Forget school – ‘it’s amazing what kids learn when they’re not forced
West End Extra - by JAMIE WELHAM
Published: 26 June 2009
Forget school – ‘it’s amazing what kids learn when they’re not forced’MP Mark Field champions parents who opt to take children out of mainstream educationFOR most nine-year-olds Monday morning means going back to the classroom – a procession of spelling tests, times tables and long division.But Beth Coles is different. She is home schooled. Beth has never owned a uniform, set foot in an assembly hall or done a homework assignment. Nor, as her mum Lil is keen to point out, has she ever had to sit a Sats test.
Beth lives in an elegant townhouse in Victoria with her parents and four-year-old brother and is part of a sizeable minority of school aged children in Westminster (the low estimate is 40 but the figure is probably closer to 100) whose parents have chosen to opt out of mainstream education.
And while society at large might be suspicious of their motives, home school parents are united in an evangelical belief that it’s the best choice they ever made.“There are so many misconceptions about home education. The main ones being that we must have something to hide, that our children will have no friends and that we are overprotective,” says Lil.
A former teacher and school governor, she says: “Everyone’s reasons for choosing to home educate are different. But a lot of it has to do with classroom sizes, an unhealthy focus on attainment, testing and targets and peer pressure. If Beth had gone to our local school, 70 per cent of the children wouldn’t have English as a first language. It wasn’t an easy choice to make but now I’m convinced that kids at schools are taught how to pass exams and not how to think. It’s amazing what kids learn when they’re not forced.”Under British law it is parents who are responsible for providing their children’s education “in school or otherwise”.
Home educators do not have to be trained teachers nor do they need special qualifications.
And as for a typical day, well, there’s no such thing. It depends on the family, with some hiring tutors and sticking to subject areas, while for others it’s more free spirited, governed by the mood of the child. On some days Beth will go to a museum or a play group with other home-schooled children, on others she stays at home and reads.Another
“It took us a year but looking back I wish I had done it sooner. It took about three years to restore his self-esteem. He was getting pushed around and there was a real survival-of-the-fittest mentality that did him a lot of damage,” she said.Ben is now 13 and has never been back to school.
“At first I was really anxious that he wasn’t going to be socialised so we were rushing around trying to make friends with everyone. I also looked at the curriculum quite a lot. But now I’m a lot more relaxed about it. I don’t compare him with other children. If anything he is more not less socialised.
“If he says he needs more friends we go and find some. And if he said he wanted to go back to school we would do it. But he hasn’t.”While both mothers eulogise the liberating effects of home education, they can no longer take their freedom for granted.
Last week ministers unveiled plans for a major toughening-up of the regulation of home education, which will force families who opt out of schooling to register with their local authorities, submit learning plans and be subjected to regular inspections. Parents fear the Badman report (named after the Kent County Council schools chief Graham Badman, who authored the report) presages a major erosion of civil liberties. The review was ordered to investigate whether home education is used to conceal “child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude”. If proposals are introduced, local authorities could order a child back to school, if it believes the provision at home is not up to scratch.
“What they are doing is conflating child welfare with education and that’s not right. When they go looking for child abuse in home educating families they never find any,” says Lil, who has managed to persuade Cites of Westminster and London MP Mark Field to carry their fight to Parliament.
“I think Graham Badman has completely the wrong idea. He seems to think children need protecting from their parents and we’re all guilty of neglect. The wider implications of this report are very scary, draconian in fact, and we need to try and get people to understand home education before they make it impossible. It is the state meddling where they have no place to.
”Mr Field, who has met the mothers in person, warned the Commons the government were “manipulating current anxiety about child abuse to intrude further into home education when they have little right to do so”, adding that there was “an overwhelming case that home educators should be allowed to get on with their lives without undue state interference.”