Many children in the UK today are missing school lessons due to being home educated.  Vast numbers of childrens educations are affected and with home schooling having little regulation, there are concerns that kids are not learning up to the standards of their schooled peers.  But are kids who are home educated really at a disadvantage?  And why doesn’t anyone question why parents feel the need to home school their children?

About two weeks ago on UK television, the program Dispatches looked into the dark realities of home education.  Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, narrated the program as she went around the country meeting some children who are taught at home along with their parents.  The program was met with criticism by many as it took a one-sided view, suggesting that home education needed some kind of regulation and regular checks.  Anne Longfield did little to look into the reasons why children are taken out of mainstream education and instead focused a large section of the program on illegal schools which claim to ‘home educate’ the children.

After watching the show I felt frustrated and angry.  The biased view made me feel sorry for the many thousands of parents who do a good job of teaching their children at home.  Teaching children, many whose lives have been affected by either bullying or a lack of understanding and support from schools over their disabilities.  I felt especially drawn to write this article as I myself wish I had been home educated and would have been if there hadn’t been such a barrier to information when I was growing up. 

Lack of Understanding

Most of the children in the television program had been taken out of school because their parents felt a lack of support or understanding from schools.  In one case a mother had no choice but to take her son out of school as the school had pressured her into this decision.  Although she struggled to home educate her son due to her own difficulties with dyslexia, most other parents have no problems with teaching their children and find their kids learn more in this way than they do in a traditional school setting.

My own secondary school (age 11-16) took a blind eye to bullying and didn’t understand the support I needed for my disabilities, particularly my type 1 diabetes.  Rather than understanding that I sometimes found it hard to think when my blood sugars were erratic and high, my school expected me to alert and focused all the time.  Rather than understanding that I would sometimes be away from school due to being ill and having diabetic ketoacidosis (a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition) my school saw my health absences as slacking off and an excuse to skive.  My school teachers (the majority of them – a few were different) saw me as a trouble maker and despite my continual good grades (averaging a B grade – which was good for someone constantly off ill) they thought of me as thick, stupid and someone who would later be in trouble with the law and they treated me as if I was a serial liar.

My health problems were serious and at times I even needed medical help but my teachers and the rest of the staff, ignored me when I had serious diabetic hypos – believing I was lying, turned a blind eye to a red-faced full blown asthma attack where I’d forgotten my inhaler and couldn’t go back to get it – believing I was lying for attention, and they even kept me in the school grounds as punishment when I was fainting and needed to go to hospital when another bout of diabetic ketoacidosis set in  again believing it was some kind of lie I had concocted to get out of lessons.  For all these reason a home education would have been perfect for me.  My school had no support to offer me and I would have loved to be home schooled.  The only barrier back in the 90s was that my Mum, being an immigrant herself, didn’t know much about home schooling in the UK (it wasn’t exactly encouraged by the government) and didn’t have access to the vast internet and support we have today.  She didn’t know how to home school, but it’s something we both regret not trying.

Mainstream not for everyone

Despite not being home schooled, I learned more at home than I ever did in school.  I loved learning when at home and most of my education came from books and activities I did at home, the ones at school having little permanent impact on me.  The way schools teach subjects, isn’t for everyone.  The way I learn best is through watching something or recreating it in reality or mind.  I have to have fun with the subject and really get to grips with it, but then I learn it and the things I taught myself I still remember to this day.  The mainstream way of teaching though, is often very rigid and for many children it just doesn’t work.

For many kids the typical school day is rigid and makes little sense.  For any child that has a very active mind and body, sitting in a classroom for hours copying things out of text books or typing up essays is not fun and is not going to help them learn.  Some kids find being active helps them learn.  Some kids minds move quickly and jump from topic to topic while others like to focus for hours on just one.  All these children have in common one thing, that mainstream education doesn’t work well for them and to be stuck in that system can not only damage them mentally but put them backwards in their learning.

The mainstream way to teach kids works for only some, and for all others they will either encounter bullying from their peers, their teachers or just be held back, made to feel they are stupid or not good enough.  For many children home schooling is beneficial and like the parents in the Dispatches program, many feel that they are doing a good job but the government is not helping them.  For one mother in the show, her local council failed to give any much needed support.  Another mother was accused of not looking after her son properly, and had social services in touch, all because she wants to home educate a child who had disabilities.

A biased view

Anne Longfield wasn’t the best person to host the show, and it showed with her strong bias towards traditional education in schools.  She didn’t seem to try to understand much about why children are taken out of schools by their parents.  She only seemed bothered that the home education system isn’t regulated.  She wants parents to be checked all the time and to have regular checks that what the kids are learning and how, is in their own best interests.  But for many it’s these stringent controls over mainstream schooling that has led to children being taken out of schools.

The program made me feel that the children’s commissioner just didn’t have an understanding about these issues and didn’t seem to want to see things from a different perspective, and this is where I dislike anyone in a position of power who isn’t willing to see things from opposing sides before coming to a conclusion.  Maybe if the commissioner was younger or someone more in touch with kids of today, or more open to alternative education ideas, or someone who had problems herself (like me) with education when growing up, then maybe the program would have carried less bias.  But the program was one-sided and gave a very negative view on home education with consequences for those that follow this path.

There will always be opposing opinions on this and a variety of different subjects.  But to understand why something is happening and how to fix it, we need to go to the core of why things happen in the first place.  Rather than speculate on how bad home education can be, we should first ask the question – why are so many children in the UK today home educated?  Why do so many parents feel the need to take their children out of schools?  What is wrong with traditional schooling and how can it be fixed?  These are the questions the children’s commissioner should be asking herself, and ones our government should be asking too.

Were you or your kids home educated or did you/they go to school?  What do you think about home education?  Have you come across any other biased programs/stories?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂