Why I'll never send my kids to school

Lesley Currie is mum to five-year-old Leon and two-year-old Liberty. Neither child has ever been to school and Lesley plans to keep it that way. In this guest blog, she tells Still You why home educating is the right choice for her family.

When Liberty was born Leon attended preschool five mornings a week. He was due to start school the following year but we were dissatisfied with the system. Schools are scored based on performance and teachers’ salaries are also performance related. Because of this the UK education system often treats children as statistics rather than individuals. Teachers are very restricted as to what they’re allowed to teach and this leaves little room for spontaneity. Also I feel that too much is expected of children in the early years. Finland is way ahead of UK in academic performance but children don’t start school there until they’re seven. In Finland there’s no Ofsted, no uniform, no league tables, and no homework until secondary school.  Meanwhile British schools are places of conformity: if a child talks too much or can’t sit still they’re seen as disruptive. I just don’t trust our education system to provide the best opportunities for my children.

I first came across the term “home education” in a parenting book. I had no idea people educated their children at home and that it was a perfectly legal thing to do. I started research into home education. I read blogs and books and also joined a couple of online groups. At first, thinking that home educating families must be few and far between, I was concerned that my kids wouldn’t get enough social opportunities, but after attending a few groups I realised how many people are doing it. We soon decided that this was the path for us.

I began researching different methods of home schooling, from ‘autonomous’ – which is allowing children to take full charge of their own education: learning what they’re interested in, when they’re ready, at whatever pace they wish – to ‘structured’ home education, often following the national curriculum and creating a ‘school at home’ environment. We’ve decided to settle in between for now.

I feel much more comfortable having a plan and writing things down (admittedly, I’m a bit of a sucker for a highlighter pen and a colour coded chart) but I also feel it’s important for our children to have freedom of choice. So I do the planning, but Leon chooses his own topics – such as Dinosaurs, Space, The Body or Flags. Then I find activities, opportunities and experiences to enable him to learn about what he’s interested in. Home educated children become very good at independent study. I see my role as a resource rather than a teacher. I get a lot of ideas from Pinterest, YouTube, books and parenting magazines. We learn in so many different ways, from Sudoku to rock climbing, by visiting museums and galleries, and playing board games and with Lego.

We love the freedom of going where we like and choosing what we want to learn. Children blossom when they are given choices; and when they experience the world in a fresh, natural and open way, without the pressure of homework, early mornings and SATs. We can go on holiday whenever we like without permission or fines. If the children are struggling with any work they always have one-to-one support.

It is a myth that home educated kids aren’t well socialised. The opposite is true: we can’t fit in all the social opportunities open to us. Leon always finds kids to play with in parks and he has a wide social circle. He knows home-schooled children ranging from babies to teenagers and they all play together regardless of age. Leon interacts with other children every day.

Home education allows you to really focus on your children’s passions. Not everybody can know everything about the world, so we enjoy picking and choosing the best bits. Everything else just follows, like reading, writing and maths. But Leon develops these skills through everyday life situations like buying things on the market with his own money or reading menus in a café. 

What about exams? Home educated children often opt to do iGCSE courses, which do not require attending a classroom-based course. These are available online with tutor support and usually cost around £200-300 per subject. I look forward to learning alongside my children in their preferred subjects if qualifications are the route they choose. Universities are known to accept home educated children without qualifications because of their mature attitude to learning.

No minimum level of education is required of parents who want to home educate their children: a passion for learning is far more important. I left school with just two GCSEs (though I later did a diploma in Childcare and Education and went on to become a preschool manager). As an adult I recognise that I’m not particularly academic, although I’ve always been creative. But at school I was led to believe I wasn’t clever. I now see that I just wasn’t taught in a way I understood. I feel I was let down by the school system.

Home education itself doesn’t have to be costly: we get workbooks from bargain bookstores and often make games and activities from things we’ve collected outdoors. But the lack of a second income can be a challenge.

Home education is all consuming. It’s like a full time job. You have to make sure you’re providing enough opportunities for socialisation and education. It helps to be creative and be able to think on your feet but it can be hard at times. You spend all your time with your children and you don’t really get a break. My husband works full time so the majority of the home educating lands on me.

There are a lot of myths surrounding home education and a lot of people will express uninformed opinions about your choices. You get some criticism and rudeness, but you have to learn to brush it off and have confidence in your choices. The majority of responses are positive and genuinely interested.

Tips I would give to people thinking about home education would be to get out there and meet people. Our local home educating network has over 100 families. Facebook and Yahoo are great for networking with other home educating families. Just search for local groups and you’ll be surprised what’s out there. Home educating families are very welcoming and, in my experience, always willing to answer questions. If you need to de-register your child who is already in school the process is simple: just write a letter to the head asking for your child’s name to be removed from the register. You don’t need to give notice. It will take time for you and your child to adjust to the new lifestyle. Take it easy and don’t go out rushing to buy workbooks and resources. You may not choose that direction and it’s best not to waste your money unless you know it’s what you want. If, like mine, your child has never been to school there is nothing you need to do. You don’t need to inform anyone of your choice, you just carry on as you are.

I really do believe home education is suitable for everyone who wants it. Children thrive on learning. If the environment is stimulating and resourceful, I believe any child can excel.

Liberty and Leon learning about nature
Liberty and Leon learning about nature

Lesley documents her home educating life here.


 

Do you home educate your child? Would you consider it? Or do you put your trust in the professionals?

22 comments on “Why I won’t send my children to school”

  1. Hi Leslie! I really like this thought provoking article. I never would have considered home schooling before but what you’ve said makes real sense to me. I want my daughter’s education to really compliment who she is as opposed to restrict her learning to educational structures that are already decided. If the opportunity arises I will definitely consider home schooling based on your article. I think what you’ve done is really innovative and courageous, and obviously provides a great experience for your kids.

  2. I found this to be an interesting read. I know growing up, homeschooling didn’t have a great reputation, because, as you mention, people think that homeschooling doesn’t allow socialisation, and of course this is not always true. Furthermore, with technology developments there are more resources available as well as a solid support network of other homeschoolers to share ideas.
    I grew up in Australia and I know that league tables were (and I imagine, still are) a huge problem within the schooling system. In private schools many children are spoon fed (learning what to think, not how to think) to prepare students for exams, not for life. When people in my year entered university, many didn’t last longer than a few months because they had no idea how to study or to work things out for themselves because high school teachers were pressured to focus on final year exam results instead.
    When homeschooling is partnered with frequent social events and open mindedness, I think it could be a very valuable alternative. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Lesley!

  3. Hi Lesley,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. My eldest started school in September and has recently turned 5. She is bright and fortunately seems to be taking to it like a duck to water. However, I’m dismayed by the amount of homework that she’s being given. It seems ridiculous. I worry that far too much pressure is being put on her. I also worry about the other kids in her class, many of which are younger, some only recently turning 4.

    How must they feel when they can’t ” do” the homework that’s been set? Over half-term, we had 2 reading books, umpteen spellings and a 6-page number workbook. What’s it going to be like when she’s 7,9,11? It could just be our school, but having talked to other friends, it seems to be the way in the UK.

    I have a question for you. You stated that you don’t see yourself as academic. I know it’s a way off but when you do get to the point that your kids are perhaps working at a level that is beyond your knowledge,skills and experience, what do you intend to do? I know this is a bit “devil’s advocate” but if your child decided on a career such as medicine, would you feel qualified to provide a level of education that would ensure their place at medical school? Would you consider a tutor or even entry into formal education at that point? I’m relatively academic but wouldn’t have a clue if my child developed a flair for higher maths, physics or even something artistic.

    Good luck with everything. Home schooling isn’t something that I’ve ever considered, so you’ve definitely given me food for thought.

  4. As a primary school teacher this article made me feel so sad. I do feel our education system is letting children down and I feel like my job is often about jumping through hoops for Ofsted rather than thinking about what the children would enjoy and ‘outstanding’ lessons become staged and formulaic. Before she was pushed out of the school I work in a colleague said to me ‘education is about lighting a fire not filling a bucket.’ Unfortunately for teachers now this just feels like a dream.

  5. Sarah- tech and toast.
    I very much hope my children will find a passion and real aptitude for something and I’m pretty sure their knowledge of most things will exceed mine! But my job is to facilitate the learning, not to teach. My children will be self taught, but, if and when it becomes a challenge or they need extra support we’d see what solutions were out there be it tutoring or college.

    Rachtaythefirst-
    Sadly this is a common response from teachers. You have your hands tied and it’s so frustrating! The system would be a much better place if teachers were just allowed to teach.

  6. As a class teacher I agree that it has now become about pleasing Ofsted or the local authority. When I first started teaching, not that long ago, we were encouraged to be creative, spontaneous and follow the children’s interest as much as possible. Sadly things have changed and we have now gone the opposite way. Teaching scripted lessons plans from this bought in scheme and that bought in scheme. The focus is always upon levels and attainment.

    Each year it gets worse and I’ve even considered home schooling when I have children.

    I loved being creative in the classroom but it’s all been eroded, which promoted me to now leave the profession. Many of the best teachers are doing the same. So I don’t blame you for choosing to home school your children.

    • Hi, thanks so much for your comment – although it makes for very sad reading. It’s awful to see how many teachers feel frustrated in their jobs – frustrated that bureaucracy and top-down edicts are ruining their ability to do such essential work. I hope that one day soon there will be a real culture change and teachers will feel more trusted to do what they’re good out without needless interference.

    • Thanks for your comment, Fiona. I’m absolutely with you – there must be loads of parents who would consider it if only they could afford not to do paid work.

  7. Very interesting. I believe learning should be fun and although my two go to school I feel they get much more out of doing fun learning things at home. I believe it it so much that I set a website up for my boys for there home learning called http://www.superbrainybeans.co.uk
    Well done to anyone who takes time and interest in their child’s education.

  8. Such an interesting post, Lesley. Thank you so much for writing it. And thank you to everyone who’s commented and joined the discussion. Rachtaythefirst, I loved that quote about how education should be lighting a fire not filling a bucket – so true! Lesley, I absolutely agree with your concerns about how targets, league tables and the culture of Ofsted harm individual pupils. I do some private tutoring and I’ve seen first hand pupils who are treated as little more than a body with the potential to get a C at GCSE. I’m shocked by how little some schools seem to care about what children actually learn from their education; and by how indifferent some schools are to supporting the potential of every pupil – regardless of whether their achievement is likely to be statistically beneficial or not. I don’t blame teachers – I see them as real heroes ploughing on in a deeply depressing and overwhelming educational climate of bureaucracy and unimaginativeness.

    I’ve got some reservations about home education for my own family – mainly just on a personal level because there’s no way I could do it – it’s a massive gift you’re giving to your children, Lesley, they’re so lucky that you feel able to give it so freely and enthusiastically – but it’s interesting because I think on some level I was home educated myself. I went to school but, particularly at secondary school, I wasn’t incredibly happy there. I did learn things in lessons but – for whatever bloody-minded, adolescent reason – I made it my business to engage as little as possible. Pretty much everything I learned I did at home off my own initiative – with a lot of support and engagement from my mum. I wonder if, for those of us who don’t feel able (or can’t afford) to give our children quite as much time as you’re giving them, Lesley, there could be some sort of compromise: more time for private study and independent projects; maybe even a shorter school day (although that wouldn’t help cash strapped working parents). However it’s achieved, I think there needs to be more scope for free, self-led, independent study.

  9. Bravo Lesley! Such a commitment, I would never have had the confidence to do it or sadly been able to afford it. But I guess it’s all about choices, cutting your cloth etc etc
    Good luck to you all for the future 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Bridget. I wouldn’t have the money either or – if I’m honest – the patience! I really admire those who can.

  10. The kids in Finland do get homework from first grade but their days in the classroom are shorter than in the UK. If I remeber correctly they only have four hours a day in the first two years. xx

    • Sorry about that misinformation. I do admire the Finnish system and how the approach to learning is much more natural and free flowing. Our system is just so rigid and regimented!

  11. When it comes to the Finnish system, I am not sure where you get your information from. As the mother of a half Canadian- half Finnish 6 year old (Grade 1) who attends a Finnish school in Finland, she gets homework a few times a week. We did some last night together. That is all I will comment on here- the facts- because I think we have different opinions…but I do understand your concern with the British system (which I also went through for some years) it is crumbling under the weight of regulation, segregation and short-sightedness.

    • Ahh apologies about the homework in Finland comment, I had read that on multiple websites and in conversation with other parents so I thought it was accurate.. Even so, what I admire about the Finnish school system is the holistic approach and I think our system could learn a great deal from other countries who succeed very well in this way.

  12. Thanks for a thought-provoking article, Lesley. My daughter goes to school in Finland, and I wanted to add my thoughts about the Finnish school system.
    Having grown up in Australia, I was skeptical of the Finnish system at first – children are so much older when they start and the days are so much shorter than in other countries. However, my daughter (in the third grade at a Helsinki school where all classes are taught in English) has learned very quickly and the material has been getting increasingly challenging. I just checked her science homework. She had to answer questions to revise what they discussed in class. Some of her answers (which she wrote without help): “An invertebrate is an animal without a spinal column.” “They protect their soft bodies with either shells or exoskeletons”. She has even spelled all words correctly.
    Despite having a fair amount of homework each week (which parents are expected to supervise), she doesn’t complain about schoolwork being difficult and overall is really enthusiastic about school.
    I have come to believe in the Finnish approach. There is a lot to be said for children being able to learn under ideal conditions – when they are old enough to absorb information quickly and easily, when the school day is short enough to allow “quality, not quantity”, and when they have time to do other things and rest and be at their peak to concentrate at school again the next day. The home school experience you are giving your children seems on the same wavelength as this.
    I am sure all good schools across the world achieve high results in the end, regardless of differing methods, but how easily/efficiently? and how enjoyable is the overall experience for those in the system, both students and teachers?

    • Hi Ingrid, thanks so much for your comment. It’s fascinating to learn a bit more about the Finnish system. I do think that shorter days would be better for my child (although not for me as a working mum!) But I think you’re right that kids need quality not quantity and they’d learn more if they had freedom in the afternoons to consolidate the formal learning with a bit more freedom.

  13. Hi,
    I’ve been home educating my children a long time now :0) And I am so glad that I made that decision. One ofthe reasons I started ws because i don’t like the way that the emphasis in schools seems to be on who is the most academic – there are lots of other skills out there than book-learning.
    I have seen a lot of changes in the HE community over the years and a lot of growth in numbers of families doing it. It’s great that there are so many HE groups around now and I totally agree that it is important to meet up with other HE families in your area.
    Home Ed life can be very busy as you can see on my blog http://www.englishweather.blogspot.co.uk 🙂
    I just want to add that you don’t have to pay £200 – £300 per exam subject. It is possible to do them much more cheaply than that if you don’t use a distance learning organisation.
    They can be taken by obtaining the syllabus from the exam board of your choice, following the text book and downloading free past papers for practice. The hardest part can be finding an exam centre, but there are more becoming available, I believe, as more people turn to HE.
    But it is worth remembering that GCSEs are not compulsory and there are other qualifications out there 🙂

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