Why home schooling is becoming more and more popular...
Teaching children at home has never been more popular – and with the government's proposals to allow parents to establish and run their own schools, more and more people are taking things into their own hands. Méabh Ritchie finds out more...
Teaching children at home has never been more popular – and with the government’s proposals to allow parents to establish and run their own schools, more and more people are taking things into their own hands. M�abh Ritchie finds out more...
As children across the country are getting kitted out with new uniforms and begging their parents for the latest Disney stationery to start the school year, Joshua, Samuel and William won’t notice much of a difference from the summer. They don’t wear a uniform and might not even pick up a pen during a weekday, as all three boys are educated at home in Bromley with their mum and dad.
Samuel enjoys cooking and, at just 12- years-old, already seems to have an entrepreneurial streak. Over the last few months, he has been making biscuits and lemonade and then selling them when he can. “He’s got a little business plan and has costed everything out, so he knows how much profit he’s made when he sells something,” says Alexander Roarke, the boys’ father. “I haven’t sat down and ‘done maths’ with him, but we’ve worked out his percentages and how he can make a profit.”
The three boys are among an estimated 20,000 to 60,000 home-educated pupils in Britain. A child need only be registered with their local authority if they have been taken out of school, not if they have always been home educated, so exact figures are difficult to ascertain.
Taking controlHowever, parents are increasingly keen to be involved in their children’s schooling. Indeed, the government’s proposals to set up ‘free schools’, which would allow groups of parents or teachers to establish and run their own school, have been hugely popular. “We’ve been inundated, and not just by middle-class parents,” says Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network.
So why do so many parents want to take more control of their children’s education? Well, while some are concerned that there is no school in their locality, for others it is the scare stories about poor discipline or low attainment – and many parents are worried about the sheer size of schools and classes with over 30 pupils. Of the parents who approach the Home Education Advisory Service, which supports home-schooling parents, 60 per cent of their children have been withdrawn from school because of bullying, assault or special needs.
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This was the case for Roarke’s son Samuel who has Asperger syndrome. “In his second year of primary school, as people around him were growing and developing, he wasn’t,” says Roarke. “Then when he started to stand out, he was getting picked on by some of the other kids.”
Roarke and his wife Ann were devastated when they found their seven year-old son self-harming at home as a result of being bullied. The school didn’t have any solutions so the couple decided to remove him. Their older son Joshua, now 14, had attended school from the age of four, but he wanted to stay at home with his brother. The family hasn’t looked back since.
“At the time, I was prepared to go and study to be a teacher if that’s what it would take,” says Roarke. However, parents don’t actually need to have any qualifications to take responsibility for home-schooling their children. According to the 1996 Education Act, it’s the parents who are responsible for their children’s education, ‘at school or otherwise’. As Roarke’s children are all registered with the LA, they have annual visits from the council’s home education advisor who sees how they all are getting on.
Another Kent resident, Vicky Towler, took her son Mike out of the school system at the age of 12. At first, Mike went to an independent school, “but at the time, the pressure of the 11 plus was preventing him from doing well,” says Vicky. “He couldn’t relax and he wasn’t coping with the work.”
Pressure releaseHe was much happier and improved academically at the subsequent Steiner school, but when he was offered a cigarette by a teacher, Vicky, along with three other sets of parents, removed her child from the school.
Between them, they have set up Canterbury Lernejo, which in Esperanto means ‘place of learning’. There are 13 pupils, ranging from eight to 15, who are taught by three full-time and a couple of part-time tutors, all parents or grandparents. “I’ve not been a dedicated home educator all my life,” Vicky confesses, but the current set-up works well for everyone. “It’s like bridging the gap between home and school. It supports their development in a way that they feel confident to face the future.
”There are also parents who feel that the school system has let them down, but who don’t necessarily want to take full responsibility for their children’s learning. A few years ago, before the idea of free schools had even come to the UK, a group of eight parents in West Sussex campaigned successfully for their children to have a local primary school. In the heart of the village, surrounded by a local nature reserve, the Bolnore School, near Haywards Heath, will have its official opening this month.
“The exciting thing is that it’s something that we will own and we will shape,” says Julia Bunting Thring, chairwoman of the Bolnore School Group. “None of us know what the future will hold, but we know that we will have a direct input in how our children’s future will progress. Our proposal is about partnership. It’s about bringing together the best people to ensure that every child can flourish and reach their full potential.
”The education system in the UK is already diversifying, with academies and free schools joining the already existing grammars, comprehensives and independent schools. But while there is much greater choice available, some parents will still opt for home education, seeing it as the most flexible way to cater for their individual child.
“Children are inherently inquisitive people at the start of their young lives and if left to their own devices, with the normal interaction all families have with the world, it would be difficult to stop them learning,” says Ross Mountney, author of Learning Without School: Home Education. “Home education is nothing more than the extension of your parenting.”
HAVE YOUR SAY:Do you teach your child at home? What do you think about the new ‘free schools’? Let us know by commenting below...