When I started writing this article two weeks ago, home educators were a niche, minority group of slightly mysterious families, and I thought maybe some people would be interested in reading about an alternative way of educating children. Fast forward two weeks, and virtually every child in the UK is being educated at home (albeit with varying degrees of support from schools). This would have been unimaginable pre-coronavirus, and makes this subject particularly topical, and of relevance to everyone.
The vast majority of children in the UK go to school (when there isn’t a pandemic happening); the school curriculum is decided by governments and in the UK prescriptively sets out a plan and targets for childrens’ learning, which include incredibly detailed facts and skills that they need to have mastered in each subject, set out by age from when they are 5 (or younger) to 18.
However, an increasing number of families in the UK (the exact number is not known) choose to step outside of this rigid system and instead educate their child/children at home. The UK government still allows a wonderful amount of freedom for parents to choose what this education looks like. All the law states is that it must be full-time, efficient and suitable for the child’s age, ability and aptitude.
As a home educator myself, I have found this to be interpreted in a myriad of wonderful ways by the home educating families that I have met/know. Some parents choose to do ‘school at home’, with strict timetables and following the National Curriculum for each age. Some prefer to focus on certain subjects/creative skills that they think are particularly important. Elon Musk, for example, has chosen to focus the education of his children on science, maths, engineering, robotics and artificial intelligence. Ad Astra, the tiny school he’s set up, started as a form of home education for his children and those of a select few employees of his company, and despite being a school it sounds as idiosyncratic as home education. It doesn’t teach sport, music or foreign languages, which Musk thinks are a waste of time to learn, but instead focuses on ethics and entrepreneurship.
Some families follow ‘unschooling’ – a philosophy which propounds the idea of allowing the child to spend his/her time doing what they want (and trusting that the child will spend (at least some of!) their time following worthwhile pursuits. John Holt was a proponent of home education, and unschooling in particular, and wrote two massively influential books on the subject in the 1960s.
In practice, most home education is a mixture of all these approaches, unique to each family. And that uniqueness is precisely why I chose to home educate my children. The one-size-fits-all approach of schools, while necessary for ensuring a reasonable standard of education for the whole country, in my opinion cannot allow a child to flourish in the same way that they can outside of that rigid system. They can go at their own pace in every subject, without waiting for others to catch up, or left behind because they’ve been slower to grasp something.
My son is in year 6 and is (almost) ready to sit his Maths GCSE, not because he’s a genius, but because he’s naturally good at maths and doesn’t need to spend the next 6 years learning the material on the GCSE syllabus. My daughter (who is in year 5) does not have his innate enthusiasm for the subject, but being a massive Lord of the Rings fan, she asked to learn Sindarin (one of the Elvish languages). We got a book, but despite it being the best book on the subject, found it disorganised and incoherent. It was interesting to see how Tolkien created a language for a fictional world, and made her open to start learning Latin, which she found she loved – and is now well on her way into learning the language (a level it would have taken 2-3 years to get to at school).
And while they are both keen readers and read a wide range of literature (from Harper Lee to David Walliams), neither of them have good handwriting, and my son hates to answer questions that require written paragraphs. But I figure that handwriting will be unnecessary by the next generation or so, a dying art that some people like to do as a hobby, like knitting or calligraphy. So why force them? Some things will come more naturally later as they mature, and anything that they find they need to be able to do later on, they can learn. There’s nothing like the impetus of need and purpose.
Learning done individually with one teacher/guide is massively more efficient than learning in a class of 20 or 30 children or so (which is why one-to-one tuition can be so effective), which means that we can get a lot done in a relatively short space of time. This leaves lots and lots of time to spend with their friends, with their baby sister and each other, and with my husband and I, time that I try to remind myself every day is all too precious, and which we can never get back.
Zena is a maths, English and Classics tutor. To book a lesson with her, or one of our other excellent tutors, please call us on 020 3198 8006, email us at [email protected], or complete the form on the ‘Contact Us’ page.