Jacquelyn MacDonald-Fawcett presents the case for home education.
A growing number of parents are now choosing to enter the exciting world of home education. This figure has risen dramatically as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and fears around overcrowding in schools, but it’s fair to say that even prior to the ‘try before you buy’ practise run the whole country enjoyed (or didn’t), many of us had already decided to give it a go.
Having been a teacher and Head of Special Educational Needs in schools in Suffolk for over 12 years, I took the somewhat daunting decision to leave my career behind to home educate my then 12-year-old son. There were several reasons for this, but ultimately, it boiled down to the fact that there were just too many elements of the mainstream system that inhibited his progress. I should point out here that I am by no means ‘anti-school’; I have two other children who continue to attend good Local Authority run schools; I simply recognise that the Victorian model of education, which hasn’t had a significant shake up since the1960s, definitely does not suit every child, nor does it seem willing to adapt at a pace.
It’s fair to say the current ‘Generation Youth’ have had a lot to deal with; growing up in a world post 9/11, where acts of terrorism around the world are reported daily; a poverty gap that mirrors Dickensian times; Local Authorities on their knees around every issue from housing to mental health and of course, the biggest international crisis faced since the 1940s…World War Covid! Is it any wonder our young people are a little fragile?
The real question is, what have schools – by which I mean Local Authorities, by which I obviously mean the government – been able to do to support the ever-growing number of challenges and insecurities faced by our young people? I feel as though I can hear the anguished cries of the hundreds of families I’ve spoken to since being a parent, a teacher and a home educator, echoing through my head. The answer is quite clearly…nothing!
Most schools are doing everything in their power to support their students, but the fact is, they are powerless and very poor! This massive deficit in funding means that it is no longer enough for educators to be specialists in their subject area; they now need to be an expert in mental health, learning difficulties, anger management, conflict resolution, gender identity, emotional & behavioural dysregulation and a family liaison officer to boot. All the while, desperately clinging on to their own sense of wellbeing. Add to this, the fact that class sizes are now beyond manageable; it is not at all difficult to see why some students fall through the cracks; others seek their own ways to entertain themselves, and the rest become so overwhelmed they simply cannot face the day.
All of that said, there are many reasons why families choose to home educate, but the freedom for the child to learn what they want, when they want and how they want, probably sums up most people’s motivation, regardless of whether or not they have had experience in the mainstream system or whether their child has additional needs.
Environment is an overriding factor when choosing to home educate. Most schools (secondary in particular), are noisy, over-crowded sensory tornadoes of concrete, strip lights and chaos. Students are forced to shuffle through narrow, airless corridors from one soulless cube of a classroom to another, being asked to constantly adapt to different teaching styles; to learn about subjects which for many will be useless; bombarded by assessments which only serve to measure them against a supposedly national level of academic acceptance, whilst being repeatedly told that anything less amounts to failure. A wry smile creeps across my face when I read that last bit back, given the number of parents who still look at home educators and think we’re the crazy ones! For most young people, this is certainly not an environment conducive with a holistic, joyful learning experience, but for the neurodiverse child, it is nothing short of Hell.
For anyone considering this route of education, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience available at the click of a button, most of which can be accessed via social media groups. Parents who are already ‘home edding’ are always keen to support and guide newcomers to the community. One question we often hear is, ‘but what about socialisation?’ There are two important points to raise here; firstly, many of the children who have left mainstream education, have done so in part because they struggle with the social aspects of school and the emotional strain it can place on them. Often, children only feel confident enough to socialise if they can engage with others on their own terms. Secondly, if you decide to immerse yourself in home ed, this so-called social deficit myth is quickly debunked; there is a veritable smorgasbord of opportunities for home ed. gatherings, covering a vibrant and diverse array of interests, from academic sessions in English, Maths, Science, Computing etc, to archery, African drumming, Forest Schools and much more! All of which create opportunities for young people to socialise in a safe, child led environment.
So my advice to anyone thinking about joining us, is do your research, speak to other families and if it feels right, it probably is. No one will ever be more invested in your child’s success than you are!
For more information regarding Step Forward English and Maths sessions, please contact 07734701957 or visit stepforwardeducation.co.uk.
Jacquelyn MacDonald-Fawcett is a teacher and Head of Special Educational Needs in schools in Suffolk for over 12 years, now a teacher supporting home educators at Step Forward Education.