren’t catering for a whole group of children. You are not tasked with filling 30 differently-wired brains with the same facts or skills. Instead, you can focus on your one child. And when they’ve learned something, you can tell if they have understood it and can apply it, without having to test them, and you can feed back instantly and in person.

What’s more, you don’t have to “make them remember it”. There is a growing movement among home educators, towards autonomous learning and unschooling. This is a way of learning in which the child themself determines what to learn and when, often without even realising they are doing so. If they want to learn it, or they see a need for it (including their own desire to take exams later on, if they choose) you won’t need to “make them remember it”; they will find ways to do this themselves. It still strikes me as a bit crazy that we try to force irrelevant facts into children’s heads against their will, and then try to come up with more and more ingenious ways to “make them remember it”. It kind of goes against human nature, doesn’t it?

Being a qualified teacher is also not about being a subject-knowledge expert. School teachers are not, by any means, guaranteed experts in their subject. As a primary teacher, I have found myself teaching subjects I have not “studied” formally since I was in school. In teacher training, there is very little in the way of specific subject knowledge, especially if you take a postgraduate teaching qualification (1 year, often fully placement-based nowadays). Instead, we teachers have to learn the curriculum content for ourselves, before we go about our unit planning. We do not have a vast bank of knowledge in our heads of things like the Mayan civilisation, or the circulatory system, or how to multiply fractions. We learn it before we teach it, or we learn it alongside our students, just like home educating parents would. The library and the internet are both wonderful inventions. The subject knowledge is all out there, waiting to be discovered.

Now, back to that point I mentioned earlier, about schools having (or not having) qualified teachers… As this recent article explains, schools are increasingly recruiting unqualified teachers. And even in my own experience, unqualified teaching assistants are often elevated to class teacher level, in light of teacher shortages (teaching assistants are invaluable, I’m sure any teacher would agree, but they have not undergone training in classroom management, teaching en masse, differentiation, assessment etc). And in many secondary schools, teachers now find themselves teaching subjects way beyond their specialism due to funding/timetabling constraints and certain subject specialist shortages. It’s becoming the norm now, to have unqualified school teachers teaching in schools. Despite my insistence that home educators don’t need qualified teachers, I do find it worrying that schools are increasingly appointing unqualified teachers; teacher training and qualification does equip teachers with essential class management strategies (as described above) without which, teaching and making judgments about whole classes of students, for whole programs of study, would be very difficult.

So does the argument that all children need to be taught by qualified teachers, really stand up to scrutiny? Honestly? No.

Children in schools, should definitely be taught by qualified school teachers; it’s a job that definitely requires a whole lot of training and competence.

But for children learning at home or out in the real world, parents do the job perfectly. I am both a teacher and a home educator, but I do not use the same skills for both. The skills I use to support my own children’s learning, are the same skills that I’m pretty sure most parents would be able to learn or muster if it came to it. They are skills that are concerned with supporting and allowing our children to learn things as our family chooses. Qualified teachers are not the experts when it comes to our children: we parents are.

And we can educate our own children.

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