What do we need of our schools?

There was a time I didn’t rate home education! Can you imagine?

And that’s simply because of ignorance!

Like many other parents, some who thought it was downright wrong, this was because; I had no experience of it; had been influenced by too many other people who also had no experience of it; had a rigid view of education indoctrinated by the prescriptive system I was familiar with.

But I changed. I learnt different. I overcame my ignorance, not because I met others successfully doing it and had direct and first hand experience of its success. The nucleus of change started long before that.

It began when working in the system.

I was changed by seeing too many children glazed over, failed and let down by schooling, by seeing the methods used to get those children to fit in, by seeing them ostracised when they couldn’t, and knowing in my heart as a teacher (well before Home educating) that schools just didn’t suit too many kids.

And it wasn’t about youngsters’ ability to learn or study or engage. It was as much about the environment of schools as anything and what that did to some kids.

Something needed to be different.

Think about parties. you’re either someone who enjoys crowds and socialising and parties or you’re not. That’s just the way you are.

Equally, some of us can learn with hubbub and noise and distraction all around. Some can’t – some prefer it quiet and still. I’m one of those. Children are also like that. Some enjoy and thrive in the buzz of a school environment. Some don’t. Some can’t bear it. Some to the point of becoming mentally and emotionally unwell.

That’s just the way they are. But some people are too ignorant to see that – or unwilling because they’d need to provide something different.

They’d need to see that children should not have to be exposed to the crazy crush and stress of school if it’s not the way they learn best. And acknowledge that we are failing them if we expect them to be able to learn in an environment that doesn’t suit – and we haven’t even touched on the sometimes debilitating approaches used to get kids to learn, the bizarre content of much of the curriculum, etc etc.

So is home educating the answer?

It can be the answer for some who are able to manage it.

But – it certainly isn’t the answer for all; many family circumstances would make it impossible anyway.

What we need instead is a different sort of school. And a different approach to learning and education.

What we need is to see education not as the mass grade-getting industry and political strategy it’s become, but as a treasured opportunity for kids to grow and develop. A return to this core value.

We need schools to be smaller intimate places, more of them, nearer homes, so they are less crowded and less threatening – and less generic.

We need fewer children to each teacher so there’s a better intimacy, so teachers can get to really know their pupils, and consequently create better interaction and respect.

We need to stop making education and learning about testing. Teachers who know kids and know how to teach don’t need it, the kids don’t need it, it gets in the way of learning. It’s in complete opposition to everything education should be.

We need to rid schools of an oppressive curriculum and approach to learning, most of which is based on outcomes designed to perpetuate the system rather than perpetuate the good of the youngsters themselves.

We need schools to be places of nurture and personal development, not places of measurement and competition. And before you argue that kids need to be exposed to that in order to stand it in the ‘real’ world, – they don’t. Kids who’ve been home educated and never been to school still manage to make their way in tough competitive working worlds when the time comes, when they choose to do so.

And that’s another point: choice. You choose your working world to some extent and the people you’re with. Children and young people in the system have no choices, or choices manipulated to suit the system. They have no choice about what or who they have to endure and this makes a difference to their success. Young people deserve more choice over their learning and their destiny. If we offered the right opportunities and facilities they would make the right choices – whatever ‘right’ is! To not offer that demonstrates an abhorrent lack of respect for them on our behalf.

This strange lock down time will make it blatantly clear that home schooling is not for all, course not. But schools as they are, are not for all either. And this is becoming very evident through parents reporting that during this time out of school their children have grown, are beginning to thrive and bloom and maintain good mental health and well being that they didn’t enjoy when on the schooling treadmill. Surely kids don’t have to suffer that for an education?

It’s about time we asked the questions too long in coming – what do we want of our schools? Is what we have out of date? Acknowledge that this prescriptive system is turning too many children into failures and even destroying the health and well being of some?

Parents should wake up to the fact we need changes – it’s in their hands – they are the consumers of it. We need humanity back in our schools and to make them more about people, not about politics. And vote for changes and practices that honour our children not disrespects them through such shameful and manipulative disregard.

Learn more about the home schooling life from my books. See the Books page for more

4 thoughts on “What do we need of our schools?

  1. Thank you Ross, once again, for writing about an issue very close to my heart. After having home educated eight children, ages now 36 to 13 , I have just Finn at home. I have a dilemma. Finn asks to see friends/ family every day! So hard during lockdown! He is so very sociable and loves to interact with others. He and I have been increasingly desiring a small, intimate school where the children learn much outside, as a forest school, and where Finn could learn alongside others in a child centred way. A school that is not geared towards targets and testing, competition and comparison, but a school that teaches real life skills, nurtures and encourages the children to develop their passions and interests.
    I always remember you talking about one of your goals being to develop character. I could not agree more! Mental health is another issue to be hugely considered in these times. There are too many stressed unhappy children. Whilst lockdown has proved such a challenge for many families, I have heard of others where the parents are saying how much “happier” their children seem!
    But these utopian “schools” don’t exist. Not even in Cornwall. They certainly should….for as parents , we have very little choice. We are left with the only option being the huge secondary schools, where the emphasis is opposite to our philosophy . There are some wonderful teachers, but they are so restricted by an archaic educational system. “Choice” and “freedom” ( and all the benefits that go with these). Two words I have always used when people ask why we home educate!
    Thank you so much for highlighting a very important issue….as always, hugely encouraging 🙂

    • Thank you Jane for your insightful and thought provoking comment. Hugely appreciated. So encouraged that you took the time to share. We must keep on dreaming and keep changing parents’ minds as they’re the ones with the consumer power to demand change! 🙂 All best wishes.

  2. Absolutely wonderful writing. You voice so many of the things that I have been thinking about for so long. It is a somewhat sad fact that we only become interested and invested in the education system when we have children who are of ‘school age’, I know that I am guilty of this. I chose to start our home education journey as I was concerned about the noise and bustle of a classroom something my eldest child found really stressful at a young age, I knew he would not learn anything in that environment. My younger child would not have had this problem and I seriously considered sending her to school as I thought she would thrive there. I am glad that I didn’t as we have discovered that she is mostly likely dyslexic, she has not been tested, but at 11 is not a confident reader and is really happy with where she is at. I know that if she was in a school setting she would have really really struggled with this and they with her. Her learning journey has been mine too, I have learnt so much, I refuse to accept that dyslexia is a disability, it is a different way of thinking and we as a society need to accept that. Education needs a massive rethink on so many levels, I don’t have all the answers but we all need to be part of the conversation.

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