Home-education looks different to each family who chooses, bravely, to pursue non-mainstream schooling. No longer can it be defined simply as a choice against school but instead the adoption of a fundamentally unconventional lifestyle; unpopular with many, scorned by some, but ultimately rewarding.
March 23rd 2020 saw schools across the UK close. Only the children of key workers were allowed in the hallowed halls and families were compelled to home-school their children.
Unconventional education was thrust upon all families in the UK. Those who had been scorning home-educated students for years now had to suck it up, access resources and ensure that their children learnt in any way possible.
Has lockdown positively impacted the continuously negative profile that home-education holds in the UK? It may be too early to report. Certain news outlets may always hold deviations from the mainstream in contempt; the Daily Mail wilfully skewed perceptions and blame home-education for the fact that most 16-18 year olds think lockdown has had a negative impact on their future.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
But what’s the real story – why are the number of home-educators consistently on the rise? You don’t have to be a genius to realise it can occur due to a myriad of problems with the education system, none of which will come as a surprise.
Children with disabilities and conditions such as autism and ADHD are often let down by the school system and unable to receive the specialised education required. In some cases, schools simply don’t provide an adequate education; such is the case in the Isle of Wight which happens to be the area containing the highest proportion of home-schooled pupils with every 1 in 50 students being educated at home (BBC, 2017). Of course, we haven’t yet mentioned bullying, economic factors and mental health difficulties. You’re already familiar with the failing UK school system which has resulted in so many families choosing to opt-out, particularly in the last decade.
However, it would be a disservice to the thousands of home-educating families to admit that purely the faults of UK schools have driven so many to what is perceived to be an extreme option. For many families – and I speak from my own experience – this is a free choice suited to the students and their family circumstances and not as a result of the failed school system.
Why would a family electively home-educate their children? For many who have experienced the stress and pressure that lockdown learning brought, it would be worth noting that the schooling many experienced in the past six months is an exact opposite of the ‘normal’ home-education experience. Perhaps the most negative impact lockdown wrought on the name was to assign the stay at home, don’t leave the house, impending doom slogan on the phrase ‘home-education’.
To those who participate, home-education is not about the worksheets completed at the kitchen table. It’s about a lifestyle free of rigorous timetables, compulsory homework, uniform rigidity and depersonalisation. Instead families embrace flexibility, open communication, personalised learning and unique opportunities. For a future filled with uncertainty, flexibility and individuality are key to imagining something better by allowing young people freedom in their learning.
If home-education provides such an impressive option to those looking to head away from classrooms and homework, why are perceptions often so damning? We’re going to examine both the benefits and disadvantages of home-schooling to explain why home-education is a viable option for a new school curriculum.
Benefits of home-education
Say no to the man
Unschooling speaks to the experience of unlearning the conventional school curriculum, rules, regulations and system. Perhaps the most valuable experience that home-education nurtures is the mindset. Away from the oppressive school system, children have the opportunity to think freely without restraint.
Cultivating a mindset that consistently questions authority, traditional power systems and conventional values is exactly what the students of 2020 need. This perspective comes naturally to home-educated pupils; their whole learning experience is based on non-mainstream values.
Creativity is key
Undoubtedly you’ll be as aware of cuts to creative school subjects as the failure of the education system in recent years. Home-education allows children and young people to explore the arts in all its forms because – you guessed it – there is no set curriculum.
Sir Ken Robinson, international education advisor, put it like this: “We should be educating our children in a way which engages and encourages curiosity rather than compliance. We need a system which encourages exploration of diverse and varied ideas, not one which limits them to a specific curriculum and punishes the taking of intellectual risks.”
Disadvantages of home-education
It is vital to mention that the home-education experience varies from family to family simply because of circumstance – both economic and geographical.
Geographically speaking, local authorities vary their support for home-educators across the country. Whilst some are effective in providing support, in other areas families may never hear from councils. Furthermore, the amount of other home-educators living in a certain area can make or break a family as they adopt this new lifestyle. Home-school gatherings enable children to socialise with a variety of ages and participate in group activities. The success of a home-educating family could well depend on how many groups are available in the local area – those living near towns or cities will inevitably fare better.
Alongside the obvious advantages to home-educated families coming from stable economic backgrounds, finance also plays an important role to those home-educated students who still wish to sit the same GCSEs and A-levels as their schooled counterparts, but more on this later.
In the home
Parents’ careers do of course play a huge role in the destiny of home-educators. Those with parents working from home potentially fare better - partly due to the supervision of children, partly due to the already-adopted mindset of flexibility.
The role of the parents do also affect the experience of home-educated students. Recent research by LSE found that 63% of mothers say they take on the primary workload in home-schooling whilst 49% of fathers say their partners deliver the majority of schoolwork. Undeniably home-education can be seen to exacerbate the problematic perception of nuclear families, however it could also be said that home-education has fallen victim to the gender pay gap.
Unschooling: what’s the deal?
As you’ll see from the potential disadvantages of home-education, this learning approach is not for everyone. Home-education should not be touted as a direct replacement for mainstream education but simply as an advantageous alternative to those wishing to pursue creativity and cultivate independence and individualism.
Independence and individuality lead us to a concept which many home-educated families use to describe their education method: unschooling.
The whole concept of unschooling might seem alien to someone who's spent 18 years of their life in a classroom. Essentially, unschooling is one form of homeschooling and ideally unschoolers learn because they want to, not because they have to.
With this approach, the child is setting their own goals and changing their learning to suit themselves. Students have to be independent, resourceful and curious about their subjects.
Siloed learning, or the separation of subject is not used by unschoolers. This is an incredibly neglected part of conventional schools, which often fail to introduce students to an interdisciplinary way of learning. Using an autonomous approach there aren’t any barriers between learning and life. This allows for a more rounded outcome and removes the limitations that students might feel in schools.
Choosing the easy option
Home-education was indeed the only option for a few long months in 2020. Media outlets released horror stories of tantrums, textbook fights, schooling via bribery and worse. Like we were expecting domestic bliss after being locked in our houses for weeks on end?
What we can all agree on from the wealth of experience over the summer is that home-education is not the easy option. Figuring out a learning style to suit the student and acquiring the necessary resources to motivate, support and allow your child to flourish in a home-schooled environment has never been, and never will be, easy.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this style of education isn’t merely an opt-out of school, it’s an opt-in to a more holistic lifestyle. Does this constitute a roses-around-the-door home life? Ask the families who have driven their children across the country to find exam centres accepting private candidates, socialised their offspring with children of all ages and spent hours trawling the internet to find activities to engage their child in their toughest subject. No – tantrums, unmotivated children and low days happen to everyone regardless of education method.
What nobody should be expecting from home-education is an instant solution to the challenges families face: whether that be academic, behavioural or social. Just as teachers work to prepare lesson plans for each class, families must strive tirelessly to create an education plan not just from 09:00 – 15:45 but for the entire day.
Such effort does not pay off immediately. Those scared away from a no-school routine after a month or two need to recommit to a lifestyle of long-term gain. Weeks spent in home-education will reap refreshed mindsets and healthier routines. Months spent in home-education will prompt discoveries: new projects, hobbies, passions. Years spent in home-education will cultivate students not anxious to stop learning at age 18 but continue striving in education.
Made even harder…
...By the government. By now perhaps I’ve converted you to kick away your school bag, turn your school uniform into a Halloween outfit and convert your kitchen into a learning space. However, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't warn you about the biggest challenge currently facing home-schoolers nationally: the government.
Unmotivated children, uncooperative local authorities and scorning family relations may pose their own difficulties to home-educating families. Arguably none of these potential struggles jeopardize home-education. However, the current ignorant actions of the government are doing just that.
For home-educated pupils wishing to sit GCSEs and A-level exams, they must enroll as ‘private candidates’ at exam centres. This means that when exam season rolls around, a handful of home-schooled students sit alongside school pupils in exam halls, all writing the same exam paper. Whilst they have not studied at the school, a minority of exam centres allow private candidates to enter their hallowed halls. Although it takes some research to find these centres, it’s a common system used by home-educators across the country.
Many do choose to go entirely exam-free and create a portfolio of unconventional qualifications, however a majority of teenage home-school students do sit GCSEs, albeit not nine different subjects. The families have to fund the sitting of these exams themselves with no local authority financing even though their contemporaries sit theirs for free.
Unfortunately the issues that Covid-19 has presented for educational establishments mean that the vast majority of these exam centres have made the decision not to accept any private candidates for the foreseeable future.
If home-educated students are no longer able to sit these exams, it may force families to send their children to school simply to be able to take an exam. This move contradicts the lifestyle that home-educators embrace and restricts their schooling freedom.
I quote the details from this petition to require local exam centres to accept home-educated students for public exams.
“Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, examination centres are closing their doors to external candidates making it increasingly difficult for home-educated students to gain qualifications. With many unable to obtain grades this summer, and the possibility of not being able to sit *any* exams this year coming, thousands of home-educated students will miss out on college places and be unable to move on to the next step of their education or professional life without government intervention.”
I’ll let that sit there. Local exam centres are choosing not to allow home-educated pupils to sit exams as private candidates and the government refuses to support home-schooled pupils. Despite delivering a reassurance at the beginning of lockdown that no pupil would be disadvantaged by the crisis, the Department of Education has monumentally failed to support home-educated pupils, who may not be able to take exams for another two years.
After the 2020 exam results debacle, students across the country have undoubtedly been disadvantaged. To school students however, the choice to re-sit is a viable – if inconvenient – option.
If home-educated pupils are unable to sit exams in 2021, the 2020 education crisis will drag into another year and affect the future of the UK’s unseen students.
The unseen revolution
Until now home-education has been something of an unseen revolution. Children raised in home-educating families quietly flourish into young people who are aware of systematic issues and aren’t afraid to pursue unconventional lifestyles. I ask you: is that not what this society needs?
Add your voice to the unseen revolution by signing this petition and allow home-schoolers to continue to pursue their chosen lifestyle.