A new article in Schoolsweek entitled ‘Home education doubles, with schools left to ‘pick up pieces’ when it fails‘ has managed to send me into ranting mode again this morning. The body of the piece is bad enough but look at that title! I’m aware that titles have to catch the eye but that schools pick up any pieces is especially specious. The lack of balance and even critical thought in this article is staggering.
Firstly, why do we think that home education has doubled? The article does include a half truthful answer, “Councils say dissatisfaction with the school system, greater awareness of home education, not getting a preferred school place and bullying are the major reasons for the rise.” But not before they explain that parents remove kids from school to avoid fees for missing days or the risk of exclusion. They’ve attempted to make home educated kids out to be the problem kids. The ones who refuse to go to school. The ones who cause trouble. We all know those kids don’t have parents who can teach them anything at home don’t we? We need to get those kids into school! Don’t we?
But wait! Did you know that some schools are pushing kids into home education? In fact the first case study at the end of the article is one example. There are many more cases of this happening. And WHY are kids refusing to go to school in the first place? Is it the bullying by their peers? The pressure to achieve? Is it an existing mental health issue? These kids may be autistic, have an anxiety disorder or have ADHD, among other perfectly reasonable explanations.
We need to stop looking at kids who don’t do as we tell them to like little robots as trouble makers. They are humans. They are developing humans with strong emotions but without the life experience to know how to handle them. Schools put so much pressure on them; horrible peers, horrible authority figures and horrible expectations create a horrible situation. Why is the government’s response always to just keep piling on the pressure?
The stories I’ve heard in home education circles from parents who have been left to ‘pick up the pieces’ of their children’s mental and emotional health after schools have neglected them for years have been heartbreaking. These aren’t isolated incidents. They are rife. I can only imagine how many more are stuck in the school system without the option to home educate because of parents’ other commitments.
If you want to focus on the academics side, lets not forget that all children develop at different rates. A big reason that parents home educate is to remove the pressure to learn something that their children aren’t ready to learn yet. Children in the United Kingdom are pressured to start learning to read at four years old. FOUR! A paper written by Cambridge academics years ago called School starting age: the evidence, was very clear that they considered that too early and actually damaging to children’s mental health. They shouldn’t be expected to start learning to read until they are six or seven years old, for a number of reasons. So first of all, why are schools still doing this if that’s the case? Secondly, how can you call it “picking up the pieces” when parents have been protecting their children from this?
The article goes on to say that the rise in children deregistered just ahead of and during year six has risen 179 and 141 percent respectively. They don’t bother to give an explanation for this, but I once had a teacher tell me this:
Hello, I taught year 6 for the last 10 years and I can honestly tell you that if (sic) all the primary years this is definitely the one to miss! All schools are different and apply different amounts of pressure, revising, boosting etc but essentially they are all going to be judged by their SATs results ( the school- that is the purpose of SATs) and as such feel ridiculous amounts of pressure that they pass into heads and they pass into teachers and even with the best will in the world, they pass onto the kids. They learn nothing new, the curriculum is even more narrowed, boring and prescriptive and then they sit impossibly difficult tests only for half of them (last year’s pass rate was 45%) to be told they are not working at the expected level. It is soul destroying for everyone involved and one of the key reasons for me leaving teachings and sparing my own boys (year 4 and 5) from the torture of it. I sound dramatic but I can’t emphasise enough how much of a waste of a year it is. For some reason it has been hyped up as a really important year but it makes absolutely no difference to the children. The SATs mean nothing, most secondary schools make the children re-sit them in year 7 anyway.
She’s not the only one. According to this survey, by school leaders’ union NAHT “School leaders are reporting in ever-increasing numbers that their struggle to recruit is caused by the number of teachers leaving the profession. This increased by a further nine percentage points, being cited by 42% of respondents, after more than doubling between 2014 (15%) and 2015 (33%). ”
Further this report from January 2016 showed that “58% of London headteachers have contemplated leaving in the next three years,” but “only 31% of secondary teachers in London are aspiring for senior leadership.”
So the real story is that teachers, head teachers and students are all running, not walking, from the education system. No one wants to be there! Where is the article about that? Who is trying to explain to the British public the extent to which the British education system is in a shambles?
The vast majority of home educating parents are just trying to protect their children. And as ever the government’s response is to coerce and force instead of fixing the problem.
Also, have a look at some of the Secret Teacher series in the Guardian, such as:
Then there’s this from the Independent: