Education of Children otherwise than at a School (1)
Cyril Cann, Glastonbury, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
There has been increased interest amongst believers over recent years in the education of children at home. This brief paper, written from the perspective of a teacher, is an attempt to consider objectively some of the issues that arise when a child is educated away from a ‘formal’ school. The matter is complex, generates lots of emotion and is sometimes an area where legal, social, family and education issues come into conflict.
Schools vary in size, have differing emphases and provide curricula that are influenced (if not controlled) by the laws of the land. They draw pupils from different social, ethnic and ability groups and vary widely in the provision they make and the success they achieve. All schools, however, are based on the premise that the home is not able on its own to equip and prepare children to live happily and independently in society and to become contributing members and/or leaders in that society. All schools earnestly and sincerely endeavour to make best provision to this end - it is their raison d’etre. This is not to belittle or underestimate the importance and influence of the home. The home remains the foundation upon which the school must build and all believers would subscribe to this biblical truth.
It is immediately clear that to remove the school’s contribution from a child’s education must have significant consequences. These will be viewed as good or bad according to the perception of each individual. Some have accepted for their children what might be viewed as a lower standard of education (in the sense of academic attainment) because they do not like the social and moral patterns set by particular schools or by schools in general.
Patterns of behaviour in schools are reflections of wider society and those who choose the home education option must always remember that their children will doubtless encounter these behaviours in later life but then without the guidance and support provided within the more sheltered environment of a school. Some would argue that a good home is better equipped to help than the school but usually the best results are achieved when both work in harmony. Parents have the right in law to remove their child from school. If they do so, the school is required to inform the local education authority. The local authority has a legal responsibility to ensure that all children in its area receive suitable education according to age, ability and aptitude and will require evidence that a child is receiving this otherwise than at a school. A lot of discussion has centred on the facilities for education that a home may reasonably be expected to provide together with the content and time that must be given to an educational programme if it is to be regarded as satisfactory by the local authority. This is too large a subject to be dealt with in a brief article but those who educate children at home must give these matters careful thought and seek appropriate advice.
Careful planning and careful implementation of educational programmes are prerequisites of successful education. Qualified teachers are trained in these skills and become more effective as they become more experienced. Teachers in schools work as part of a team, are able to support each other and call upon resources and strengths from within the team. Success, however, is never attained without consistent hard work and considerable strain upon teachers. It is my experience that these stresses become emphasized when genuine and sincere attempts are made to educate children at home. The home is always more than the place where home education is provided – it is the place where the needs of the whole family are met and where affection, attention and time should be shared equally. The provision of ongoing tuition in the home is likely to alter if not upset this balance and multiply inherent stress; nor is the pressure likely to reduce as children move from primary to more academically demanding secondary stages.
There are many different models of curricula but the following may give some indication of the knowledge required and work involved in providing satisfactory education both at a school and at home. Fundamental to progress are basic skills such as language, reading, writing and mathematics; to these must be added information technology skills, some knowledge of science and perhaps a foreign language. With younger children these will be taught specifically and will then be used to explore a wider curriculum providing experience of different, richer areas of knowledge. Subjects such as History, Geography, Science, Social Sciences, Art and Crafts and Religion have distinctive methods and thought processes that enrich perception and understanding of the world and society in which we live. Even this is not the complete picture because successful learning must be delivered within a supportive, caring environment which encourages social development, the ability to think independently and allows mistakes and failures to be confronted and overcome. The manner in which educational goals are achieved is very important. It is not desirable that children develop good skills within a subject if in learning them they learn to dislike the subject!
Few are equipped (I am certainly not) to deliver on their own, a wide and balanced curriculum at the secondary stage and prepare pupils for formal examinations. Help is obtainable from a number of sources including correspondence courses with their own tutors and guidance programmes. Some families have found it helpful to link with others and form a larger study group. Information on correspondence courses is available in the daily press, in libraries and on the internet. Information, including a wide range of publications, legal information and support is available on the internet under the heading ‘Education Otherwise’ (from The Education [Pupil Registration] Regulations 1995 where reference is made to pupils ‘receiving education otherwise than at a school’).
If the ‘education otherwise than at a school’ route is chosen, parents would be advised to consult the school their child is attending and the local education authority even if they feel they have no legal obligation to do so. Local authorities vary widely in the provision they make and the support they provide for the education of children at home. Parents who do so must plan carefully, ensure those who teach are fully conversant with the programmes they are following and keep the local authority informed. Best practice would be to review weekly and keep weekly records of planning in each area of the curriculum together with information on work actually completed by the child/student in that week. Any discrepancies or successes should be carried forward into the next week’s planning. Examples of actual work should be kept. In this way it is possible to evaluate progress and satisfy the local education authority that legal requirements are being met.
I understand the thinking and feelings of parents who decide to educate children at home in what they see as the ‘best’ environment – a ‘Christian’ environment. It is assumed the decision would be taken prayerfully, thoughtfully and carefully bearing in mind that schools and/or education systems develop and can change but a child has only one childhood and, therefore, only one opportunity to receive a rich education in childhood although many have benefited from adult educational programmes in later life. The education of children at home is a long task (especially if more than one child is involved) that can cause difficulties and stress to the person(s) responsible for the programme, the child being taught and other members of the family. There are many examples of families who have undertaken and completed this satisfactorily. It must, however, never be seen as an escape route from short-term difficulties a child is encountering at a particular school at a particular time.