Unschooling in Action, An Early Observation.

In July we will have been a home educating family for 5 years. But the decision to unschool the smalls ones has been fairly new. Or at least, the decision to put that name on the child led approach that we were obviously taking has been fairly new.

I came to the realisation over recent months that N was learning brilliantly whatever interested him. He wasn’t having formal lessons or structured learning time but he was observing, exploring, questioning and working things out for himself. He was asking for different topics on YouTube (bee keeping being the latest biggest) He was helping in the garden and observing minibeasts and tadpoles in his bug catcher under magnifying glass. He was asking incredible and fascinating questions about poop, baking, the water cycle ….. whatever idea pops into his head.

So we made a decision to carry on and go with it, totally following his lead.

On Sunday we visited Fort Knebworth and played at the adventure playground. Part of the fort was a series of logs across a raised platform. There was no instructions on how to get across, and it was quite high and looked daunting. I was worried for N as he approached it, he looked once and turned and ran away thinking better of it. But it wasn’t long before he returned to the challenge. I watched from a close enough distance to respond quickly if he fell but made a conscious effort to sit on my hands and allow him the chance to try. He sat on a log, he looked down and around trying to figure out his next move. He watched a child step log to log holding on to the fence, but he was too small to try that. His legs wouldn’t reach, and he couldn’t reach the fence. Without even trying he seemed to know that was not an option for him. Slowly, he crawled under the log beside him, putting his foot on the lowest log and reaching across to the next log level to him, and he made it. I was right there to see his face light up and his method click. From then there was no stopping him! He wound over and under the remaining logs, jumped onto the rope net the other side and with a loud cry of “later suckers!” He was off around the fort. Soon to return with his big sister in tow to challenge her.

I watched children for quite some time on this equipment. I was interested to see that it was mostly older children that seemed to turn and walk away, or slowly and awkwardly try to clamber across the top. Younger children seemed far more fearless and figured their own paths out when left to it. I found this to be a really interesting example of how unschooling works, how children have a natural spark and curiosity and that once children are institutionalised this is often forced out of them. These children appeared unable to problem solve their own way, so all struggled across in the same manner.

Yesterday I made another eye opening observation. A wooden balancing scale set that I ordered arrived. And the children got to play without any instruction. They were placing the different sized weights on, one after the other and having fun playing. When N turned to me and said “mummy look, the red one is the biggest and is heavier than the others, but if I put these three smaller ones on it is the same!” And what an observation!! He hasn’t had any lessons about heavier than, lighter than etc. Nor was he shown or instructed in how to use these balance scales.

The brilliant thing about home education is that we can review and adjust to suit the needs of our children. So unschooling perhaps won’t last forever, in time we may find the craving for structure comes along. Hone education in general and especially unschooling places a lot of emphasis on trust, trusting your child to learn what they need to learn, I know a lot of parents have wobbles and moments of doubt sometimes and I am hoping that the brilliant online unschooling community will help with these if and when they arise, because right now it is working and the children are thriving.

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Learn for Life, Not Just For A Test.

Its back to school time. Once again, as happens several times a year, my social media is lit up with opinions and thoughts about back to school. Once again there are questions about home education being asked.

“I have seen such a change in X over the past couple of weeks, I don’t think school is the best place for him any more.”  “I would just choose not to send her back, but what about her social skills?” “How will my child get the qualifications that they need to get a job?” “I could never teach  them everything that they need to know?”

These worries are not new, the people asking me these things are not alone. There are answers to these questions all over the internet and if you join one of the home ed facebook pages you will get any number of answers that all seem to echo the same thing, “it will be fine! and if it really isn’t, well nothing has to be forever!”  So very quickly, my answers to the above are.

  1. You know your child better than anyone else, communication is key, but that isn’t always verbal. Check that body language and behaviour and follow your instincts.
  2. Forced association in schoool is not real socialisation and there are enough meet ups, events, clubs, after school activities to enable children to meet new people and make friends. Don’t be under the illusion that all friends have to be the same age, this is again a false school made idea and it isnt natural. Look at the friends you have and their varying ages as an adult. And be open to the idea that you will also make friends and form bonds throughout your home ed journey.
  3. Home educated children can and do get qualifications. They may not sit 9 GCSEs in a year, but they are able to work towards their own goals as and when they are ready. There is no legal age a child must sit exams, they aren’t even compulsory at all. Alongside GCSEs there are iGCSEs, Functional skills, Arts Awards, Crest Awards, AQA, Open University, Duke of Edinburgh and work experience to name just a few. All of these are recognised and appreciated when it comes to applying for jobs etc. The route that you take will vary hugely depending on your child, but there is never only one route to an end goal.
  4. Here is a game changer, YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO TEACH THEM! Really! Children will naturally learn, you may not see it because learning isn’t always books and pencils. It comes in many many forms. Your role as a home educating parent is to facilitate their learning. Allow them opportunities and access to different resources and experiences. What is stopping you from learning alongside them if they are learning something that you don’t know? I have a degree, and I have learnt loads since home educating. I never even knew how mistletoe grew until a few weeks ago! And I certainly never knew what a tadpole looked like up really close until just last week!

Which leads me on to our recent goings on. With the teenagers who came out of school coming up 5 years ago now, I was at times fairly structured. I directed them towards projects, I spent so long researching things, finding work sheets and jotting down ideas. They covered things, but never really sparked anything. They are all fairly independent with their study now, and work hard. What triggered the change? me! I stepped back. That was it. They decide their courses, they set time aside to work on them. I do need to nudge them sometimes as they do get engrossed in one things and a deadline may be looming else where but once reminded they get on with it. I am now working on a different idea of right at the start encouraging them to set reminders on their phones and in their calendars. I am hoping that this will help to develop a greater level of independence.

Most importantly, they are brilliant people. They are kind and focussed. They enjoy walks along the river and sit out in the garden together. They share a group of friends and maintain those freindships with no worries about how old everyone is, yet they are able to be compassionate towards their younger friends and understand emotional maturity varies. They enjoy doing things together while being happy to also go off and do their own thing. They don’t sit at the park or in a bus stop drinking, they don’t smoke and they aren’t rude to people. They all have work experience, can all cook and work the washing machine etc….  I love spending time with all of them, and I am proud of them all.

With a 4 nearly 5 yr old I have continued the step back approach and seen how fantastically it really is working. So I guess this is the life they call unschooling?  People are often amazed when they see how the 4 yr old can make a cup of tea, or peel and chop potatoes, or pick the rhubarb for example. There is this general opinion that young children shouldn’t handle hot water, or sharp objects. But he has learnt this, he has been supervised and has been safe, he now makes himself a sandwich or a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast, or a drink when he wants too. This has allowed him autonomy over his body. He knows when he feels hungry or thirsty and he is able to independently rectify this and give his body what it needs. I obviously make the main meals (though he also loves to help with this) and him being able to snack during the day does not stop him eating his meals, in fact, the opposite. I am finding that he mostly completely finishes his plate, but is also happy and able to leave something and say if he doesn’t like it. He is not forced to eat anything. He is a pretty good shot with a bow and arrow and his archery instructor is amazed at his strength, he is quick, and a good climber, and holds brilliant conversation with adults as well as children, unlike some children of a similar age he doesn’t baulk when someone a different age strikes up conversation. He made a friend at a play ground because of a common interest in dinosaurs. He spotted a slightly older boy playing with toy dinosaurs, walked up to him and asked him what his favourite dinosaur is, then asked who he thought would win out of three different species, and they were off.

He has his own interests, and learns deeply about them. His latest fascination was life cycles. It has helped that we have a pond and he has been able to see frogspawn turn into tadpoles and he is watching the tadpoles grow. He has done planting and watched his plants spring roots and grow, he also sadly saw some die in the late frosts. We talked about different flowers and pollination and from that led on to a greater interest, bees. He doesn’t run shrieking from bees, instead he has been interested in spotting the different species, identifying them and learning all about how they live. The bulk of this has been honey bees, how do they make honey, how do we get the honey, why is honey different colours etc…  He has spent hours over the past few weeks watching various youtube programs, visiting bee exhibitions and looking at hives.

I have learnt a very important lesson in the years that I have been home educating. How important it is to trust our children. They won’t let themselves down! In school there are boxes to tick and requirements set by government, these are the same across the board, they are not in relation to your individual child. Yet the children are the ones at the bottom of the pressure pyramid, and so springs this concept of “failure” “letdown” “disappointment” Who is really being let down and disappointed if a child doesn’t tick all of those specific boxes at that specific time? As adults we seem to want to project those feelings on to the children, but take away those boxes, take away those constraints, let the children be free and to learn their own way and at their own pace, they won’t let themselves down!

Remember that knowledge is not the key to the world, passion and knowing how to gain knowledge when you need to opens far more doors. Let learning be fun, let it be for life, let it have its own natural rewards. Raise life long learners.

 

Elective Home Education Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities; My Thoughts.

I want to have a conversation about the revised elective home ed guidelines that were published on 2nd April this year. This document  has caused uproar and controversy and has been the topic of conversation for many people that I know all week. Even those who don’t home educated have been asking about it as the media hit out with headlines about compulsory registration and monitoring.

I want to go through the new guidelines and explain my thoughts, for anyone to see and comment on as they wish too. First though, I want to point out that currently there is no legislation for compulsory registration and that the proposed register as law will most probably take several years to pass and come into effect.

So what is this document all about then? It is exactly what it says, it is guidelines for local authorities to follow regarding Elective Home Education, and their role in safeguarding children.

Section 1 begins by explaining what EHE is, whilst 1.2 and 1.3 cover further education colleges for 14+, tutors and flexi schooling. So straight away I am left wondering about the real reasons behind the safeguarding concerns here? Because surely these children are not invisible and those who are flexi schooled are in fact on a school role and there for are not EHE.

Section 2 looks at why parents may choose to home educate,  2.3 states “ Whenever possible, local authorities should encourage parents to discuss an intention to home educate children before putting it into effect. They should offer support and advice based on the individual family’s motivations, for example by explaining the very substantial time commitments involved in delivering home education properly and suggesting potential alternatives to home education. This is likely to reduce the number of children who receive unsuitable education at home. Many parents considering the prospect of home education may not understand the extent of the time commitment involved or the costs, such as exam fees.”  Hmmm, this doesn’t quite sit  right with me, whilst on the surface it looks like a fantastic idea to ensure the parents know that there are alternative options and that they are informed, will local authorities really be able to offer personalised advice fitting how unique and individual each family is? Because many of us home educators realise that education is not limited to 9-3 Mon to Fri, and that home education allows for far more flexibility.

2.4 states “ Approaches such as autonomous and self-directed
learning, undertaken with a very flexible stance as to when education is taking place,
should be judged by outcomes, not on the basis that a different way of educating children
must be wrong. ”  
It is brilliant that autonomous, unschooling approaches are recognised, yet impossible to judge these on outcomes without a certain level of understanding. Because with these approaches the outcomes are not always clear, nor can they always be predicted or measured.

On that note I think it is also important to understand how some children may have been masking problems and difficulties while at school. One parent I spoke to explained how her son had come out of school unable to write and virtually illiterate and whilst she had picked up on this the school it seemed had not. Upon deregistering her son it transpired that he had been copying his school work, whoever he had been sitting with he had copied. She had to go back and re-do work from ks1, and while he has made significant progress since being home educated if anyone who didn’t have a clear understanding of these issues had wanted to pay her a visit it could have appeared that he had regressed.

Sections 4.1 and 4.2 do highlight the fact that “There is no legal duty on parents to inform the local authority that a child is being home educated.” However it does expect local authorities to identify and inquire into the educational provision for children of compulsory school age who are not registered at a school. In section 4.4 you will see ” In particular, local authorities should explore the scope for using agreements with
health bodies, general practitioners and other agencies, to increase their knowledge of
children who are not attending school.” This is widely already in place and happening. You may or may not be aware that when a child who attends school is taken to A&E for example, the school nurses are notified, this all feeds into a database that allows a picture to be built around the child for different authorities to flag up any concerns. This has been in place as per the Children Act 2004 to promote multi agency working. When a child is home educated this should be no different. However, all authorities need to be aware that home education on its own is not a safeguarding concern.

Section 5.3 “ There are no detailed legal requirements as to how such a system of oversight
should work, and it is for each local authority to decide what it sees as necessary and
proportionate to assure itself that every child is receiving a suitable education, or action is
being taken to secure that outcome.” 
This worries me somewhat. To me this reads that local authorities are free to determine their own actions in this area. So the current post code lottery remains present with it being pot luck regarding which LA you fall under remains unchallenged.

Its not all bad though, section 5.4 says that each local authority should ” provide parents with a named contact who is familiar with home education policy and practice and has an understanding of a range of educational philosophies”

6.2 mentions “deschooling”. It says that “There is no legal basis for such a position. Any statement along these lines could be an indication that the child is not being properly educated.” This isn’t a new thing. It has long been known amongst home educators that to use the term “deschooling” rings alarm bells for local authorities. Educational provision is expected to be suitable from the offset. However, I wish to mention how thoroughly important and beneficial this period of “deschooling” really is. Many children who come out of school have experienced some form of trauma, whether that is bullying,. SEN not being met or other. They may be experiencing anger, anxiety, depression etc, addressing those issues is crucial and should be priority. It saddens me that despite the “awareness” of mental health, this is still not being addressed or recognised in regards to home education. It is not unreasonable to spend time focusing on life skills, self care, personal social and health education in this time 😉

Sections 6.5 and 6.6 detail informal inquiries into educational provision. whether the local authority is asking for detailed information regarding provision or to meet with the child the law dictates that parents are under no legal obligation to agree to this. However, these guidelines make it clear that failure to comply can result in a notice Under s.437(1) of the Education Act 1996.  “local authorities must act if it appears that
parents are not providing a suitable education. This section states that:
“If it appears to a local authority that a child of compulsory school age in
their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance
at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent
requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that
the child is receiving such education.”  So failure to comply can raise safeguarding concerns? I will await to see how this is enforced, as I suspect that social workers already have large enough caseloads without investigating referrals based on parents executing their legal parental rights. This would not intimidate me into accepting visits from a stranger as personally I would rather have a trained professional contact me to assess a safeguarding concern than be left at the hands of a random LA bod from the education authority.

There then follows details around safeguarding and how ” ‘Harm’ can include the impairment of health or development, which means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development, so the provision of unsuitable education clearly can amount to this.” and the measures taken if parents do not respond to enquiries or if it is believed that educational provision is not suitable.  I would always recommend to fellow home educators that you keep everything, all contact in writing and do not ignore informal inquiries.  Decline any visits and respond with the offer of a full written report instead. There is plenty of help, support and advice on offer to home educators regarding this.

Section 8.3 ” Some parents educate, or attempt to educate, children at home because of
dissatisfaction with local SEN provision.”  This just made my skin crawl, it read as so patronising. Parents who chose to home educated their children who have SEN know that it is not easy, we are parents, we have taken on this task quite often after watching school fail our children. In a number of cases that I personally am aware of, children and parents have been failed several times at a number of different schools before resorting to home education that whilst it is a struggle, the child thrives in their own way. The law states that children must be educated to suit their age, ability and aptitude, if numerous schools are failing in this area then to expect home educators to entrust this decision regarding suitability of education once again into local authorities needs careful consideration and training.

I am trying really hard not to focus entirely on the negative, so this is also not all bad. “Local authorities should not assume that because the provision being made by parents is different from that which was being made or would have been made in school, the provision is necessarily unsuitable.”  (section 8.7)

Section 9.4 (G) “ any assessment of suitability should take into account the environment in which home education is being provided. Most obviously, home accommodation which is noisy and/or cramped is likely to make it very difficult for a child to learn and make satisfactory progress. ”  This appears to be a rather “classist” attitude. Implying that large families or those who live in small accommodation are less able to provide suitable education. This is just one more reason in favour of declining visits. Because homes can be busy, cramped, cluttered and over crowded, because life is happening there! Learning however, happens EVERYWHERE! What is the harm in reading under the trees, or a library? The busiest and noisiest environment that my teenager goes to is also where he does a huge chunk of his learning for his Biology and STEM lessons, and there are few places that I have found that are louder of more cramped than classrooms of 30+ students to 1 teacher!

9.8  The starting point is that there is currently no legal definition of what constitutes ‘fulltime’ education, either at school or in the home. Although there is no need for home
education to replicate school timetables, it may nonetheless be useful for it to be borne in
mind that in state schools, children of compulsory school age normally receive around 4.5-5.0 hours of education a day, for about 190 days a year. The department’s
registration guidance for independent schools sets 18 hours of operation a week as the
baseline for registration of the school. However, in home education there is often
continual one-to-one contact; education may take place outside normal ‘school hours’
and term time, and the type of educational activity can be varied and flexible. 
Shall I look a little bit more into this? It has been done before here , it is summed up pretty well.

Section 10.1 “ if it is clear to the local authority that a child does not wish to be educated at home although the education provided meets the s.7 requirement and there are no safeguarding concerns, it should seek to discuss the reasons for this with the parents and encourage them to consider whether home education is ultimately likely to be successful if their child is unhappy to be educated in this way. ” The double standards here absolutely amaze me. What of all the children (and parents) who complain about the education system in mainstream school? What about the children who don’t want to be in school, who are unhappy there, who feel there is no way out until they commit suicide? Sorry to be blunt, but we know that happens, there has been enough cases reported of such. Are these children routinely asked and parents spoken too? Because from parents who I have met, spoken too and read about over the years, it seems to me that the only time “home education” is mentioned as an option to parents by schools or LA staff is when there are behavioural problems that the schools does not feel equipped or are not prepared to deal with. Not solely because a child states that they are unhappy.

So whilst there is no further legal obligations on us as parents these new guidelines do seem to be opening up doors to allowing local authorities the impression that they have access to further bullying tactics to push their own opinions and agendas. The guidance, if used to implement understanding and training *could* be positive in many areas, I am left wondering where local authorities will prioritise what little funding they receive. I remain doubtful that anything positive will come of these changes, and that the DfE seem to be intent of trying to control home educators while seeming all too willing to hand over control of their state schools to the highest bidder.

Should We Be Worried About the Momo Challenge?

Every now and again I see the posts being shared across social media about this challenge or that challenge. Dares via social media sites and messaging apps leading to injury and death. Certainly social media is a scary place to be. From dares such as the Necker challenge (downing a pint of all manner of concoctions) to nasty individuals posting worryingly adult content on YouTube disguised as children’s videos, exposing children to things that they shouldn’t be seeing and potentially scaring them. The latest being the Momo Challenge, where children are being messaged and being scared into hurting themselves or scaring others and being sent gruesome images via WhatsApp. (read more here)

Each time these scares crop up, my Facebook page is full of news reports and “how to keep our children safe* guides. Which are great, obviously it’s important to share these. Deaths of children have been reported after all. I have seen parents panicking and deleting apps from their children’s phones, banning the viewing of YouTube and halting online gaming. Fantastic measures, and of course these parents are aiming to keep their children safe.

But how effective are those measures long term? Can you forever control what your young people see? And is there not the risk that when things are banned the appeal becomes even greater and so things are accessed with friends, in secret, and then if things go wrong who can the children talk to?

In my house I don’t ban things for that very reason. I remain open and honest with my young people. The lines of communication are always open and nothing is made taboo. Ultimately they know that they can come and tall things through with me. So, yes they are aware of all these challenges as and when they surface. We discuss them, read about them. So much so that when A had an incident of someone sending her not nice images as a way to convince her to do something she didn’t want to do, she was able to come to me and we could work it out. And that working it out was crucial. Because if they come to me, even if I am not happy about a situation, I can’t get cross at them for coming to me for help. Because it is help that they need and by that point they tend to know that things have gone wrong and being told off won’t help, I don’t ever want them to be scared to come to me for help.

(In this past post I have touched on my approach towards parenting and how I feel it has encouraged and allowed my children to safely make informed decisions, without the need for bans.)

Even with the little ones, I am not banning YouTube and the likes. They don’t tend to view those independently anyway. On occasion the 4 yr old watches on his dad’s phone, with volume up so we can hear or us sat beside him keeping an eye….. I have no intention to tighten those reins. We encourage conversation about what he has been watching, we can access watched videos etc and will always remain open and approachable.

But those important things, rules not Just for the internet but for real life? No secrets from mum and dad. If someone says “don’t tell mum or dad”, that is exactly what you must do. If anyone says “no one will ever believe you” then come to mum and dad, because they will! Don’t be mean, don’t hurt people, if you see it then say it. Just a few rules that we live by.

My teenagers have been told if out they stay together. They may argue, they may fall out. But they must get home together. Come home and argue it out or go to their bedrooms to get away from each other. Don’t walk off and leave each other. The girls get told if you go out with a girlfriend, you stay with that girlfriend, don’t leave her alone to go off with a boy.

They are all taught to be strong in their beliefs. To not bend to peer pressure and their body their choice ALWAYS. This has been demonstrated by contact with family members (no forced hugs and kisses, their choice) hair colour and styles, piercing, approaches to tattoos, smoking, drinking etc throughout adolescence.

We have discussed abusive situations and consent at length, including the right to change your mind!

It is my hope that these lessons and conversations stay with the children well into adulthood. Because one day they will be grown and there will be another challenge doing the rounds across social media and banning access won’t be an option. I want them to be informed and strong enough to know that it’s ok to say no!

When you find yourself panicking and deleting that app, ask yourself how this is preparing the children for when they are older and you won’t have access to their tech.

I aim to keep my children safe, not just online through each scary phase of the internet but for life!

Building Our Support: Why Us Parents Should Socialize With Each Other As Well.

What to do when things can’t go quite to plan? We have always been quite an active, out and about family. Very rarely at home and always pretty busy. I had so many plans for February! So what happened?

Well it started well. We visited the Marvel avengers station to learn a bit more about our favourite heros and their abilities. At our adventure playground we did colouring Chinese new year wheels, and we had a great day in London for the Chinese new year celebrations.

Then I fell and broke my ankle. So no driving for 6 weeks. Suddenly we are potentially cooped up inside a lot more than usual. It has shown in the 4 year old who is like a puppy and needs to be able to have a chance to run and burn off energy. The family has been at loggerheads as the teenagers try to help and worry about me, they have argued amongst themselves each feeling that they are doing more than the other. I have struggled with my belief that they are not adults and shouldn’t have adult responsibilities, that yes they have been helping but it is surely down to the other adult in the household to pick up the slack, something he hasn’t been happy about upon returning home from work. So there has been tension.

We are now entering into week 2. And I think we are getting somewhere. I am more mobile now, the pain has eased and I am more confident on my crutches. The teenagers have worked things out and we have been able to get the little ones out most days even if it’s just a trip to the local park with their older siblings. The grandparents have been up to help and we have had friends gather round to ensure that the teens don’t miss out on their regular activities. Of course the girls starting at the learning centre had to be put on hold for a few weeks, but they will get there.

Reading eggs, maths seeds, maths watch, arts award, biology, STEM, have continued as normal with help from friends for the latter two. As will youth Connexions when they return after the half term break and the adventure playground, because friends and family have gathered around to help. We really are blessed to have such a brilliant home ed support network of friends.

I have always recommended those new to home ed to focus on the social meets, the sitting and chatting to other parents, building that circle. Home ed can be lovely, and also lonely. Of course our priority is our children’s education but I think it is very easy for that to become our sole focus, We forget to take time for ourselves. We spend our time from one interest to another, looking at subjects that our children are interested in is a wonderful freedom of home ed. But what about when you want a bit of company? When you need some advice or some help? Some practical support down the line?

When taking the time to deschool, look after yourself as well. Us parents are OUR children’s greatest advocates, their teachers, mentors and facilitators. But we are human. And it is truly a wonderful thing to have your home ed circle so that you are never really completely alone.

A Nation of Lazy Teenagers?

Sleep deprivation affecting mental health? Its not a new thing is it? Getting enough sleep keeps us healthier, being well rested makes for better learning and better results are hardly new concepts are they? Its fairly basic common sense really.

Research suggests that as a nation we pay very little attention to our natural body clocks and that, due to the late running natural rhythm in adolescents, insisting on early starts can result in sleep deprivation and affect both a young persons ability to learn and their mental and physical health.

So in 2016, sleep experts at Oxford began “The worlds largest randomised control trial” with around 100 UK schools called Project Teensleep where they would trial starting at lessons at 10am.  Studies have found no negative outcomes for moving to a later start time and no positive outcomes from earlier starts. The studies went on to show that the later start was of benefit to students when used alongside “Sleep Education” which covered topics like night time light exposure and mobile devices etc…

Fast forward to now, January 2019. The trial is complete, research is in. A petition to change secondary schools to a 10am start gained over 180,000 signatures, and so went for debate in parliament. And what happened? Well it hit the news headlines and divided the nation!

Across social media I have read comments about lazy teenagers. How they need to be in school on time to prepare them for the real world. They wont be able to start an hour later when they are at work. They will only use the extra hour to play longer on their Playstations. The list went on. I read a comment at one point that was highlighting the number of adults who just seemed to *want* to make life harder for teenagers simply because life is hard as an adult. I voiced my thoughts on several posts and forums, but there were some reactions and comments that honestly really surprised me. Especially when I saw some of the discussion in a home education group as well!

So, as a mother with 3 teenagers living in her house, who also has a 4 yr old and a nearly 2 year old and am currently laid up with a badly broken ankle….. I am obviously thinking about how lazy teenagers really are. My teenagers don’t go to school, some days I don’t see them until nearly 11 oclock, do I think that makes them lazy? No. I am happy for them to follow their bodies natural rhythm, go to bed when they are tired, eat when they are hungry and wake up when they wake up. Does getting up late equal lazy? because some of the comments that I have read this week on social media seem to suggest this to be the case. Are teenagers in the wrong for playing games consoles at night and then getting up late in the morning? Does this mean that they are lazy? It certainly seems to be the common opinion.

Let us think about it, teenagers. Out of those I know who are at school, they get up around 7am to get showered, dressed, breakfast and to school to be on time for an 8:45 start. Some get up even earlier, this obviously varies regarding the locality of the school etc…  They are at school, having lessons, their whole day planned out for them including toilet breaks and when to eat until 3:15 ish. Again this varies school to school but it is safe to say that approx. 6.5 hours are spent at school. Is all of that time spent doing things that they want to learn or are even remotely interested in? probably not. It does however, include carrying books from classroom to classroom, structured PE lessons and being told when they may eat and drink and when they may visit the toilet.  Let us then consider adding an extra hour? perhaps on to that day for any after school clubs, sports or detentions. Travel home? anything from 10 minutes to an hour realistically. Walking, cycling, bus or a lift from parents. So getting home around 4 or 5pm? Homework? Most students get set several pieces of homework a day in different subjects, how much time is spent completing or working on that? an hour? enough to allow 20 minutes based on 3 subjects? That seems pretty tight to me but ok, lets go with that, that could take us to around 6pm? Dinner time? Somewhere in all of this young people need to be able to chill out, watch some TV, play a computer game to unwind, chat with friends and generally unwind from the day. So what time should they be going to bed? If they go to bed at 9:30 that *could* potentially have allowed them 2 hours after dinner for any household chores, social time, relaxation, personal hobbies etc….  The Sleep Foundation and several Childrens Health organisations state that teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours sleep to be at their best, so a 9:30 sleep time would only just give them 9 hours, and that is if they are able to get straight to sleep at that time.  What if they do additional classes after school? need to include study time for exams in to that? Have longer travel times etc ? There are so many variables. And let us not discount the issue of “rush hour” with everyone clamouring to get places at the same time. Does their day sound lazy to you?

My teenagers don’t go to school, they don’t have to get up early unless they are going somewhere that they have chosen to attend. They aren’t lazy, they get up when they need to and get to their destination on time. Whether that is the Home ED youth project that starts at 11am or being up at 5am to help me at work every Saturday.

My 14 yr old can be up at 9am getting ready to leave the house at 10am to arrive in time for his sports course. Spend 2 hours running around and still come to work with me in the evening, help me move furniture, handle money, talk to my members and then choose to sit at a table while I am working and do his book work until 9pm at night. He will then help me pack away. load the car and come home. Meanwhile the other two teenagers are at home having also done 2 hours at a course their evening is then spent looking after the little boys and getting their dinner, washing up etc before Daddy gets home. They will often sit until late in the evening doing coursework, book work and practise exam papers for their chosen subjects. Their brains are working, and will rest when their bodies tell them that they need to. So I certainly don’t think that a lay in equals lazy.

You may have a busier working schedule, but *most* people are finished when they clock off for the day, they don’t have pages of work that still need to be completed. *Most* working adults have made the decision to apply for certain roles and are paid to attend, if those hours didn’t work for you anymore you would be able to look for another job with different hours and some people are even in employment where they can request to work their hours at different times to fit in around life, not all jobs are 9 to 5 are they? And most importantly, you are paid to attend work. School is a whole different ball game. And our teenagers will have years a  head of them to work, to enter that rat race and experience that stress of working to pay bills and to eat etc…… Their teenage years are still very much part of childhood, as studies have shown, their brains and their bodies are still developing!

There are cries for educational reform, for attention to be paid to the rise in adolescent mental health, for research and evidence to be paid attention too. Yet when a campaign for a specific change with scientific backing gets enough signatures to go before parliament for debate everyone gets heated and blames “Lazy Teenagers”. Despite the evidence suggesting that the proposed later start time could really improve GCSE outcomes.

I have done various different shift work jobs over the years. 24 hr shifts, waking nights, evening and morning shifts working office based and care and support in the community. I have been able to adjust to which ever shift I am on. I didn’t go to school, yet I learnt how to use an alarm clock and how to not be late when I needed to be somewhere. I self motivated and managed my own studies all the way to degree, without having to attend tutorials or lectures at set times. This is not a skill that teenagers need to be at school for, and even if it was, a 9am or 10am start would not affect their ability to learn that.

Every Sunday, neither my husband or I have to work, we both enjoy a lay in. If we wake up before the little ones then we will stay in bed and stick the tv on, one of us (him at the moment as I am in cast) will go make tea and toast and bring it back upstairs. There it is, the real world, adults enjoy getting up later as well! I am sure that many adults enjoy their holiday times for the same reason? It doesn’t make us lazy does it?  And SCIENCE has found that teenagers DO need more sleep than adults!

And so what if teenagers are lazy? Is that the end of the world? Is lazy the worst thing that a teenager can be? At a time when anti social behaviour is rife and complaints about teenagers hanging around the streets are common, is playing computer consoles so bad?   In a time when there is bullying, depression, anxiety, drugs, self harm, violence, vandalism, theft etc….. Is lazy really so bad?

The Childrens Commissioners Agenda. A Cry for Parents to Unite.

My post with my email to Channel 4 following the Dispatches program has had over 5500 hits worldwide. I guess it was a subject that many people were interested in.

I know that I have read many posts all over the internet of home educating parents feeling angered at the commissioner’s comments and “findings”, exasperated at the repeated suggestion of a compulsory register for home ed despite no actual evidence to demonstrate that this would solve any problems raised and sheer frustration at use of the same old serious case review examples that aren’t really relevant because these children were known to authorities.

I have read many different responses and have even seen the Commissioners guest post on the subject over on Mumsnet! You can read that here

Today I received an email reply from Channel 4. I read it with interest and was disappointed to see that it matched word for word with another home educators reply as well. So Channel 4 are sending a stock reply that fails to address any of the points raised. They are clearly not at all concerned about providing the public with accurate information or balanced reporting.

Dear Mrs Gray,

Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries regarding Dispatches: Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids.

We are sorry to read of your disappointment in our documentary. The premise of the documentary was to investigate both the growth in home-schooling and issues that have been raised that some children being home educated are not getting the support they should. In the Dispatches survey of English local authorities, 92% said they did not feel they have adequate powers to assure the safety of children who are home educated and 91% said they had insufficient powers to assess the quality of this education. Ninety-three percent said they did not feel confident that they were aware of everyone currently being home educated in their area which is why they fear some home educated children are invisible to the authorities.

The Children?s Commissioner Anne Longfield has a statutory role to speak up for children where she believes they are being failed. Her investigation was in no way an attack on all home educators but exploring the gaps in the system and whether a compulsory register and greater powers on inspection would help flag up any problems. Much of her criticism was aimed at schools for failing to support children with Special Needs or through off-rolling.

We appreciate you taking the time to contact us with your views, which have been noted for the information of those responsible for the programme.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.

Regards,

Rick Hawkins

Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

The Commissioner has an agenda that she is being very unclear about, given those areas she claims are of greatest concern would not in any way be addressed with a compulsory register.

SJ Dean on Facebook posted on the Commissioners profile the following:

If you suggest all home educated children should be monitored at least termly, I would presume that yowould also be suggesting they have access to the same funding as school children? Free meals, free milk, free fruit and vegetables and free educational resources and software as well as educational funding, grants, pupil premiums? After all, this is all in the best interest of the child isn’t it? That is the only reason you want them monitored right? No other agenda.

Where will the funding for monitoring thousands of home ed families come from? I presume you’ll put at least an equal amount of extra funding into the school system that failed them?

I also assume you’ll want extra monitoring of the schools that failed? Checking on the thousands of children that go to school and are bullying other children to the point they can’t take being in school anymore? The teachers who can’t handle children with additional needs and off roll them?

Can you explain how you will justify breaching our basic human rights under article 3 (t the right to be free from degradation, article 6 (the right to a fair trial which includes innocent until proven guilty), 8 (the right to enjoyment of private life and family life) 9 (the right to freedom of religion and belief which includes philosophical beliefs) and 14 (freedom from discrimination)

Can you explain how the police need a search warrant signed by the court if they wish to enter a known criminals home but thousands of law abiding families will be forced to comply to intrusive unwanted visits from strangers?

Your proposals which you have put forth based on false evidence and misinterpretations of the available data, could not be implemented without a massive breach of our human rights and those of our children.

Who will be monitoring and what will their qualifications be in order to know and understand each childs learning styles, needs and subjects?

Which raises some fantastic points and highlights those grey areas that were not covered in her report. I would love to see her response.

If the bill is successful and this registration and monitoring goes ahead, then where will that lead? Do non home educating parents believe that they are safe and that their right to parent as they see fit will not be affected? Because realistically, ALL CHILDREN are home educated until a parents decides to opt in to the state system. So are all parents happy for compulsory welfare visits termly from birth? And what if that person carrying out your visit doesn’t agree with your parenting style? Because we all know that there isn’t a one size fits all parenting package or style don’t we?

What about being checked up on during the summer holidays? 6 weeks certainly seems like a long time for a child not to be seen by a professional doesn’t it?! As a parent would you be happy to agree to this infringement of your families right to privacy?

Would you be happy for an unqualified Local Authority employee to have more right to enter your home than a police officer does a known criminals?

And what about what history shows us with regards to compulsory registration? Are any other non criminal groups treated in this manner?

The rate of domestic abuse is shocking, how many women have been killed at the hands of their partners in recent years? How many of those partners may have had a history of domestic abuse? Yet there is no compulsory register of domestic abusers, and no cry for mandatory local authority visits for all couples despite there being evidence and research about how witnessing domestic abuse affects children, and the cycle of abuse and deprivation.

So I ask you, if the government wins these parental rights over home educators, where do you really think they will stop? This is something that ALL parents need to be aware of. Something that ALL parents need to stand together and fight.