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.


Today’s milestone: feeling free

Today felt like a milestone for me. It’s so weird that it was just an ordinary day for everyone else. But for me, it was an achievement.

For the last two years (more, even), I’ve felt frustrated. There’s a massive home-educating community in our part of the country, with things going on every day of the week. Things that I know my kids will love doing. Things that I will love doing with them, or knowing that they are doing. But until now, my job has always got in the way. The week days – when the majority of the groups and workshops and meets are held – have always been off-limits for me, due to my teaching job. It has always felt like the very time of day when I feel like I most want to be with my own children, I am without them, and with other people’s instead. And it has felt increasingly wrong. And incredibly frustrating.

Just under two weeks ago, I worked my last day. And I walked away from my teaching career. That day was also a milestone.

Last week, we headed off for some time away, staying in a caravan on a holiday park just far enough away from home to be a holiday, but not too far away to cost the Earth or have hours of travelling. And we all loved it. But the real magic is happening now we are home…

Today, after two years of missing it, we were finally able to go to one of the home-ed meets that I’ve been wanting to get to. Don’t get me wrong, we have been to home-ed meets and classes before, but it’s been hit and miss finding ones that my kids would enjoy that didn’t clash with my work timetable. And this was one that I had been really really wanting. And so had the kids. It’s a weekly swimming pool session, followed by picnic lunch and play at the park. It doesn’t even sound spectacular in any way. But to me, it is. My Tuesday – previously a workday sandwiched uncomfortably between other work days – suddenly feels free, and fun, and full of friends.

The kids didn’t stop all day. Any of them. They played in the pool, and they learned swimming and water skills from each other as they played. Then they played at the playground, obstacle courses, races, swinging on the swings together, chatting endlessly. Then, wanting some space from the mums and dads, they raced off over the field to the other side of the park, the ball courts, the trees that were waiting to be climbed. And they played for hours. I have no idea what they played. At times, they looked like they were hiding and seeking; at times, big sticks were brandished; at times they looked like they were racing, then wrestling, then tree-climbing. My children were free.


And for the first time in a long time (although often I was doing little more than sitting nearby, deep in conversations with other mums and dads, or providing a lap to sit on if the kids needed some comfort, or opening and closing lunchboxes), I felt free too. Free to do what I had hoped to be able to do when we first made the decision to home-educate two or three years ago. Free to educate my own children, not everyone else’s. And free to enjoy it.



Look at me, I am five!

Look at me, I am five,
Energetic and alive!
I love to learn, I love to play,
I’m making sure I stay that way!
I can’t sit still, can’t miss a trick,
My body’s growing, double quick.
My muscles love to stretch and play,
I like to run and jump all day.
My brain is bursting with ideas,
It’s full of wishes, dreams and fears,
I talk, I chatter, drive you nuts,
I shout, I cry, all ifs and buts,
I’m stubborn, and determined see?
To make things work my way, for me!
When problems come, I find a way,
It’s how I learn, when left to play!
If I am free, then you will find,
So full of fire, my body and mind,
Are not content to sit and wait
(“Sit cross legged; sit up straight”),
Don’t try to tell me what to learn,
And when, and how, so strict and stern.
If I’m ready, I will read,
When I really see the need;
I’ll read, I’ll write, because I choose,
Not because they force me to,
Till then, I’ll live my life my way,
Full of laughter, full of play;
But worry not, don’t be afraid,
I’m learning things they cannot grade;
I learn these things for fun, for pleasure,
Things curriculum tests can’t measure,
Logic, nature, friendship, grace,
Life and love, earth and space;
I love to learn, I’ll stay that way,
I’m five, the perfect age to play.




The things I will be

I will be your courage,
standing tall and stepping forward,
when your world seems suddenly filled with fear.

I will be your voice,
when you cannot find it,
because it has hidden somewhere deep inside,
unable to find the courage to come out and speak.

I will be your eyes,
as you wander blindly along the path of your life,
unable to see what is around the next corner.

I will be your support,
when you falter or stumble,
on your journey to that place you so desperately want to reach.

I will be your caution,
when you run without thinking,
headlong into a storm that could harm you.

I will be your legs,
when your body is too tired to walk,
but your journey must continue.

I will be your ears,
when your attention is fixed on something else,
but you are missing something that needs to be heard.

I will be your nurse,
helping you back to health when you are sick.

I will be your audience;
I will listen while you talk and while you ask questions.
I will listen to all your thoughts that find a voice.
I will watch as you grow, and as you play, and as you learn about your world.
I will watch while you dance.

I will be your reason,
which your young mind and inexperience has yet to discover,
because in your world so far,
there has been no need for it.

I will be your advocate,
when something needs to be said,
and sadly society may not recognise someone so young,
as the wonderful citizen that you are.

I will be your compass,
to alert you and redirect you when you lose your way,image
when you wander into paths that will lead you to dark places.

I will be your ears,
listening for opportunities that I may direct you to,
to experience the most wonderful parts of life.

I will be your conscience,
here to remind you when something needs putting right,
or to show you the choices you have before you.

I will be your teacher;
my experience and understanding of the world is a gift I have the privilege of passing on to you.
What you do with that gift, is your choice.
But it is mine to offer you, and yours to take.

I will be your guide;
I will steer you as best I can (and provided you allow me),
to do good things;
to succeed in your adventure;
to be happy and healthy.

I will be your truth;
I will not lie to you.
I will tell it like it is.
And I will be there to pick up the pieces when you discover that the world is not what you once thought.

I will be your justice,
showing you the effects of your actions on the people you meet – and the people you don’t.
Not with fear, but with compassion.

I will be your calm,
when you feel rage that overwhelms you and you feel like your body will explode.
I will be the calm that holds all your pieces together.

I will be your friend,
and I will hope that nothing will ever be too big, or too bad, or too secret to tell me,
especially if it is something that causes you pain.

I will be your constant;
Your world will change.
You will change.
But I will not.

All the things that I am right now, I will always be.

I will love you always.


Bedtime can wait


A strange thing happens in our house, at about 8pm, every night.

As soon as we tell the girls it’s getting towards bedtime, suddenly all sorts of stuff starts happening:

– Cities start to be built out of megablocks…
– Colouring, drawing, writing suddenly becomes urgent…
– Workbooks suddenly become the most exciting books in the house…
– Jigsaws suddenly have to be completed…
– Elaborate structures have to be constructed from connecting cubes or magformers…

It’s almost as if, when that 10 minute warning signal is given, it’s all hands to the deck – no time to waste.

OK, I know in reality it’s my kids trying to pull a fast one: they get busy doing something, we let them carry on, they get to stay up a bit later than we’d planned…

But is that really a bad thing?

Well actually, I don’t think it is… And that’s why I find myself telling my husband, every evening, “Let’s just give them a little bit longer…”

They’ve learned to play the game – oh yes, they’re smart! They are only 3 and 4 years old, but they’ve learned that getting certain activities out, right before bedtime, buys them a few minutes of extra time. And in doing so, they think they have got one over on us…(!!)

Drawing, writing, counting, building, imaginative play, puzzles, jigsaws… you name it: they’ve tried it.

And they know it works.

In the teaching profession, after years of living by the bell and having to drop whatever we were doing when the bell rang for playtime or lunchtime or assembly time, one of the things that drew me towards home educating, was the freedom to learn whenever and wherever suited the child. And if that is at 8 o’clock at night, in the short time before bed, well… so be it.

If this is the way to achieve a child-directed education, we’ll do it.

If the best and most valuable learning takes place in the half hour before bed, then d’you know what? I’m happy with that!

Because we don’t live by the bell. Or the timetable. Or the curriculum.

We live our lives by the things our brains and our hearts are telling us. We live and we learn. And when the kids want to learn (even if they don’t realise they are learning), I’m going to let them learn.

Bedtime can wait.



What if children were trees?



What if children were trees?


A young man stood, looking out over his field, clutching a handful of seeds.

All the seeds were slightly different. Some were different shapes; some varied in their colour or size.

The young man held them all carefully in his hands.

As he planted his seeds, he took great care. He prepared the soil lovingly, placed the seeds in tenderly, and bedded them in gently. Then he left his seeds to grow.

In time, tiny green shoots gradually began to emerge from the soil. But not all at the same time.

Some shoots seemed desperate to emerge. They shot upwards within days, reaching ever higher, gaining momentum that seemed to accelerate them skyward.

Others came up slowly but surely, strong and steady.

The rest took their time to germinate. They developed more slowly from their seed, before eventually raising their tiny heads above the soil.

Each seedling grew at its own pace. For each seed contained a slightly different mix of genes, and had experienced slightly different conditions before it had been planted. And as each one grew, these inherited and environmental factors began to play out their effects.

Tiny seedlings began to develop into young plants. When the man came back, to look over his field, he saw a great many plants beginning to grow. Every seed had germinated. Every one had begun to take root in the soil. Each was beginning to grow in height, in strength, in complexity. Each was beginning to function as a young plant does, absorbing water and minerals from the soil and soaking up the sunshine that poured onto its leaves. Each was making its own glorious, sugary food to survive and grow.

The man looked at his plants, and he was pleased.

As he walked through his field of tiny trees, he began to notice a few things…

This one just here was bending over, as if reaching towards its neighbour, instead of reaching towards the sky…

That one over there had only 4 leaves on it, many fewer than all the others seemed to have…

This one over here was covered in tiny white spots, though it seemed not to mind a bit…

That one there was looking a little yellow, where all those around it were green…

One, a few yards away, was almost 2 feet taller than all the rest…

In fact, the more he looked, the more the old man began to realise that every one of them was different – just as the seeds had once been. Each sapling was growing in its own way, at its own pace, developing its own style, its own shape, its own colour. Straight stems, crooked stems; many branches, few branches; green leaves, yellow leaves; stretching tall stems, hovering low stems.

The man looked over his field of young trees and smiled.  His trees were growing perfectly. He was pleased with the beautiful variety he saw among them. They were doing exactly what their genes had programmed them to do: collecting their nutrients from the soil and the sunshine; radiating their life-giving oxygen into the air.

Each tree was growing perfectly.

In the following years, the trees grew more mature. At times the soil in some areas became depleted, and some leaves yellowed and withered. But those trees still grew. They found ways to spread their roots into the spaces left by others. They learned to dig deeper into the soil to reach layers that the other trees did not even know existed.

At times, the taller trees blocked the sunlight for the smaller trees. But the smaller trees still grew. Their branches grew longer and stronger, reaching out in different directions, seeking out the light in whatever spaces they could find. They grew leaves that were broader and flatter, in order to soak up more precious sunlight.

At times, the very tall trees swayed and bent over frighteningly in the strong wind. But they still grew. Their roots and trunks grew stronger and firmer, anchoring them securely to the spot. In fact, these tall, flexible trees fared better in the strongest winds, fewer branches snapping and falling.

The trees with only a few leaves, burst into blossom, blooming instead with beautiful vibrant flowers that brought brightness and colour to the young forest as they grew.

The trees with spots and gnarls and knobbles and strange colours, continued to look unusual. But they still grew. Their textures and their appearance provided perfect shelter for tiny insects, camouflaged and protected from their predators as they settled on the bark.

When the man next returned to visit his field, every one of his trees had grown. Some just a little, some a lot. Some upwards, some outwards. Some were beginning to knit their branches together with their neighbours, like fingers reaching out to hold hands. Others stood alone, proudly solitary. Each one was doing what it had to do, living its own life, in its own way, in its own time. The man was very pleased.

As the seasons passed, the trees continued to grow. Rains filled every root. Sunlight bathed every leaf. Warmth and cold provided every individual with nourishment, strength and resilience.

Every tree grew. Every tree changed.

Many of the slower growing trees now began to accelerate, as the others slowed down their growth. Discoloured leaves changed to vibrant greens as the rains brought precious minerals closer to their roots. Willowy, thin stems that seemed to bend and bough, grew thicker and firmer, steadying the branches, and providing space for the shorter trees to finally flourish. Many trunks retained their gnarls and their knobbly bits, and some trees grew in the most weird and wonderful shapes. But all were strong and healthy.

As the trees aged, so too did the man. When he finally returned, he stood in wonder.

What lay before him, was a forest. A lush, green, mature forest, filled with healthy, strong, beautiful trees. As he entered the forest, he looked around at the beauty.

Each tree had fully grown. Each tree looked different, unique and individual. Most were tall, but some were much taller still. Some spread their canopy wide, while others were very narrow. Some were clumped together in groups, some stood alone. Some had trunks that were smooth, others were covered with bumps and bruises. Some were dropping leaves, some dropping branches. Some had crows nesting high up in their tops, some had rabbits burrowing deep among their roots.

The old man knew that these trees were no longer his. These trees were very much their own. Strong, adult and independent.

As the old man walked through the forest he breathed in their air: sweet, life-giving oxygen, that every one of them produced.

He touched the wooded trunks as he passed, an endless array of textures: smooth, scratchy, silvery.

He looked at the ground before him, where every one of them was dropping seeds, all ready to be carried off to a new location, to begin the cycle again.

He stopped, and listened. Every tree was whispering, their leaves and branches filling the forest with the softest, sweetest symphony.

Each one of these trees was – quite simply – perfect.

They always had been, from the moment he had collected them as tiny seeds, through their young sapling lives, and into adulthood.

Each one had grown as it had meant to, at its own pace, behaving in its own way, learning how to thrive, and how to live alongside the others.

Smiling, the old man sat down under the trees, and closed his eyes.

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