Tag Archive | schools

If home educating parents did this….

I’m so glad to see that parents of school children are taking some action against some of the abysmal practices forced upon their kids under the guise of educating them in schools.

I may be a home educator but I care deeply about the education of ALL children however they are learning.

Whenever researching news surrounding the system and listening to the parents who have kids in school, it’s dishearteningly negative and I’m sometimes really shocked by what I hear. No wonder home educating is constantly on the increase. No wonder that children’s mental health is suffering (although no one ever brings up the subject of school stress as part of the cause). And no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession disillusioned with what they’re told to do to kids to make them get the scores.

The latest protest is about the testing and I’m delighted to see a campaign against the shocking move to test reception children. See this article in the Guardian.

Testing is a complete waste of a learner’s time (whatever age), does nothing to enhance learning or the learner’s experience, is unreliable and invalid when it comes to both judging someone’s capabilities and predicting how capable they’ll be in the future, the results of which often act like an educational death sentence to those who don’t perform well on the day. See this post here.

I hope they instigate change – but it’s changes in mindset that is required as much as anything. See the More Than a Score campaign here.

The other shocking school news that’s hit the headlines recently has been the concern over the use of ‘isolation units’ in schools. According to a report from the BBC pupils can spend hours in these units, among them those with special needs, causing many of them upset and longer term damage to their wellbeing, let alone their education.

The terrible irony of this is; if home educating parents were found to be subjecting their kids to hours of isolation in the booths pictured the Local Authority would be in uproar, probably deciding we were unfit parents and have the kids taken into care. Yet this is a legal and increasing practice in many schools.

Would you use this approach in your home education?

I understand there are many difficulties for staff in schools with pupils who will not engage and disrupt the learning of the others as a consequence.

But it strikes me that a) if the learning taking place there was inspiring and b) if it answered the needs of the diversity of the kids in our society and c) and if it wasn’t so rigid and inhibited by testing regimes designed for the adults and the politics and the politicians’ popularity, not the learners, we would have no need of isolation rooms and we also probably wouldn’t have a flood of parents opting to home educate. I’ve said before; if there was an inspiring and engaging place for our kids to go and learn with empathetic and understanding adults who were free to teach with the creative approaches many of them could if they were only delivered from the imprisonment of stupid rules and regualtions, then why would people take the enormous and scary step of not sending the kids there, giving up their time and doing it themselves?

But that’s the irony of education politics! The ministers are too blinkered – or uncomfortable – to realise the truth. They’re hopefully going to have a lot more protests on their hands!

 

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A personal education philosophy

I’m popping this here because it’s something I’m asked about and some parents like help with, especially in the light of the LA often asking for it. The thought of ‘educational philosophy’ can be rather daunting. Don’t fret; it doesn’t have to be – it’s just your thoughts on education, so it’s best to have some, then call them philosophy!

However, it can be a bit difficult to think about if it’s new to you to do so, so some of these ideas might help with a starting point.

At the risk of shocking everyone with this admission; when I first starting out teaching I thought, like many others, that education was just something delivered by schools quantified by exams. I didn’t teach for long before I completely changed my mind about that.

I also soon worked out that ‘qualification’ was certainly not a measure of an educated person, judging by the way some of the supposedly educated behaved. And teaching for exam passes didn’t necessarily make young people educated either.

When we home educated our own two children we had to think about what education really was, if it was not something that was just learning a prescribed syllabus, delivered by schools for the purpose of grades, which by then I definitely didn’t believe it was – and we weren’t planning on doing anyway.

What was it then?

Our ideas changed over the time we home educated and have matured even since then. And this is an attempt to try and note some ideas down that may help you decide upon your own.

A precise educational philosophy is quite hard to capture because it is entirely based on your definition of education in itself. And that has been influenced by your own schooling and by society’s definition of it as a grade-getting process that is measurable in those terms only. And accountable in those terms only – in terms of how many and how high.

But I believe education is something far broader than that. And I look at it not in terms of grades, or perhaps in terms of what education is, but more in terms of what an educated person is.

My definition tends to be person based. Not qualification based. Because it’s not the qualifications that matter – it’s what you do with them. And you need far, far more personable skills and elements of character to apply yourself to an educated life than qualifications.  Elements like respect. Or responsibility. Or care. Or the ability to communicate.

Grades are no good without those.

You can have the most qualified, titled and knowledgeable person in the world who can be an arrogant arse and not care a damn for the next person. I wouldn’t call them educated. So care does come into it.

You can have a person who has been privately and expensively educated who looks down on those who’ve had less opportunity as if they deserve less respect. But I wouldn’t call that the behaviour of an educated person. So respect comes into it.

And you have people who seem to spend lifetimes collecting degrees but are unable to function happily, communicate and establish relationships, or understand how their awareness of others and the planet is important. Their educational qualifications don’t seem a lot of help. Awareness is part of being educated too.

So I believe that however ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ in the conventional sense of the word a person is, it’s how he BEHAVES that matters and counts as to whether they are really educated.

People who are educated are people who not only have knowledge and skills but are people who show respect, responsibility and care towards others both near and far, towards their environment both locally and globally and who show awareness, compassion and understanding, who are keen to be the best they can, make the best contribution they can, and who strive towards good, happy and fulfilled lives. And I know that now we’d need to define good, happy and fulfilled but I’ll leave those definitions to you!

But these are the types of qualities I expect an educated person to have, however many grades. It is about the quality of a person – not the qualifications.

And that’s very difficult to measure. But schools feel the need to measure something so they focus on the measurable bits and neglect the rest. That’s where it’s gone so wrong.

Now, this is all very philosophical but how do you home school to that?

Well – creating good, happy and fulfilled lives on a daily basis is a start! One day at a time; make each day a good one and you make for a good education and fallow days count here too. (See this blog)

I also understand that many parents worry about describing it to the Local Authority. We did too and I spent many hours contemplating it. I describe what happened in my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’ including the letter with our educational philosophy we finally sent to the LA. So I thought it might help if I copied it here too:

We are unable to fill in your enclosed form because it is inappropriate to our Home Education situation and the education we plan to provide for our children.

We plan for the education of our children to be centred around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, mostly democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input. Our aim is for happy, confident, self motivated children who take pleasure in learning. We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers, and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage an interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.

We see learning as an integral part of our children’s daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects. Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting. It may take place from the minute they wake to the minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily in a formal procedure. We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned. Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.

We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social events, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction.

Having said all that I’m sure you must appreciate that our children have to recover from the numbing effects of school, which has damaged their learning potential, and it may take us some time to settle into our Home Education. We look forward to this with enthusiasm and excitement.

We hope this fulfils your requirements.”

An educational philosophy doesn’t have to worry you. You will already have ideas about what education should be or you wouldn’t contemplate home educating. These ideas are the basis for a philosophy and they just need formalising and getting down, always allowing room for change and moderation. Allow them to develop over a period of time and read lots others. Use any of the ideas you like here to help.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Think what you want for your children personally (things like confidence, keenness to learn, happiness, etc)
  • Think what you might want for them academically – helps to focus on skills here –  in line with where they’re at right now (it’s best to not look too far ahead at this point)
  • Think about others – have you ever seen a model of a family or child that you’d like to strive towards (probably you have examples of the opposite – also useful!)
  • Think what suits your child’s needs, your needs and your circumstances and what kind of lifestyle/approach will help you move towards the above.
  • A final point to remember; children change, so their needs change, so your approach and styles and philosophy may change throughout your home education. Therefore it is wise to include this fact in any statement you may make to the LA

Allow yourself room for flexibility – the key to successful home education – and development of ideas as, like ours did, these will change.

Just as home education changes you. Exactly like life really!

If you’re new to home education you’ll find more help in this book, especially for beginners.

Curriculum doesn’t constitute education – it can even choke it!

Parents who are fairly new to home educating often worry about curriculum. It’s a common mistake to think that without it there will be no education.

But a curriculum doesn’t constitute an education. It is equally possible to become an intelligent and educated person without following one at all – as many home schooling families are proving.

For curriculum is nothing more than a set list of subjects or course of study. And whereas it can be a useful tool guiding a learner towards prescribed outcomes (exams for example) which most find valuable, a curriculum can also have a detrimental effect.

This has been highlighted in an enlightened piece of writing by a sixteen year old pupil who recently described curriculum as having a ‘chokehold on the throats of the nation’s children’.

This was Harriet Sweatman, who won the Scottish schools young writer of the year award with her piece about going to school.

Harriet Sweatman pictured in the TES

It is absolutely astounding and reflects what many of us feel about the system, including I suspect many parents who are not home educating! She goes on to say that she’s ‘been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it’. She feels that schooling has made her grow backwards, knowing less about herself now than when she started.

Can’t we just imagine that!

If you ever forget just why you ended up home educating this incredibly honest piece will remind you. I’ve copied it below for you to read.

And it also might remind you not to get hung up about which curriculum to use, whether you should be using one or not. Curriculum is a tool which can be extremely valuable, but do remember it doesn’t necessarily guarantee becoming educated – just as school doesn’t!

Here’s Harriet’s piece borrowed from the TES; 

The horde of hunchbacks slouch on, dragging their feet up the school drive. Hearts heavy and school bags even heavier, but what can you do? Lockers are expensive and always wind up graffitied or smeared with Vaseline anyway. The path is lined with overflowing bins, padded with empty coffee cups from the new Costa in the village (the place that, for the bargain price of £2, will sell me the sweet elixir that promises to make up for the fact that I only got four hours’ sleep last night).

Once inside, the scuffed yet shiny linoleum floors are covered in curious stains – blood or food? We may never know. The corridor walls are painted a jarring blue and covered in stickers and posters saying that mistakes are just part of the journey. And oh, the places you’ll go! This children’s hospital aesthetic is fooling nobody. We’re too old for that.

The abrasive B-flat bell sounds and so we traipse from room to room, ankles shackled with our stresses. CCTV watches all, waiting for one wrong move. The hallways are lit only by harsh fluorescent lighting, each door leads to a new prison cell complete with wired windows, to stop us breaking them, or breaking out of them.

In reality, school is not a place where you are imprisoned. In here, you are manufactured. You move along the conveyor belt of exam seasons, hoping for the grades you need, so you can be packaged up with a pretty label saying you got straight As and shipped off somewhere else. Capitalism tells us that if we are not fit to work, then we are worthless. There is no love in learning any more. Every student has given up or is about to. We envy the people that have left already, but we have no plans for what to do if we did.

By now I am the ripe old age of 16. Apparently, by now I am supposed to have a plan. By now I should know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am supposed to already have experience in the field. We have lost the middle ground between child and adult. I am stuck in what remains. At the age of 12, I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up. I soon learned that “I want to be a wizard” was not an acceptable answer. I still don’t have an answer.

Fear not! There is help out there. If you want to study medicine or law that is.Advice on how to get the top grades, workshops where they cut things open and show you how they work, what oozes and what snaps. Meanwhile, the painter sits taut in front of their still life, ticking off a checklist of techniques they must display. The musician doesn’t dare push the boundaries, exchanging originality for safety in the hope it will be to the examiner’s taste. The historian memorises essay structures down to the word, the linguist knows how to write an essay not hold a conversation, and the writer wades through Shakespeare trying to pick out an essay from a play that was made to be performed not studied. Whatever happened to expanding your horizons? Now we must all ensure our tunnel vision is pinpoint thin.

Well then, perhaps the real adventure is the friends you make along the way. The cast of lively characters who go on adventures: the love interest, the comedy relief, the antagonist and their schemes. Until the seating plan in the classroom changes and you never talk to them again. You may see them on your way to or from school, at breaks and lunch, but at the weekends not a whisper. These are not the friendships that novels are written about. These are barely friendships at all. After we leave, when the battles are over and the war is won, most of us will never see each other again.

When we leave, will we even survive? Yes, I can do differentiation and also integration, but can I do taxes? I don’t know how insurance works or how to buy a house. I barely know basic first aid, so let’s all hope nobody starts choking to death anywhere near me. I can talk for days about condoms, but birth control is another story. We just learn by the book everything we need to get us through exams, competing with peers for the most approval.

Primary school was better and I still miss show-and-tell. Posters about the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, a presentation about the Wombles of Wimbledon, projects on anything that captured my imagination. At high school there is little time for such fanciful feats. Assignments where you can research what you want count for almost nothing, and even then there are strict rules. Finding out who I am and what I care about has been deemed unimportant. I have been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it. With no bell throbbing at even intervals and no marking scheme to build our lives around, how will we cope?

They say high school is the best years of your life – but not in this world, where qualifications matter more than personal qualities. I feel like I have grown backwards, as if I now know less about myself and who or what I could be than when I started. We can pretend that we are happy all we want, that our lives look just like the teen movies we used to idolise (it is true that we often burst into song, a chorus of “kill me now”, and only half of us are joking). Yes, we may be the next generation of leaders and scientists but we are also the next to be shoved on to the production line known as the world of work.

There is still time to change things. The curriculum can release its chokehold on the throats of this nation’s children and let them breathe. We can still save our siblings or maybe even our children. But for us, it is too late. For now, we just have to wait until the final bell rings and we walk out of the school door forever.

Congratulations and thanks to Harriet (and the TES for publishing it)

And if you want to learn more about using the curriculum – or not – I’ve written about it in my book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’. 

See My Books page for more.

Rescue us from norms!

It must have taken a lot of courage for Richard Macer to make the documentary about his son’s Dyslexia. (Hoping it will become available again soon) Especially at a time of his learning life when his future seemed to hang in jeopardy upon his SATs results. (A ridiculous practice I’ve condemned before – and which some schools and teachers are beginning to boycott) The family’s feelings were hinged on it. My heart went out to them.

Richard and son

In the programme they described some of what it’s like for a dyslexic in school, how inhibiting it can be in terms of academic progress, how their son’s brain seemed to work differently to others, as did dad’s, how this could be perceived either as a set back or a potential gift.

And I was screaming at the screen; ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’! No one’s future should be the result of performance in one moment of time at 11 years of age. It’s preposterous. And preposterous that the system has been set up like this and causes so many families so much distress. particularly families of dyslexic children for whom schooling fails so miserably.

Towards the end of the programme, after tears and relief that the son did okay in his SATs, dad made a comment about his son’s ‘faulty’ brain and I was really saddened to hear that. Because dyslexic brains are not ‘faulty’. And no one seems to be saying what’s glaringly obvious to me: That they are only ‘faulty’ within the context of schooling. Take the dyslexic out of school, take away the label Special Educational Needs, and meet the child’s individual needs in alternative ways (which should be open to everyone instead of the single track approach of academic practise that schools use) and the child can learn and achieve. Those dyslexics within the home educating community are proof of that.

The trouble with the system is that it measures to norms. It proposes a pattern of normal and then tries to make each child fit. Those that don’t fit are deemed as ‘behind’ or ‘failing’ or SEN. But what the heck is normal? And heaven preserve us from fitting it, for it is often those who don’t who go on to do great things; invent things, find cures, have ideas, create solutions. In fact a wonderful piece towards the end of the programme looked at a body of research to uphold the idea that our survival as a species is dependent on those abnormalities, dependent on those who can see beyond the norms and continue to diversify. It’s diversification we need for perpetuation – not normal!

So rescue us from norms, I say, celebrate those who are different – dyslexics among them, and see the limited schooling system for what it really is – the cloning of diverse intelligences into sad souless sameness.

And all the best to father and family.

 

But – Could I really home educate?

It’s a bank holiday weekend. Who wants to think about education?

Of course, if you’re a home educator there is little distinction between education, learning and life. Which is really as it should be.

If you’re not a home educator and you’re perhaps considering it you might be interested to discover that there are thousands who are not going back to school after the summer but are continuing their learning life out of it – and much of it isn’t at home anyway!

Many parents think they couldn’t do it. A few are right – it takes a certain kind of parent, a certain kind of relationship with your children, and most importantly a mind that’s open to different ways of doing things.

But there are many parents who think they couldn’t homeschool who possibly could, with a little research and altered ways of thinking.

If you’re one of those I thought it might be helpful for me to repost my YouTube talk here to see if it might change your mind!

Click on the picture!

For more information and increased understanding of how home education really works see my books; ‘Learning Without School Home Education’, ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Details and extracts on the My Books page.

Ga-Ga on Home Education!

I always get a bit stumped when I have to say stuff on live radio.

The daft thing is normally, when someone opens up a conversation about home education, you can’t shut me up. But when it is really important to say the right thing in a short space of time I become as coherent as a kid with a gobstopper!

Currently the press are only interested in Home schooling because of the new bill going through parliament trying to get parents to register as home educators and the consequential monitoring. This is the result of total ignorance and misinformation so from that point of view alone I’m dead against it. However, I’m out of date with the politics now so had a quick binge research (Thanks so much to all those home educators on Facebook who so generously helped with pointers – much appreciated).

Having been caught out before by journalists looking for a quick comment and little else I now have a few generic Home Ed ideas already prepped for such occasions. I call it my Radio Ga Ga list, (thanks Queen for such an appropriate title).

I managed to use some of those existing thoughts (you can listen to the bit here – at 2.10)

But there’s always something that catches me out. This time the question that stumped me was ‘How do you think home schooling has benefitted your children?’ It’s not that I couldn’t gab on for hours on that, but you don’t have hours you have a few seconds in which to give that succinct one-liner that stuns everyone with its wisdom!

I didn’t manage it!

And I’ve been thinking since if there is a one sentence answer that really sums it up, for there are so many things to say and so many inspirational facets to an out-of-school learning life, it’s almost impossible to condense it.

I think this is what I’ll add to my Radio Gaga list for next time I get asked that question: ‘It helped them be a person rather than a statistic!’ And let them think on that!

If they gave me more time I’d add my concern over the statistics relating to mental health issues, to test ‘failures’, to bullying issues, to special educational needs and to the number of children coming out of school without basic skills or employable skills, having had their desire to learn, which was so prevalent at birth, completely eradicated! But that would be gabbing on again. And it would also be negative. A better one, from a positive perspective would be ‘It freed them up to learn unlimited and see education as the personal journey it is’. But they probably wouldn’t get that either.

So what would your one-liner be? If you can think of one I’d love for you to add it here in the comments. And with your permission I’ll plagiarise it for my Ga-Ga list!

The hypocrisy of educational discrimination

I’m a fairly tolerant person. And – yep – even the kids agree after all those years of home education!

But discrimination is one thing I have no tolerance of. Particularly the discrimination in the education system.

Most people don’t spot it. But it’s there.

I don’t mean the usual kind of discrimination between things like ethnicity, or gender, or disability perhaps. The things that get talked about in the press regularly.

I mean the kind of discrimination that remains conveniently hidden but is practiced to make sure things like stats or league tables don’t get lowered by those children who don’t ‘perform’ to the system.

I’m talking about the discrimination towards those who learn differently. 

The hypocrisy of it is shocking.

There are heads, teachers, establishments and centres for learning, writing their policies that state they are inclusive, yet those same establishments discriminate against those who don’t fit into their preferred way of learning.

They group and label children through academic test results only, consequently creating an academic hierarchy some children will have no hope of climbing – because they need a different learning framework. They label these children as ‘failures’ or as having ‘learning difficulties’, or ‘slow learners’ which is discriminatory in itself.

However, as many home educating families are proving, give these kids a different learning approach and time frame and they can achieve the same later outcomes as many of their peers. So does that not prove that if we stopped discriminating against those children with different learning needs many would achieve more in school? And does that not count as discriminating against some whilst championing those who make the school look good?

I know that some schools will squeeze kids out of their establishment, often by subtle means of suggestion that the child would achieve more elsewhere for example. Whereas the reality is that they don’t want these children in their establishment lowering their statistics.

This is blatant discrimination in my book however it is accounted for. It has even been known for some schools to suggest home education as a way of getting ‘failing’ or often absent children off their register.

How is this not discrimination? Makes me sick to think of it going on. And it’s in total disrespect of those hard working schools and teachers who refuse to follow this practice.

A system of education has evolved that does NOT suit all kids and subtle practices have developed that discriminate against those who do not fit into it. How is that different from setting up an establishment for fair haired children, for example, and discriminating against those who are dark haired?

I may be tolerant for the most part. But I am not tolerant of this hidden discrimination against those bright, able, active, and diverse children who may be less academic than others but who have intelligences that exceed many of their academic contemporaries who cannot think outside the box.

Academics is a skill. Swimming is a skill. But we don’t discriminate against those who can’t swim.

Schools need to practice what they preach about less discrimination! And instead of blinding us with their policies of popular political correctness, make sure that a policy of no-discrimination applies throughout their learning provision.