At the end of November the time had come for another visit from the education department. I know that allowing such visits is a rather contentious issue for home-educators, but for us, for now, they work. I find it much easier to demonstrate our life "in situ" than trying to get it all down on paper. And I have always had the full agreement of the children. I know some people will disagree. I know some strongly believe that we shouldn't need to be judged or assessed. But for me, spending one hour a year having a chat with someone (although our visitor is such a joy to host it is often nearer 3 hours!) is a minor disruption. I am well aware that my feelings would be different if our visitor wasn't so relaxed and clued up on how home-education fits in with life, and I am fully aware that our visitor could change at anytime and who knows who we would end up with - but I am prepared to cross that bridge if and when it happens, and actually, being able to tell the people against home-ed (such as my own mother) that we have had an annual review and got given gold stars, gives both myself and her peace of mind.
Our visitor "P" is truly a delight to meet and converse with. She is an ex-headteacher (Primary) but she "gets" home-ed. When the time comes around for the annual meeting, she calls well ahead of time (this time giving a months notice), and the children and I actually look forward to her coming. Does it seem wierd and strange that we would welcome an almost complete stranger into our home? I guess it would seem so to some, but for us it is almost like welcoming a friend into the house for a chat - well, if you can see past the clipboard and the note-taking as she sips her tea. We don't just discuss what we are up to in our home-ed world. We talk about her family, her bilingual grandchildren, her passion for art, and her studies - of course, we talk about me and my family too - but it really does feel like sitting down with a friend we don't see often enough and putting the world to rights :)
P asked permission for her to bring along a lady who was shadowing her. This lady was also lovely, with a very warm smile and a lovely feel to her - you know the sort of person that makes you feel at ease when you meet them? I didn't hesitate when P asked if I would mind. Afterall, how else are people to learn? P wanted to show how an annual visit with a family she knew well was like, and how relaxed the atmosphere could be.
This is, I should point out, our personal experience. I'm fully aware that not all families are fortunate enough to have such home-ed wise visitors from the education department, and I do actually feel pretty darn lucky in that respect. P has been visiting us since the start of our home-education journey. Since the time when Joseph was taken out of school due to our desperation at what was going on - due to our fear of losing our happy go lucky cheerful chappy as we gradually watched him transform into a sorrowful, withdrawn shadow of his former self. Taking him out of school was a temporary measure - or so we thought. We just wanted time to rebuild his confidence. P understood and empathised with our fears, and not once has she tried to push us back into the system. When we struggled with Joseph's reading ability due to his speech dyspraxia, P didn't judge us, didn't critiscise, she advised methods we could try and applauded the efforts and ideas that we had already put into place. When told that Chelsea had a real phobic reaction to the mere mention of mathematics, P told us to take our time, to go back to the start if need be, lay off maths work for as long as it takes, but perhaps introduce it in other ways - cooking, etc. It has been a real give-take relationship. I have given P ideas that I have used successfully in the past, that she has printed and given to other home-edders perhaps struggling a little in certain areas, I have given her lists of websites I have used for project work, and have permitted her to give my details to anyone that would perhaps benefit from a little support or just a chat.
This time around was no different. We talked a great deal about home-educators and the situation with the Badman report and complications in the system. I talked about how many horror stories from around the country I had heard about educational authorities and their treatment of home-educators, and discussed the reasons for some HE'rs being reluctant to being known and accepting visits. P admitted that even in her own department, there are some that just don't "get" child-led learning and facilitating. I talked of my fear of having to "plan ahead" work for my children, stating that our life just wouldn't work that way, that learning is a constant process, that I can't categorize our life into subjects, I can't plan what the children will learn. Their interests are diverse and sparked by various things - something they see on the TV, something they read in the paper or magazine, a snippet they hear on the news, a subject they are fascinated with on a day trip out. How can I turn around to them and say - oh no, sorry, we can't study that today as we need to finish x,y, and z, before the next annual review. P sat and listened with great interest, and agreed wholeheartedly. She looked at the other lady present and said what a brilliant example of "natural" home-edders we are, how learning just happens because we facilitate it so well. We go out and about to places of interest, we use the library, the internet, have what seems to be a bookstore worth of books to peruse. The children can't help but "learn" because of their rich environment. P even joked about how I should be explaining all of this to the "powers that be" and go around with her visiting others as an example of how home-ed can work. She said that she often cringes when she goes for that first introductory visit, when children have been taken out of school, and the parent shows a drawn-up school like timetable, brand new workbooks, and a "schoolroom" like environment. She tries to explain how home-education doesn't have to be led like that (although she admitted that it can work for some), and in her experience, those that have put themselves under such pressure often struggle and don't enjoy the time spent with their children as they should. She actively tells families about deschooling and relaxing. I feel very fortunate to have such an understanding visitor.
P doesn't ask us for examples of work - but the children do actively enjoy talking to her. They will walk in and out of the "meeting" at leisure and add snippets and their thoughts here and there when they wish. No pressure is ever put upon them to speak or even show themselves, but they are nosy enough to want to ;o) They will show off the latest book they are reading, and P will express interest and discuss it with them. Often she will come back the following year and announce that she took Chelsea's or Joe's previous recommendation and went and got hold of a copy of the book and enjoyed it. They will talk about what projects they have most enjoyed doing, or in Callums case, he will blow bubbles with his bubble mixture and talk about Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games :0) (Callum is of course too young to be at school yet, so P wasn't there to "assess" him, but he didn't know that and wanted to join in and P was happy for him to do so). Even though Chelsea is now 14 years old, there was no mention of or pressure about exams. It was simply left with "you know where to find me if you want to chat about options or need help". I never feel that I am having to "tick all the boxes" when P visits. It is just an open chat, like I would chat to any new home-edder interested in how things work for us, explaining what we do and how we do it. Tiegan talked about the vegetable garden we attempted this year. Joseph talked about his interest in the World Wars. Chelsea talked about her Human Body study and showed off the textbook she has been using for reference. All very relaxed, all at ease, no pressure.
Throughout the meeting, P turned to the lady shadowing her and gave pointers, or the lady asked questions about meeting practice. P told her that Joseph was a prime example of how home-education can be a lifesaver for some children. How she remembered him being so frightfully withdrawn and how it brings such joy to her to see him blossom and bloom into the child he is today, and how she has no doubt it was down to home-education and me (big head moment as I beamed with pride). She said what a pleasure it was to visit, how the children are thriving, and how we (and a family we are close friends with) are both true examples of home-education successes.
Once the meeting is over, I admit to feeling relief - it is over and it went well - but it isn't in a "goodness, I never want to do that again" sort of way. I almost look forward to next year :0)