Could home-schooling be the answer for some parents?

by Anna Michaelidou

The topic of home-schooling has been on my mind for some time now and I think it's something many parents may consider at some point during their children's school days or early life.

Pupils learning at home

I recently read an article in BBC News on the 'Rising numbers of Pupils Home Educated' and was quite surprised at the growing number of children that are now being home schooled:

...There has been a 65% increase in children recorded as home educated in the UK over six years...

Why are so many more parents opting for home education for their children? An article on Family Education states:

...parents who homeschool feel they can do a better job. Few parents realize how much time is really wasted in school. It has been estimated that an average of less than one hour out of each school day is actually spent learning — after administrative duties, discipline issues, changing classes, and distractions. Of course there are exceptions, but the point is that hours of precious time are simply wasted. Add hours of homework into that mix, as well as getting to and from school, and it's easy to see why many parents have decided it is simply not in their child's best interests to go to school. They believe their children can learn more in less time in a different environment.

And they're right. Consistently, homeschooled kids score higher than their schooled peers on standardized tests. In fact, by the time homeschooled kids are in the eighth grade, they are four years ahead of their schooled peers. Often, this learning takes place in less than two hours a day. And what do these homeschooled kids do with all that free time? Mostly, they enjoy doing what every other child has to wait until the weekend to do — ride their bikes, roller blade, ice skate, hike, build forts, swim — you name it...

This is all very interesting! Who would have actually thought that a couple of hours of home study can be more effective than six hours in school? And the statement about home-schooled kids being four years ahead of their schooled peers is quite alarming; although how accurate this is I'm unsure!

Home Education

What exactly is Home Education? An article on the BBC Education website states:

Home education is when a child is educated at home rather than at school. It's perfectly legal in the UK to educate your child at home and you don't need to be a qualified teacher to do so.

Children who are home educated receive all their education from their parents or carers, sometimes with the help of outside tutors. If you decide to home educate your child you don't have to follow formal rules about how you teach or when you teach.In some ways home education is a continuation of the teaching that every pre-school child receives from his or her parent or carer. But from the age of five education is a legal requirement, so if you choose to home educate after this age you need to plan extremely carefully.

Parents have the right to decide whether home education is right for their child, but all children must be educated. With the help of a private tutor, many parents see home-schooling as an option. Some parents feel that they do not have the right knowledge or background, or the time, to help their child with all of their home-schooling and seek some help from a private tutor whilst others feel it is better to hire a tutor for the whole home learning experience. Private tutors can help home-schooled children with a whole range of skills from general academic learning to exam techniques. First Tutors is an excellent educational site providing help for parents seeking tutors for their children in a massive array of subjects and all levels from pre-school right up to University and beyond.

Reasons for home-schooling

There are many reasons why parents will opt for their children to be educated at home. Some of those reasons include:

  • Unhappy with the quality of the schools educational system
  • Bullying
  • Concern for your child's safety and welfare
  • Your child has a phobia of going to school
  • You feel home-schooling will further your child's learning potential
  • Your child has learning disabilities and you feel there is not enough support or assessment for them

I am sure there are more reasons why a parent may decide to home-school their child and these are just a few of them. For myself, I am currently considering home-education for my children because I simply cannot get my children into a school that I feel is suitable for their educational needs.

My Personal Experience

I hadn't realised that home education was an option for so many parents. I have moved back to the UK after living abroad for over fifteen years. As I came back in late August my school options were very limited. I had to settle for a school, that in the opinion of Ofsted, was requiring improvement. Now I'm sure a lot of parents can relate to the fact that sending my children to a school that is obviously inadequate in so many ways is not something I am happy to do.

I am not ignorant and am well aware of all the local schools as I grew up in the area and education was something I, and my parents, chose very carefully. I was lucky enough to have parents that could afford to send me to a private school and after successfully passing my 11+ I went onto a grammar school and subsequently University. Having four children and a major change in our economic circumstances means that I am not 'lucky enough' or economically able to send four children to a private school. So my next best option is ensuring that I pick a school that fulfils the needs of my children's education. This is not as easy as I had first thought.

You may be wondering why I am so adamant to move my children. Is the school that they are currently in really that bad? Are my children not learning as much as they would in say a school that was 'outstanding'? The answer is simple; no they are not. How do I know? Because I have experienced schools that are 'outstanding' and I have experienced schools that are 'inadequate' or 'requiring improvement'. There is a big difference. I have been a teacher for over twenty years and a parent for nearly twelve years. An outstanding school will make sure children in primary school are prepared and ready for secondary or grammar school. An inadequate school will not, in my opinion, be all that bothered.

My year 1 daughter's first day at her new school involved a teacher who apparently shouts his way through the lesson making her feel both anxious and afraid. I picked her up from the school gates that very day and was met with a timid and upset child that had just had her first day at a 'big' school. Practically every day since I have had a text message informing me of the numerous bumps, scratches and bruises my child has endured by another child (not the same child every time) at lunch or break time or even during class time. The message usually reads something like:

Natasha was accidentally pushed over in the playground. She bruised her knee. Antiseptic lotion was applied and she is absolutely fine.

Now, I understand that children can be rough at times but this is four times a week and sometimes more. Are there no teachers supervising the playground? Is my child to endure this for the next six years? Not if I can help it.

I'll give you another example. My year 5 daughter, also at the same school as my year 1, had been doing a class that was obviously not challenging her enough. She would come home from school and tell me that all she had to do was spell out the word 'other' five times. Now, as a teacher myself I pride myself in making sure my children are progressing academically and monitor their progress as much as I can. When after a month she was still in the class that was spelling out words like 'other' I took it upon myself to have a word with her teacher. This was the reply of the teacher:

Yes, I am aware that your daughter is finding it very easy but unfortunately we haven't had the staff to assess her and to be able to move her up a group.

Hmm. Surely, if as a teacher you are aware that the level you have placed a child at is not their proper level, that in itself is already an assessment? It bewilders me that such simple things have such a tedious process and a simple switch to a higher group is surely all that is required here. It actually took a further month and two more visits from me to move my daughter to a more suitable group. But that's a month of the school year wasted in my opinion!

Home schooling options

So, could home schooling be an option for me? The problem here, as I'm sure for many parents parents is the fact that I work full-time as does my husband; although I am lucky enough in this instance to be working from home. An interesting article in Family Education talks about the pro's and con's of home schooling. It states:

Home-schooling is becoming more popular every day, with a growth rate of 7 to 15 percent per year. There are about two million children currently learning at home. Home-schooled kids do well on standardized tests, are welcome at colleges and universities, and as adults, have a reputation for being self-directed learners and reliable employees.

The article goes on to state all the pro's and con's of home-schooling. The pro's include:

  • Educational Freedom
  • Physical, Emotional and Religious Freedom
  • Closer Family Relationships
  • Well-rested Kids

And the con's include:

  • Time and financial restraints
  • Being with your kids 24/7
  • Limited Team Sports
  • Living Outside the Norm

A parent's decision whether to home-school their child or leave them in a school is entirely their own. Important factors to consider would be:

  • whether the parent has the time to dedicate to the child's education at home.
  • the skills and patience to provide the natural environment the child will need at home.
  • the economic means to buy the books, curriculum, computer, scientific equipment, writing resources, field trips etc.
  • the knowledge and experience needed to be able to help and aid your child's growth and development.

Reading about other people's experiences and reasons for home-schooling is definitely a great way to start when deciding whether home education is for you and your child. An article I particularly liked in The Independent on 'Home Schooling; if a child gets bored at school, blame the system' was particularly interesting and inspiring.

Of course, there seem to be a world of benefits with home-schooling but when I think of the school spirit, team fun, friend support and social skills my children may miss out on it leaves the decision making again very difficult. Home-schooling may be good for a certain time period but I'm not sure I'd want my children to miss out on the 'school experience' side of things altogether. Also, home-schooling may be fine for younger children but as they get older and need further information, science equipment and a deeper understanding of certain subjects, especially towards GCSE's and A-Levels, a parent would need to be fully prepared, invest in all the necessary equipment and be able to delve into each subject accordingly and with the best knowledge possible.

An article on Homeschool-companion talking about the disadvantages of home schooling, states:

...unless you have trained and hold qualifications as a teacher you will not be able to teach your children as efficiently as a trained professional teacher would. You want to give your children the best possible start in life and that means providing them with the education to be able to succeed in the world of work...Not only do you have to prepare lessons on every subject, but you also need to have researched each topic enough to feel comfortable answering questions your child may have...One of the more serious negative effects of homeschooling is that children can miss out on the opportunity to interact with other children. This can stunt their development socially as they do not learn how to communicate or behave in group settings. This is obviously a vital skill in living and working as an adult...

To conclude

Whether a parent decides to home-school their child or allow government schools to take over their education will always be a difficult decision and one that should not be taken lightly. In my own personal, current situation it is definitely something I will consider.; at least for a certain period of time. The question in my mind is whether I will be able to provide them with the educational developmental skills they need to progress to further education and have the patience and time to see through the necessary dedication needed. Of course, I have the knowledge that there are many tutors now available to help with subjects I may not feel confident about. But one thing is for sure, I will continue to battle for a better education for them and do all that I can to ensure that I have tried my best to ensure a better future for them.