How to make the switch from school to home education
Katie Olliffe took a long and painful journey to home education with her eldest son. Here she describes their journey
By Katie Olliffe
06th October 2016
I REMEMBER MY SON’S FIRST day of school vividly. I still have the obligatory photo of him in his new school uniform, thumbs up, in the front garden before we left. I felt so proud. Now, I look at that photo and all I can see is how tiny he was. Even so Reception Year passed without too much bother. George seemed to like his teacher, loved to choose his activities and had lots of friends. He was easily distracted and wasn’t so keen on writing. There were many days that he didn’t want to go to school and although it’s not compulsory for an under five to be in full time education I worried that taking days off would set him up for difficulty in the future. With hindsight I wished I’d allowed for a flexi-schooling approach. At the end of Reception, he was very anxious about going into the next year. He explained that his teacher had told him how much harder next year would be; that there would be less play and more work.
It was during Year 1 that I started to realise that my son was really struggling at school. The school told me he had many friends, and seemed happy. But his behaviour at home became very challenging. He was angry and emotional, often bursting into tears of anger. He didn’t enjoy homework or reading and motivating him to do this became a constant battle. He also became fearful of trying new things and of getting things wrong. He described himself as “Rubbish at everything”. We found ourselves telling him things like: ‘You have to do your homework’ and ‘Everyone has to do things they don’t like’. The messages were often the complete opposite of what I wanted to teach my children. I believe we always have choices, and whilst there are often elements of life that we find less satisfying than others, we can be creative about how we approach life. Still we persevered.
RELUCTANT TO GO TO SCHOOL
Getting ready for school was always a challenge and it started to become a huge difficulty. He was very reluctant to get ready, even with lots of support. Then I had a few dreadful mornings where he literally begged me not to take him to school. He held on to the bannister and screamed as I, in my stressed out state, ended up literally carrying him kicking and screaming to the car. A couple of occasions we both turned up and burst into tears at the school door. Still we couldn’t get to the bottom of what was going on. The teachers assured us he was OK, there was nothing out of the ordinary to report.
I found it so hard to hear him without dismissing his feelings. So many people were telling me that after the handover at the school door, all was fine. Some suggested that maybe he was just trying it on. When I picked him up from school he would run out, dump his stuff with me and run off to play with his friends. I would ask him what he’d been doing and he would say he couldn’t remember. He seemed care-free at pick up time. Still the difficult mornings and drop offs continued. Following half-terms and holidays it was always really hard to re-settle him again too.
I began to research other ways I could help him. We put in a request for flexi-schooling; school for four days and homeschooled for one day a week. Unfortunately we discovered that this was not an option at his school. Some headteachers are very supportive of flexi-schooling. The guidelines are open to interpretation, dependent on where you live and the headteacher you’re approaching. The wording is very inconclusive and the rules appear to have changed. A child that was flexi-schooled used to be marked on the register as being educated elsewhere, however this has recently been changed so that a flexi-schooled child is marked as an Unauthorised absence. Understandably, not many headteachers are willing to support this due to OFSTED reports. It also impacts funding and effectively the school still have responsibility for the child’s entire education, so it probably feels like a huge risk. I have more recently heard of a few headteachers approaching this in a creative way, with one pupil attending school until afternoon register every day, and then being collected immediately after.
OUR JOURNEY TO HOME EDUCATION
The idea of home-schooling full-time felt like a huge and challenging path to take. It was certainly not something I had been aware of when completing school admission forms and I’m sure many parents don’t even know about this option.
The final straw for us was one day when I was called in after school. At lunchtime that day my son had been trying to climb a fence – his plan was to escape and walk home. Something clicked for me and I decided I no longer wanted to “force” my son to go to school. For the few weeks left of school I felt so sad for him and we were all so relieved when the summer holidays finally arrived. That summer I surrounded myself with supportive friends and home-educating families. I read Learning Without School by Ross Mountney and I found the huge home education community in Cambridgeshire. By the end of the holidays I had made my mind up. I now had the task of convincing those around me!
TRANSITIONING THE ADULTS
I would be lying if I said it had been an easy transition. Although it has been easy for our son it has not been so easy for the adults around him. It has caused numerous disagreements between myself, their father and other family members. However, I am still so glad we took our son out of school. Whatever he is missing out on learning at school he is thriving at home. It feels like we have our son back. He is happy. He reads for pleasure. He is learning so many practical skills. He is truly as carefree as he could ever be. He sleeps better. Our relationship is better. He continues to socialise with children of all different age groups, cultures, and backgrounds and is also confident to communicate with adults again. His confidence is gradually returning and I am learning so much about the way he learns, every single day. We believe he may have dyslexia and an auditory processing disorder, although have chosen not to get these diagnosed – it suddenly doesn’t seem important. We’ve learnt that it’s important to approach learning in the way that works for him – something that unfortunately can’t always be accommodated for every individual in a school setting.
We are now entering our third year of home education, and this year George’s younger brother would have started school, however he is already so involved in the home education community, it makes sense for him to have the choice. He has chosen to be home educated for now.
Home-education is definitely not for everyone, but I want to raise awareness of our choices when it comes to schooling. For many children, school is a great environment and they fit in and get on, however it is clear there are many that it doesn’t work for. If you don’t feel your child is ready for school aged four or you have a late summer baby, definitely consider researching your options. Equally if your child is unhappy in school, don’t be afraid to change things for them. My only regret is that I persevered with something that clearly wasn’t working for so long. There are some fantastic resources available and many ways to approach home education.
Every child’s experience at school will differ and largely depend on the school ethics and the head-teachers approach to education but overall it is those in government that direct our National Curriculum. Teachers work very hard to meet the needs of the children in their classes, however early education has changed and the teachers have little flexibility on how they approach education and have little funding for teaching assistants and support in the classroom. There are a lot of boxes to tick and many primary school teachers liken teaching Key Stage 1 children to banging square pegs into round holes. Do we really need this level of ‘learning’ during such formative years? Can we not recognise that all children learn at a different pace and support individual learning in a playled environment? Can we not learn from other countries that don’t start formal education until age seven? I am currently getting behind this wonderful movement and campaign: Too much, Too Soon by the Save Childhood Movement.
If your child started school last September and is experiencing difficulties, remember you know your child best and trust your instincts when it comes to schooling and their well-being. If your child appears unhappy at any time don’t be afraid to trust them and know that there are options. Also it is never too late to consider home-education. It can feel like a huge decision to take your child out of school once they have started. I had to remind myself that we could change our minds and find another school if home education didn’t work out. Many more families are considering home education as an option.