It is rewarding, exciting, scary and frustrating. It also forces us to confront the question, “what is education?”by Philip Ball / August 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
This September my eldest daughter starts secondary school, a prospect that, like many parents, I regard with a mixture of excitement, pride and trepidation. But when she heads off, it will be a bigger change for my partner and I than for many others—because for the past two years we have been schooling her and her sister ourselves.
When I tell people that we have been home-educating my children, a common response is: “I could never do that!” It’s pitched somewhere between an awestruck, “I could never imagine being able to do that!” and a horrified, “I would never do that!” Homeschooling is generally perceived to be both hard and risky.
I won’t pretend it’s easy. My partner and I were constantly juggling schedules so that one of us was free, if not to be “teaching” then to be ferrying the children between activities. And practicalities aside, there’s a constant inner voice: “Do you really know what you’re doing?” (Answer: of course not.) But having had previous experience of several schools, both state and independent, I know that many of the worries about children’s education—Are the kids happy? Do they have friends? Are they keeping up?—are the same, whether they are taught at home or in a school. The difference is that we have more chance of doing something about it.
Anxieties about children’s education and well-being have become pathological for many parents, and the school system is a big part of the cause. The fixation on choice and constant assessment has created a mad scramble to get to the top of the pile, without, to my mind, any overall improvement in education—possibly quite the reverse. Instead, the results are insecurity for parents and institutions alike—panic, constant tinkering with curricula and teaching methodologies, and an obsession with ranking and tests. These are not just interfering with education but subverting its purpose.
“Many British parents express surprise when they discover that they have a right to home-educate”
Home education offers an alternative. But while freedom from the madness of SATs, fronted adverbials, catchment areas and league tables is tremendously relieving, we’re not really fleeing oppressive schools and “bad teachers” (trying to teach kids yourself only increases your respect for teachers). We just figured our children might be happier this way. As Fiona Nicholson, who runs the home-education website…