Saturday, 21 June 2014

Home Education - The Basics

I get a lot of people asking me what the rules are for home educating and so I thought it might be helpful to explain it here for anyone thinking about home schooling or for people who are just interested in it all.

Yes, It's Legal To Home Educate
The first thing to know is that, in Great Britain, it's perfectly legal to remove your child from school. If your child has been at school, you must write to the school to tell them you are going to home educate and you should get in touch with you local education authority (LEA) to inform them. If your child has never been to school, you don't need to contact the LEA.

The LEAs
I was really nervous about contacting my LEA (Surrey County Council) as I'd read so many negative things about LEAs - mostly from one page on Facebook. However, when I called my LEA I found them to be enthusiastic and extremely helpful. I've also seen a lot of people telling you not to let them into your house. Well, I let them in and they were great. I was given a list of useful websites and all sorts of things. I received a letter from them the following day saying they were very happy with what I planned to do and that they'd be happy for me to send them a letter each year instead of having a visit.

I have to say at this point too, that in the year that I have been home educating, I have met a lot of home educators and not a single one of them has had anything other than a positive experience of their local Elective Home Education teams.

The LEA is there to protect the children. I suspect that, if your family is already known to social services (or possibly if the school has raised concerns about the well-being of your child) or if your child has some fairly demanding special needs, then the LEA will want to be more involved in your home schooling.

My view, after first speaking to the LEA on the phone, was that the best plan of action would be for me to be welcoming and to make an effort to demonstrate to them that my son's educational and social needs would be met at home. I wrote a letter that detailed all the things I planned to do, ensuring that all the things I thought they would be looking for were covered. My letter is attached here. You are very welcome to read it and to use it, or parts of it, if you like.

I don't think it's helpful to set out to be antagonistic to the LEA (actually, I don't think it's helpful to be antagonistic to anyone, ever). That will just be a red flag to them that there might be a problem and you might create an unnecessary battle.

If you're concerned about letting your LEA into your home, why not call them first and have a chat? You can explain, calmly, why you feel you want/need to home educate and you can ask them what support they can give. This will get you off on the right foot with them.

That said, you don't have to let the LEA into your home. You can opt to meet them elsewhere - in a local library for instance - and you don't have to have your child present. It's your choice.

Your LEA is usually your county or borough council. A full list can be found here.

Educating At Home
Now for the fun part! Most home educators have no experience of teaching. However, all those that I have met have been very keen that their children should have an education that is fun and that meets the needs of the children. Teaching your child at home is very daunting to start with and it generally isn't a decision that any responsible parent will have taken lightly.

The law simply says that you have to provide your child with a suitable education. What does that mean? Well, it really means something different to everyone. I think that it's generally accepted that all children need to have the three Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic. Or, literacy and maths, as they call it in the 21st century ;)

Over and above that though, you can do whatever you like.

Some people like to have timetables and to follow a structured plan, whilst others prefer to be more autonomous. Both approaches, and everything else in between, are fine. You don't have to spend any set amount of time educating either.

The national curriculum is available to download here. It's quite a scary document, so you might prefer to look at a syllabus on a local school website. When I first took Thomas out of school, I went through his old school's curriculum so that I could map it and ensure that Thomas would be able to go back to school after a year if needed.

I started out with timetables and I'd run myself ragged trying to find good reference sources, but we don't do that now. We settled into a more autonomous way of doing things where I can leap on whatever might interest my son at that point in time, so what he's taught is always relevant to him. Here's one example, where we looked at the 'science of swimming' after a swimming lesson.

Reading and writing happens naturally as we research whatever interests us (him), and we cover a lot of maths by cooking, shopping etc.

My son is nine and I will probably do more formal maths with him once he's really nailed the basics. But there's the beauty of home education. I can observe my son and tailor the way I help him learn.

I like to facilitate learning, rather than teaching him. I think there's quite a big difference between these two things.

But this is my way of doing things. It might not suit you, and that's fine.

I will post a list of the most useful resources I have found here later.

Tests and Exams
Your child doesn't have to be tested. There are no SATs for home schoolers and I'd really advise that you observe your child and make sure you are happy with their learning and progression, but I wouldn't tie yourself in knots worrying about what levels they 'should' be at unless they are really struggling. Happy children will learn - and all children are different.

Happily, one of the things I really love about home educating is that you don't get the 'competitive mum' nonsense that you often get at schools. Other home ed parents will be supportive and, if you post to say that your child is struggling, people will offer suggestions, advice and support. So don't worry or panic alone.

As for formal exams like GCSEs and such, you can teach your child all of these at home and they can do a few at a time if you like rather than all in one go. However, you have to pay for them and you have to find a centre willing to invigilate. Lots of parents send their children back to school in order for them to sit their GCSEs and such.

I plan to writing to my MP about this.

Aside from 'how do you teach your child?', the other question every home educator gets asked is 'how does your child socialise?'

All I can tell you is that my son has a much better social life now than he ever had at school. There are lots of local groups and sooooooo many trips and outings that we could go on that we couldn't possibly do them all. We have trips in the next couple of weeks to the Poppy Factory, Chef School, camping at Wellington Country Park and a home ed camp in Yorkshire. All of these are home ed events and we know people at all of them. We also have play dates and we meet down at the local park too.

As a parent, you have to be ready to put some effort in to building up a good social life for yourself and your child, but it's easy to do and people are generally very friendly. I will gather together a list of local home ed groups to help you find other home ed families locally.

Special Needs
I haven't covered Special Needs here because I don't have first-hand experience of this. I would prefer to direct you to Fiona Nicholson at Ed Yourself who has a wealth of experience and information available in this area.

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