Not back to school….. are we missing out?

It’s that time again. September.

Across social media there are pictures upon pictures of smart, pressed uniforms. Polished new shoes waiting to be worn. Children excited/nervous/anxious at what the year will bring. New teachers, new classrooms. A whole year older.

Children who look so small and vulnerable, yet at the same time so grown up as they head off for their first days.

Parents nationwide have mixed feelings. Pride, anxiety, excitement, joy and that hint of sadness perhaps at yet another milestone reached and passed in our children’s growing years. It is a huge big deal!

My four year old would have been starting reception, and I’ve seen the photos of lots of our friends in their uniforms. As a home ed mum, I haven’t had that experience with him. Perhaps our first “missing out”. No uniform, no smart shoes, no waving him off with a kiss on the cheek and a tear in my eye while he carries a back pack nearly as big as himself into a strange new building.

Nope. For him, everything remained the same. He played reading eggs at his own request to play his game. He prepared his own lunch of crumpet pizzas with his sister help. He watched some telly, he played with friends (well, the teenagers had friends round and they all played together).

Does it feel strange? Yes, just like when my 13 yr olds year group transitioned into secondary school without him. Or when my 16 yr olds year group were enjoying their proms and their “study leave”. Yes, we are missing those.

Do I feel like we are missing out? It’s a tough one. On those specific things, They are definately experiences that my children won’t have. So a very simple answer is Yes, they are missing out. I guess a more appropriate question is, are we sad about it?

Because there was so much that we did experience within the mainstream school system that I am deeply sorry for. Things that I truly wish that my children never had to experience, and I missed out so many of their special moments and their firsts over the years when my older children were in school. It simply doesn’t make up for those amazing, proud moments of seeing them in a clean pressed uniform. Because the days when they came home in pieces can’t be covered up with shoe polish and a smile. The tears can’t be wiped clean with a smart shiney blazer or a fancy prom dress and the anxiety can’t be fixed with a new set of stationery. So no, I’m not sad about missing out on a few occassions. On a big “back to school” photos.

I want to do something momentous. I want to mark this huge occasion that four yr old has reached the age where I need to include him on my reports to the Local authority.

But nothing I can think of translates into a photo. The Pride, the joy, the adventure, the amazement, the excitement. Because we are a home ed family. And for us, for him, everything will carry on. And it is a huge big deal!

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Do grades define You?

GCSE results day yesterday, it seemed to trigger mixed responses across my Facebook newsfeed, and for many people close to me. Some who sat the exams and collected their results, Some who didn’t, home educating parents, there was a lot of emotions in the air yesterday.

I remember 2 yrs ago going with my 14 yr old daughter to collect her results. She didn’t get the grades that she had hoped for but they weren’t important. For us, the big thing was that she had overcome her anxiety and walked into that environment and taken the exams. She was 14 and had been home educated for 2 yrs and she chose that path. When she then chose to not sit any more, we supported that decision. This year we know that she has already achieved her English, maths and ICT functional skills. We know that she has achieved her bronze duke of Edinburgh award, She was awarded a Hertfordshire young people’s award, She has gained work experience. She is surrounded by friends and family who are incredibly proud of her, and that love and pride is not dependent on grades or results.

I know there were teenagers celebrating with their families some fantastic results, and plans for further education can now continue to move forward without a hitch, parents are proud and that’s great. But what of those who didn’t do so well, or those who for whatever reason didn’t sit the exams?

GCSEs aren’t a legal requirement, at any age! And while they can make routes into certain careers a bit easier, they aren’t the be all and end all! I have no GCSEs and have never been held back. I reached senior level doing a job that I loved and yet was able to choose to become self employed and work around my family following maternity leave. I have a Bsc that I worked for in my adult years, and own 2 properties along with my husband who left school after his GCSEs.

I know of many home educated youngsters who are doing brilliantly on their chosen paths. Some include sitting exams, others dont. Education isn’t a one size fits all package as we well know, all these young people are overcoming their own things and following their paths. Alternative qualifications and experiences are just as beneficial if not more so, skills learnt will stay with young people longer than knowledge read and regurgitated onto a piece of paper.

A quick search gave lots of results of famous and successful people who didn’t shine at school: Richard Branson left school at 16, so did Simon Cowell, he only had one 0 level.

Drew Barrymore dropped out of school aged 13 yrs after being admitted into rehab. Successful tv journalist Jon Snow got a C in English and failed all his other A level subjects. Broadcaster Clare Balding planned to study at Oxbridge but her A level results delayed that. She chose to take 2 yrs out before resitting her exams, practising her interview skills and finally gaining a place to study English at Cambridge.

Lord Alan Sugar left school with just one GCSE and Russell Brand wad actually labelled a “waste of space” by one of his teachers!

Steven Spielberg was rejected by film school 3 times, that didn’t stop him creating many multi award winning classic films! In fact, he only returned to study to get his BA in 2002!!

Jeremy Clarkson got two Us and a C at A level, Robbie Williams failed his GCSEs through lack of interest. David Karp left school at 14 but made his millions founding Tumblr.

Joey Essex got a U in his drama GCSE. It hasn’t stopped him, he now owns his own fashion brand and boutique.

Writer and Critic AA Gill, is incredibly dyslexic. He had a miserable time struggling at school and was advised to become a hairdresser. He didn’t start writing until his 30s but gained success.

Green and Blacks chocolate founder, former Cosmo editor and the UKs youngest ever magazine editor Jo Fairley left school at 16!

Guy Ritchy was kicked out of school aged 15 for bad behaviour. Lawrence Graff (OBE) left school to learn the jewellery trade at 15 years old. He founded the Graff diamond company in 1960.

And not forgetting, Albert Einstein himself! He was famously expelled from school for being “a rebel and a dunce” he did not even speak until he was 4 years old!

There are many people who I know in my life with various results at school. Some as adults have found they needed to resit exams to get the grades that their adult chosen careers have required. They have done this, no trouble. Some are in jobs that have never required GSCE results. Some have no evidence of GCSE grades but higher education certificates instead.

School, exams is not a route that suits everyone, and fortunately it is not the only route. Whether you or your children sat their exams or not, whether you or your children got the desired grades or not, what is absolutely important is that you remember to do what you love. Do what makes you happy and work for what you want. You are not defined by your exam results. In the long run they will have very little influence over who you are as a person.

Be you, be happy, be kind. That is what defines you.

Learning from peers

Something that seems to keep coming up, as usual at this time of year, is how important it is for children to mix with those their own age. How crucial school is for a child to learn to socialise.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’ll say it until the end of time. Children do not need to be around a large group of children their own age to learn! In fact, children learn brilliantly from those slightly older, What can they learn by way of progression if they spend all their time with people at the same age and stage as them?

I have said it before, I will say it again…. I have observed children learning freely and naturally. I’m not talking solely academically, I am talking risk taking, trial and error, problem solving, group game rules and friendships. I am talking pure socialisation. Not to be confused with the forced association of having to spend 6 hrs a day 5 days a week with the same people. The stuff that can’t be taught, it is acquired knowledge and strengthened through practise. I see this all the time. When home educated children get together ages, gender, abilities stop being divides and start just being “one of the group”. If a child can’t do something, they aren’t segregated into their own group of “those who cant” they are supported, helped and encouraged to learn by those who can!

I have watched my teenagers help others learn to swim and build water confidence. I have watched my 13 year old help a friend learn to ride a bike! And it doesn’t end there, when using gym equipment at a home ed meet I watched the children learning from each other. So my son, aged 2 at the time, watched the teenagers running and jumping, and he couldn’t manage that. But he kept watching and some smaller children who also couldn’t jump it came along. They could climb and jump off. He watched them for a few minutes, tried it himself and nailed it! Sure I might have sprouted a few more grey hairs in the process but THAT is what natural learning looks like!

I have seen children learn to read, not by being taught, But by enjoying being read too and by watching other children read.

Of course I am not suggesting that as home educating parents we step back completely, many of us spend large amounts of time carefully planning, resourcing and researching methods and subjects for our children’s educational benefit. But there is clearly a lot to be said from allowing children freedom to mix, without being segregated by age.

I watched this pixar short about a baby bird learning to get food. All the birds in the flock are wading and they run away from each wave. They catch small (clams*) as they stay so close to the shore line and work quickly. This poor baby bird got scared by the waves….. then met some crabs. The crabs weren’t scared of the waves, they would simply bury into the sand and allow the waves to wash over them. The baby bird learnt from this and you see him catching massive clams and bouncing around with no fear. It’s a lovely little film, But at the same time it really highlighted to me how much our children benefit from breaking out of the box we put them in, mixing with different people, different backgrounds, different ages. I have learnt so much from people I have met since home educating, families from all over. And my dad who is 69yrs old says the same thing, so of course our children will benefit. Had that baby bird not met those crabs, he would have stayed with all the other birds, catching small clams quickly and forever scared of the waves.

“I would love to home ed but………..”

I sit with a slight feeling of confusion, given how much attention home education has had in the media and across social media, that there are still parents facing fines for a childs poor attendance, still parents concerned about the mental health of their school refusing children, parents expressing anger and fear around issues regarding bullying and anxiety in their children and parents expressing sadness at the end of the half term. When asked about considering home education I see the replies of “I would love to, but I think they do need to go to school to learn to socialise” and “I wouldn’t be able to teach them everything that they need to know”. Am I, as a home educator, more aware of the stories covered by the media? am I more aware of the common hash tags used across social media to highlight the diversity of home education?  Are parents who are struggling with their children in mainstream school missing these things?

There still seems to be a common misconception that a childs life needs to be focused around grades and exam results. Fears that without excellent SAT results they will be held back in “lower sets” through secondary school, without brilliant MOCK results they wont be supported to achieve the much needed GCSE results without which they will surely never get onto their chosen college courses and without attending school they will never learn how to get up, put on a uniform or function in employment as an adult. *insert eyeroll*

I have spent time talking to employers, self employed parents, company directors and educators. It is eye opening to know how many of these don’t have GCSEs, how many of these when looking at CVs with a view to employ someone don’t actually even get as far as looking at GCSE results. How many even when they have glanced at them have never actually asked for evidence of this. As an adult, self employed, home educating mum who has an hons degree, I have no GSCEs. I played truant and dropped out of school before my year 9 SATS.  I managed to work up and gain employment as senior housing support staff before going on maternity leave and choosing not to return and to become self employed instead, never once have I been asked for GCSE results (fortunate, as I have none). I have spoken to university graduates and have looked at the figures of how many are struggling to find employment in their chosen fields, with many employers favouring experience over qualifications.  I spoke with one manager who was in the process of recruiting a new member for his team, and was told that when looking through CVs he was focused not just on qualifications but on interests and hobby’s. When working in IT then to find an applicant who has included IT, computers, technology etc in their interests and hobby’s has a higher ranking than someone who studied it at GCSE 3 yrs ago and has shown no interest in it since. I mentioned my lack of GCSEs and how I went about studying with the Open University, to then be informed by one employer that they would look more favourably on that because it would show that I had chosen to do it, that I had the time management skills to complete assignments at home in my own time and that I had been working and gaining experience at the same time.

I discussed college entry requirements when A was planning to apply to a hair and beauty course at college. She had no English or Maths GCSEs which were being requested, yet she attended a taster session with the tutors and had excellent feedback. She was working on her English and Maths functional skills and the college informed me that she could absolutely apply using those and that she would benefit from putting together a portfolio of work she had done as she had experimented and gained experience in this area. We were also informed that tutor feedback from the taster session would play a part in the application process as well, so she stood a very good chance of getting onto her chosen course without the exam results.  She chose not to apply in the end, her decision. She has been attending a training centre for her functional skills and whilst working towards the highest levels she did a free taster with the motor mechanics tutor and surprised herself at how much she enjoyed it, so signed up for that and is staying where she is, along with her work experience in the office of a local large construction firm.

I have spoken to home educators whose children have grown, a home educated young lady who gained a place at her chosen university for a midwifery degree. A home educated young man who attended a circus skills session and it sparked a passion and he now travels the world with a circus company.  A young man who gained A home educated young lady who runs a production company running shows and travelling to fringe festivals etc. The list really does go on. Of course not all home educated youngsters make such big steps. But I think its safe to say that nor do all children who attend school? our world, our society needs shop assistants, fast food workers, cleaners etc. We need carpenters, construction workers, plumbers…… there is also absolutely no shame, nothing wrong with these professions, so let’s not discount them in the grand scheme of success! Its ok to raise the free spirit who is happy to get any job they can to allow them to save up to travel the world.

My message to those parents who “would love too but couldn’t” ….. WHY? There are single parents working and home educating. Its a juggle, but they are out there. The fact that learning can take place at any time assists with this.  There are parents who arent formally educated themselves who home educate, many who learn alongside their children, I have spoken to a mother and daughter both working on their GCSEs alongside each other! Home education isn’t about recreating school at home, there isn’t the need to teach to a curriculum, to know all the answers. Allow your children to learn how to find the answers! once a child knows how to learn then there are no limits! Trust them. Have you ever looked at a computer game they are playing and thought “I dont know how on earth they do that!!” but look at them go, watch them smashing it! Did you teach them that?  Have you ever watched your child climb a tree and jump off, landing it with a roll preventing injury? did you teach them that? Children are natural born learners, they are curious little sponges and they learn through trial and error. Home education gives them the space, time and freedom to develop their skills and knowledge.

Lastly, I would always urge parents who are considering home education but who feel unable to support their children’s learning to question themselves. Did you go to school? Are you putting your faith in a system that has ultimately left you feeling unable to even educate your own children?

This blog isnt about trying to claim that home education is right for everyone. I know and have said many times before that some children thrive in and love school. For some families it is the best option. But for those who aren’t so sure, don’t discount home education as a viable option because you doubt your own abilities. The mental health of your child is more important than grades.

Mental Health Awareness Week. Home Education and Us.

Mental health awareness week, a rise to break the taboo and to highlight that it is OK not to be OK. No one should have to put a front on their emotions and feelings for the sake of others.  There has been a dramatic rise in young people experiencing mental distress, depression and anxiety. There are so many lifestyle choices that it would be impossible to blame the increase on any particular specific factor, but there is no denying that the pressure young people are put under probably plays a huge part.

I was struck by the irony on social media that the same week when I saw the posts about mental health awareness week, I was also seeing the posts from parents about exam week. Young people nation wide are sitting their SATs and GCSEs this week. I have seen posts written by young people, and discussed with parents and teachers and have my own personal experience of the pressures surrounding these tests,  it is clear that the pressure to succeed and do well is high, and who is benefiting from that?

Of course when there is a career path that a young person is choosing to follow, then they work to achieve what they need to make that easier such as achieving requirements for college entry. But for young people sitting their SATs, and those older teens who are sitting GCSEs in subjects that they hold no passion for but the school insist that they have to “pick one from each box”, what of those young people? A college does not require 6+ GCSEs for entry, so why are children put under this level of pressure to achieve? Why are these young people not being supported, encouraged and reassured? Why is there not more emphasis on health and wellbeing amongst school children, instead the focus is on attainment, averages and attendance.

A child performing “below average” is cause for concern but the rule of averages itself means that some children will be below that mark. And this testing and scoring starts so very young. Children are expected now to be able to perform academically upon starting school. Children as young as 3 and 4 being expected to be learning to read and write without the fun of being free. I see parents worrying that their very young children are behind their peers, while older children sit their Mocks and are estimated to get poor marks and told hard to work harder and do their best, when they already did their best in their mocks and so it is instilled in them that their best is not good enough.

I have a 16 yr old. When she was at school in year 6 doing her SATs she was admitted to hospital with chest pains and struggling to breathe. This marked the start of her anxiety. I am sure there were markers before this, looking back I can see the signs were there but until we reached hospital admission and diagnosis it was unclear to me. She was removed from school in 2014, as was my now 13 yr old son, and things that have since become clear left me in no doubt that school would not be the bet way forward for my younger children.

My 13 yr old is a very talented artist, he is working towards his bronze Arts Award and is trying new techniques, he is mostly self taught and is completely self motivated with his practise. At school he was totally turned off “art”….. copying other peoples work did not appeal to him, and being compared to others knocked his confidence in his abilities. I experienced the same in him with regards to creative writing, he is a brilliant story writer and yet he thought he hated writing as for him at school it would be cause for complaint.

My 16 yr old has had to work hard to overcome her difficulties. She has been hit by ill health on top of her depression and her anxiety. She has achieved her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, she has work experience, has sat iGCSEs, is gaining qualifications in English, Maths and IT and is learning Motor Mechanics at a training centre. However, th damage done in school by bullying took its toll and there have been many ups and downs, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing. I don’t think that this will change quickly or ever really completely go away, but she has found copying strategies and has determination to not let it affect her the way it once did. Nor do I think it is something that we are experiencing alone.

More and more parents message me each week, children refusing school, schools failing to deal with bullying issues, failing to provide for Special Educational Needs (SEN) children, failing to acknowledge or accept mental health issues, Children self harming. The list goes on. The waiting list for any kind of therapy or counselling for young people is bottomless. Parents feeling that they have no choice but to home educate, it becomes a life saving measure. It shouldn’t come to that, but in far too many cases, it does.

I look at my son who will be 4 in less than a week. He would be starting school in September. He cant read, but he loves books. He cant write but he loves pencils and colouring.  He is happy, he is knowledgeable, he is confident. These are traits that I don’t want him to lose, I am not prepared to sacrifice his individualism, his curiosity or his confidence for the sake of forced academics when I am 100% sure that those skills will also come in time, when he is ready. Just like walking, talking and all the other skills he has already mastered. I do not need to have my children compared to a classroom full of other children their age, I do not need an annual report of their progress and I do not need to put pressure on my children to achieve something that is of no interest or long term benefit to them.

It is the job of a school to mass produce paper success and once each year group leave the school they are no longer schools concern, therefore the focus is, understandably, on that paper legacy. The exam results. My job as I see it, is to raise secure, stable and happy young people who know how to learn, who are able to learn throughout their lives and who can succeed at being happy.

 

 

 

 

International woman’s day; our mothers, sisters, daughters and our menfolk.

Thursday March 8th 2018, also known as International Woman’s Day. A day to celebrate achievements and progress of women through history, a day to praise the strong women who we admire and a day to campaign and press forward for more gender parity. So what is not to love about these things? I understand seeing men question “but what about international mens day? (19th November if you care to look rather than just complain) but why was it so common for me to see other women and girls questioning and dismissing this day that they should surely benefit from?

Should a day with such deep roots over the past more than a century really bring about such a dismissive attitude? I take pleasure in being able to drive my children around, having the option to remove them from school and take responsibility for their education, in being able to choose to work, to be able to follow the news and to vote.  I love that my daughter is growing up able to choose what she wants to study,  that we are able to go out on a cold day wearing jeans and hoodies and big boots. I love that she will never be in a job that will require her to wear shoes that cripple her feet.

I long for her to live in a world where women are spoken to in a professional manner in the same way as men. I long for her to live in a world where if she chooses to have children and then go to work she wont constantly be asked “who has the kids” while her male colleagues shake hands and greet each other with jokes. I long for her to live in a world where mothers don’t have to ask their partners to “watch the kids” while fathers are able to come and go.  I want my children to live in a world where access and achievements in education, training and employment are not affected by gender.  Isn’t that what all parents of daughters want? Isn’t that something to strive for?

The history of how women were treated is clear and plain, women have faught and died for the rights that we so take for granted today. There are so many greats, so many makers of history, game changers.  There are movies about them, books upon books written about them. Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffragettes, Katherine Johnson and the other “hidden figures” of NASA. Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Hepburn, Indira Gandhi, Marie Curie. even, love her or hate her, our first female prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Are these world changers not worth a day to celebrate? Are we as women, our mothers, our grandmothers, our daughters, not worthy of a day to acknowledge and celebrate our freedom from past oppression and to campaign for that bit more progress world wide? Men, do you not want a better world for your daughters, sisters, nieces?

Sadly I think that some of the posts regarding international women’s day across social media serve only to highlight how much further we as a nation have to go to achieve widespread gender parity.

So what about international men’s day? Celebrated on 19th November to  focus on men and boys health,, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting male role models.  It is an occasion to highlight discrimination against men and boys and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care. There is the recognition of the number of absent fathers, and of those families where even if the father is around studies have shown that the average father spends less than 10 minutes a day one3 to one with his child. Because in the same way that so many women in the workplace are discriminated against, so too are men in the home. My own father experienced the discrimination as a widower left to raise me and my brother. We all see the “dad dressed the baby” jokes, the dismissive depiction of men being incapable around the home. Why as a woman am I told that I am lucky that my husband helps with childcare and housework? We both live here, we both use stuff and the children are ours, we both made them, It isn’t lucky, it’s how it should be. Lets stop putting our menfolk down, because if as women we know that we can perform equally academically and in employability then shouldn’t we also acknowledge that our menfolk are equally able to parent?

Learning together

Quite often I see comments from people saying that they would love to home educate their children but they worry that they wouldn’t know what to teach them, or that they aren’t confident enough in their abilities to help them. I’ve seen comments about parents being unable to even help with school homework so how would they ever be able to home educate.

So, here is the thing, we don’t suddenly reach an age where we are only able  to learn from books in a classroom, nor do we reach an age where we are no longer able to learn new things. See the huge number of mature students in colleges and universities, studying from home and completing training courses in the line of work, it’s very clear that we are never too old to learn.  So what is stopping you learning alongside your children if they want to cover something you are not confident in? I have met home educating mums who are maths whizzes, coding experts, fantastic bakers and palaeontology experts due to their childrens passions.

While home educating teens I have learnt more maths than I ever remember learning in school, I have been able to learn it and master it in ways that work for me, and then support my children to do that same, long division, long multiplication, algebraic equations etc all make far more sense to me now than they ever did before I removed my children from school. I am able to spot and identify birds of prey as we pass them perched on fences by the fields or soaring in the skies overhead and just this week my 16 yr old daughter and I had our first sewing lesson together.  I think its also safe to say that I have learnt far more about British history and politics since home educating than I ever learnt at school. The great thing is, I have learnt all this casually alongside my children, we talk about things together, if something comes up that we don’t know then we look it up, google is used frequently on all of our phones as often in the car one of them will look something up while we are talking.  They absorb knowledge like sponges, more than I even realise we cover, at times it isn’t until I hear my children talking to someone else in casual conversation that I realise how much has clicked. Observing conversations that my son has had with staff at the natural history museum, at nature reserves, zoos and even at the tower of London, seeing the speed with which he can identify cars and tell me about their value, top speed etc really draws attention too  how much knowledge he has stored.

I love that I am able to see their faces and be there when it clicks, when they learn something new. I also love seeing their face as they watch me learning, knowing that we are in it together and they are learning from me that it is ok to say “I don’t know, but lets find out.”  With that in mind one of my biggest bug bears with home education is when other adults ask them something and then say “something for you to look up”….. they don’t need to be challenged to look something up that is irrelevant to what they are focussing on just because you want them to find out for you, my  children know that it is ok for adults to look things up for themselves.

So there we go, don’t doubt your own abilities, don’t doubt yourself. No one has to have all the knowledge or all the answers straight away.