Bear with me. This is a steep learning curve for me and I’m not pretending to be an expert in this area (well not yet anyway!). What I share with you here today is simply what I’ve found so far.
With that in mind then, if you have further evidence and links you can share on home schooling (particularly as it relates to UK home education) please do share these in the comments section and I’ll update this post to include the ones I think fit best.
Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that my children’s school is closing. We’re desperately fighting to wrestle control from the governors who have proven, to the satisfaction of literally thousands of people directly connected to the school as parents, teachers, community members et., that they aren’t just incompetent but have set a course they have no intention of deviating from.
One way or another, even if we can regain control soon, the school will probably close and a group of us are very likely to home school our children come September – at least for a year until the school can be reopened with a new board of governors who will be open, honest, transparent and accountable. In short, everything the current board are not.
My research so far, however, shows that home schooling is not a ‘second best’ option at all; far from it. Nor is it an impossible task for busy parents – especially not when, as in our case in St Bees, there are a group of children likely to home school and a lot of teachers willing to give their time and effort to mentor and guide them. Here then are just some of the benefits to home education.
1) Home schooled children do better academically than classroom educated children
According to The Guardian, 80.4% of home educated students did as well as the top 16% of school educated students.
That’s a staggering statistic.
It basically says if you want your son or daughter to reach the academic heights of the minority of the very top school educated then you are very likely to succeed if you home educate them. 4 out of 5 kids succeed this way!
But it isn’t just about traditional educational success. Home schooling encourages a lifelong love of learning – a skill which has never been more vital today. When I was a state school teacher it was the single skill I actively tried to instil in my students. My subject was unimportant. I tried to show them learning could be fun and doesn’t end even when you’re a teacher yourself.
Unfortunately, schools are under constant pressure to squeeze children into narrowly defined boxes in order to improve ratings in league tables. One of my teacher friends working in a junior school tells me all the time how assessment after assessment has to be undertaken and it simply gets in the way of real teaching – I mean teaching where the class can explore ideas and let their imagination go wild.
Another useful aspect to home education is that you can choose what kind of course is best for your child. For instance, though we’ve not completely decided yet if I will home educate my twelve-year-old son if I do I’m probably going to ditch the Key Stage 3 programme his age group is supposed to study and instead put him on to GCSEs (designed for 14-16 year-olds). This is because he has a sharp mind but also has ADHD and is easily bored. He’s bright – though doesn’t believe himself academically so – and could handle GCSEs, giving him three or four years to learn the material and skills if needs be. With exams available twice a year, he could end up with more GCSEs and confidence in academic pursuits than he would in formal classes.
2) Home schooling is better for children who struggle with school rules
It seems odd, doesn’t it? Your son is easily bored in classes. He hates school. He never gets his homework done in time and timetables simply don’t work for him. You couldn’t possibly home educate him – he’d never do anything!
The flexible nature of home schooling means that your child gets to take responsibility for their own education. Finally they can take a break when they want it and go back when they want to. Rather than making them lazy, every home schooler I’ve spoken to, or researched, says that they find their children do more.
“My daughter can spend hours on geography,” one home school parent told me, “and she knows more than we do about it now.”
When kids enjoy something they can keep their attention on it much longer than when it is forced on them. It also helps that learning is much faster at home. In a classroom the teacher has to make sure every single student has understood a concept or new skill before moving on. This means the moving at the speed of the slowest in the class. In reality the slower learners inevitably struggle to keep up anyway while the fastest ones get bored. With home schooling your child progresses at their own natural speed. For real high-flyers it is possible to complete a single GCSE course in one month. Most courses claim to take 120 hours. Six hours per day, five days per week and a course would be done in four weeks. You could complete 20+ GCSEs in the time it takes school educated children to take 6-10.
I am not, of course, suggesting you do this. But what it shows is that subjects which take two years in schools (and often have a bit of a rush at the end as teachers realise they’ve still not got to the end of the syllabus!) can actually take much less time at home. Your child is more likely to be engaged and progress at speed – not less.
Credit: Ryan Lash/TED
3) The classroom model is flawed
Educationalist Ken Robinson talks about this much better than I. Watch this fascinating visual presentation of one of his talks to see exactly what the problem is. It’s fun too.
His upshot is this: our school model is based on industrial revolution economic ideas. We educate in segregated departments and push kids through in batches according to ages and not ability. This happens nowhere else in life. Imagine working in a job where no matter how skilled and talented you were you could only progress upwards when you reached certain ages. Imagine watching a colleague older than you and terribly incompetent becoming your boss purely because they turned 40 without an interview or any other reason for promoting them!
Salman Khan created the Khan Academy which is rocking the educational premises of the world. I have to say I completely agree with Khan’s ethos and I’m particularly impressed with how schools are taking on his material in the USA. In short his premise is this:
In traditional models, the class teacher teaches group of kids of widely varying abilities and new concept or subject, hopes all students have understood properly and then sets homework to test how well they’ve understood.
I know what it’s like to teach to that model. Thousands of teachers are doing this every day. It’s hard and every teacher knows it doesn’t work. If it did there would be no OFSTED, no league tables and no politician promising to reform our educational system to improve our schools.
Instead, schools embracing Khan’s system take advantage of the fact that every school kid has access to the internet these days and the dated industrial revolution idea of teaching in batches because resources are limited no longer apply. The traditional model is turned on its head.
In Khan schools, the lesson becomes the homework. Kids watch video lessons online at home. That way they can replay over and over if they need to and fully understand every single concept. Then at school they work on computers, laptops, iPads etc., and working in class on assessments and challenges which the teacher can keep track of and which allows students to progress at their own rate. Now the teacher, instead of being lecturer at the front, now becomes ‘guide by the side’. They can give full, directed attention to the students that need it without fettering the able students, preventing them from progressing.
If every state school taught like this I would happily send my kids to any school in the area. They don’t, so I won’t. At least not willingly anyway.
4) Pay or don’t pay – education can be free
There are tons of online courses out there and I will do a blog post on the best of the ones I have found soon. Some require you to buy in their material. Ten GCSEs, for instance, will set you back about £3,000 in total (which can be paid in small instalments). But there’s no need if you don’t wish. I’ve already given you the link to one superb and free resource but I’ll give it again – Khan Academy. Go check it out.
5) You don’t have to be a teacher, well-educated or even posh.
One of the myths of home education is that it is only for middle class, well-educated families. Whether you take a hands-on approach for teaching your children or make use of online courses where they are mentored online by real teachers through emails, online assessments and skype sessions, you don’t need to be an expert.
For younger children it is easy to keep up and be just a few steps ahead of them. For older ones it is more about guiding, researching and learning alongside them. Again, this is Khan Academy thinking. Teachers as experts at the front comes from a time when bosses were literally ‘high up’ and powerful, god-like figures which could only (occasionally) be brought to task when ordinary wretches rose up through the power of the unions. Actually, children learn better when they feel safe and comfortable with teachers as their guides and friends. No one is better placed to do this effectively than the parent.
6) Home educated kids are better socialized.
Another big myth is that home ed kids don’t get the socialization they need. This simply isn’t true. Every home ed parent I’ve spoken to is involved with local home ed groups and meets up with other parents to form groups where their children learn together. Here in St Bees we already have a number of teachers who can cover every subject ready to help do some group work (the LEA permits up to 15 hours per week of such group work for home ed students – any more and we become a school!) and this will be useful for keeping a check on student progress (something I’ll be helping to coordinate). That’s before we get in touch with local Cumbrian home school support groups or tap into resources of parents themselves!
A major point here is that bullying disappears completely with home education. Like-minded parents meet together with their kids in small groups where attention is personal and safe. At least one parent has spoken to me of their fear their child, who struggles even in a school with small class sizes, will be completely lost in a large school where class sizes will be close to 30.
When I was teaching in state education I was often aware of bullying issues but powerless to deal with them. Even then, I didn’t know about all the bullying going on. When I moved to Bangladesh in 2008 literally hundreds of former students friended me on Facebook and dozens told me stories of things which had happened to them at school which they’d not shared with any adult before. I was appalled – especially after the Head at that school had told me, just months before, that I need not concern myself with the personal problems of students as they had a trained counsellor (the deputy head) who could deal with all student problems. Yeah. Right.
With home schooling you choose the socialization of your children. They can mix with older, younger, adults – anyone and everyone you deem appropriate. Both statistics and the personal testimony of other home schooling parents I’ve spoken to show that home ed kids grow up to be better integrated and responsible members of society and are better equipped for coping with university and living away from home.
You can read more about studies into home school socialization here.
A Personal note
Recently, one of my very dearest friends accused me of having something of a vendetta against state education. He’s someone who knows me well so I take his criticisms seriously. Doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, of course, but I can’t dismiss them either.
So here and now I’ll put the record straight.
I have many, many friends who teach in both state and private education. Some are former students of mine or people I’ve helped to train or guide through their teacher training. They do a fantastic job. Really they do. All teachers do their best and schools work hard to be the best they can be. One of my friends just this week got an ‘outstanding’ when observed in the classroom. I’m so amazingly proud of her because it is recognition of the bloody hard work she puts in, often working late into the evenings every day just to make sure every single child in her care gets the best education possible. I have never met a teacher who worked harder despite not knowing any teacher who doesn’t work their butt off. I’ll be sad if she doesn’t run a school of her own one day.
But the key word in that last paragraph was ‘possible’. The model itself is at fault, not those who try to work within it. Sure, maybe a third of all children come out of education with very high grades – but most will tell you of their repeated boredom in classes waiting for the rest to catch up. Sure, most of the rest will come out with decent grades – but the system succeeds only in breeding mediocrity as a result. And God help those who don’t even manage that well – how do you think they feel about themselves? When I left education in this country there was a big push at my school to shove predicted ‘D’ grade students into the ‘C’ grade purely so the school could improve its league table results. Is getting ‘C’s for students really as good as we can achieve? I mean really? Are we proud of this? I’m not.
I AM proud of the fifteen years I spent working hard in the classroom and even prouder of every teacher who continues to sweat it out now – God bless every single one of them, they earn their salaries and then some! We have one of the best state education systems in the world – not the best but certainly high up there. But the independent school sector fares better because of lower class sizes and the very best teacher-student ratio is always going to be 1:1.
Home schooling isn’t for everyone but where my family are right now, with the school situation we have currently, it isn’t just an option to consider among several others. It is, without a doubt, head and shoulders above anything else on the table.