A short while ago we were invited to go along to a "Home-Ed Family Day" organised by our County Council.. We weren't really sure what it was all about, but we decided to give it a go.
Today was the big day and we, along with many other families, made the trek to the city. I was quite excited at the prospect of the possible networking and bridge-building opportunities that may arise from such an event, and was happy to be taking part in the first of it's kind organised by the Council.
I came home feeling a little deflated.
Don't get me wrong, it was pleasant enough. I just think that the day had the opportunity to bring so much more to the table and instead my appetite was left wanting.
We arrived just after the given 9.30am arrival time and was greeted by a group of people at the door. There wasn't really any explanation as to whom these people were, I guessed that they were from the Elective Home Ed team - and some were - but they were also mingled with the representatives from a couple of the organisations attending. I felt fortunate in that I knew a couple of the home-ed team from visits we have had previously so I wasn't completely in the dark. Booklets, name tags, and paper bags were dutifully handed out, and after a little bit of a hectic flurry we were given time to breathe and take in our surroundings.
Once everybody had arrived (and helped themselves to refreshments if desired), seats were taken and the day began. First on the stage was the head of the Elective Home-Education team. She outlined how the day should flow and laid out the 'house rules' - all food and drink to be kept upstairs for one, to save the new carpet. This was fine and understandable in theory, but not very practical as the upstairs space was a little on the small side for the number of people attending. With people having to get food and eat it in the same small space, trying to squeeze through to get food and drinks (with children in tow), and then trying to carry said food and drinks (and hoping that the same said children were still in tow), through 100 or so people was a medal winning feat in itself. So much so I gave up and went back downstairs again. I'm afraid that not even the promise of a free buffet was worth that much effort and fear of dropping everything all over the floor.
We heard from a lady talking about the newly refurbished and re-opened (after 4 years of closure) Exeter Museum (RAMM). I liked the very positive feeling towards home-educators and it really felt as if we were very welcome to explore the museum without hindrance. Once this talk was over we were given 'free time' where we could choose what to do. Some people stayed within the conference centre to talk to the college representatives that were there, whilst other people headed over to RAMM for a stroll around the museum.
I managed to wangle myself another young person somewhere along the way, so I was 'in charge' of 6, whatever was his mother thinking?! *grin*
The museum visit was good (so much so the kids have requested we go back tomorrow before the home-ed group meeting). It was nice to have a much longer than normal timespan (we usually squeeze in a quick visit to the museum before we are due to head off somewhere), and we were able to really look around the exhibits and read the information alongside. I had some really interesting conversations with the children as a result - Chelsea is particular showed great interest (and knowledge) of a variety of subjects, particularly historic clothing.
At just after 12noon it was time to head back to the conference centre for the buffet lunch (which I opted out of as described above). People were seemingly staying within their known friend groups and there didn't seem to be much mingling going on within the home-educating families - or it may have just been me out on a limb! I was pleasantly surprised, after being a home-educator in the area for 9 years and heavily involved in various groups in the region, at just how many people I didn't know. It was certainly reassuring that we are an ever-growing population and an eye-opening experience.
I managed to talk one-to-one with the head of the home-ed team for a short while and discussed some of the tales and experiences that have been related to me in my role as a home-education group organiser. I of course kept things anonymous when talking of others, no names were mentioned nor identifying details given, but the lady I was talking to appeared surprised and perhaps a little horrified at some of what I was recounting. She made it very clear that she is willing to work hard to forge relationships with home-educators and wants to build trust and be seen as a support as opposed to an inconvenient interference. I certainly got the impression that this lady was approachable and I wouldn't hesitate in contacting her in the future to discuss any issues where necessary.
Once lunch was over we took our seats once more and the afternoon session began. We heard "success stories", with a few children taking to the stage and describing things relating to their lives. One child had started work experience sessions with a small museum, whilst another talked about being Vice Chairman of his local gardening club (no mean feat at the age of 15), and a member of the local Highways committee. Two home-educating mama's also took to the stage and talked about their experiences, whilst an 18 year old previously home-educated female told us what she is getting up to now, and we were privy to a recorded piano piece played by a home-educated student. It all made for interesting listening.
Thanks were then given and goodbye's said.
I left feeling a little deflated and frustrated. It could have been so much more. With just a little more thought, a little more involvement from home-educators, a little more organisation, and the day could have been a really useful resource for old and new home-educators alike. I appreciate that it was the first such event, and I am guessing that lessons will be learnt, feedback listened to and taken on board, but I guess it wasn't really what I was expecting.
I was presuming that we would hear about the elective home-education team's role and just where the company Babcock featured as it was being heavily advertised on the letterhead and projector screening throughout the day - but never introduced. I would have liked to have heard the expectations that the team had of home-educators, what their background and experience with home-education is, perhaps with a run-down of a sample visit or an explanation of what was legally required. I thought there might have been a section in the day for all this and more to be discussed and queried, but there was no such open forum. Local groups could have played an active role, providing information as to what was on offer around the area and the kind of activities organised, and simple things such as the fact home-educators are entitled to a 'teacher ticket' at the library could have been pointed out as I know not everyone is aware of it's existence. It is all well and good having people stand on a stage with a microphone talking at us, but having the opportunity to stand next to people and have a two-way conversation with them wins for me every time.
I'd certainly be willing to go along again to a similar event in the future, although my children may not be quite so willing to do so. They found the day a little long and tedious in parts. My lot don't do hanging around waiting very well and there was a little bit of that throughout the day. Taisia gave up mid way through the afternoon speeches and fell asleep sprawled across my lap, whilst dear Callum tried his best to muster up enthusiasm by clapping frantically after every speaker - at the same time asking me over and over if it was time to go home yet. Bless him.
Tomorrow we are meeting up with friends for a picnic and museum visit, then heading to the home-ed group in the afternoon - Busy busy busy!
**Please note that the views shared here are that of my own. You may well disagree. I shall not argue, life is too short. This is my blog and my thoughts, a place for me to write my own opinion only. If you don't like what you read then read no more, you are free to leave the page. **