Or, should we keep quiet about home-education being an option open to others?
Do you have a view on this?
This was a discussion recently on one of the Facebook groups I belong to. It started off with someone asking about the promotion of home-education and looking for ideas and feedback regarding how to go about it.
I mentioned that over the years I had been part of a local group of a people that had promoted home-education at a variety of events. I said that I had put cards in newsagents and on village notice boards, and leaflets in a holder on the gate of my house when we had lived on the main road with lots of passers-by. It goes without saying that this blog is rather a good promotion tool too, and the (new and vastly improved!) Classroom Free website certainly gets a decent amount of hits per day.
The group discussion really got me thinking. I wrote in my response that I believed one negative to the increase in the popularity of home-education, could be that the powers that be may wish to have more control when it comes to regulation. At the moment we are such a small minority that we are relatively easy to 'sweep under the carpet' somewhat. A large enough increase in numbers could get a few backs up in certain areas (Teacher Unions perhaps? The NSPCC who already have a rather downtrodden opinion of home-educators maybe?) and I could see that that would lead to an increase in the calls for monitoring and registration.
A couple of replies from others suggested that we shouldn't actively promote home-education. It was said that if someone looks for an alternative to school, they will find one.
Herein lies my problem.
If you had never read about home-education, heard about home-education, or had come across anyone actually home-educating, would you look for information about it?
If you have been bought up thinking that ALL children have to go to school would you seek an alternative?
If you had seen the sensationalised news stories of parents serving a jail sentence because their children didn't attend school (truants), would you not think that it was therefore a legal requirement to go?
If your child was having issues within the school environment and you had the apparent support of the headteacher, teachers, perhaps counsellors etc, who appeared to be on your side, would you feel the need to search elsewhere, particularly if you weren't computer savvy? There are still plenty of families within the UK without a computer or internet connection. There are still many parents not able to use a computer due to lack of knowledge. Using Google and searching for advice isn't an option. So where do they turn to?
You see, I feel very passionate about home-education. I wouldn't class myself as being anti-school, indeed I have many many friends who have children who appear to be thriving with the school system. I know it works well for some. I am also well aware that home-education wouldn't work for everyone.
I also believe that a parent should be able to make an informed decision regarding the educational provision of their child.
If you aren't aware of all the options open to you, how can you make that informed choice?
I have seen home-education literally put families back together, not just for me and mine, but for many many home-educators I have had the pleasure to cross paths with, both online and in 'real'. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was finding an alternative to school that turned my son's life around. I know for sure that had we persisted with the traditional school route, that our lives would be very different now and my son would have had far more struggles than on the alternative journey we have chosen to tread.
I have received countless emails telling me of the damage that has been done to so many children, each and every one of them tugging at my heart strings.
I want to shout out to the world (or this country at least) that it doesn't have to be this way. That parents have choices.
Now, I know that the idea of home-education is a nightmare to some. I know that for a large percentage of families it would be a struggle for many reasons - financial, time, work, lacking in self-confidence, to name but a few. But, if you had a child that was struggling to cope in school for whatever the reason, would you like to know that there was a plan B? Wouldn't you like to know that there was always another route to take, be it permanent or temporary?
Just very recently I have received messages such as (quoted with identities hidden):
"My son was severely bullied at school. He shut down completely. He wasn't happy. He wouldn't talk, eat, sleep or anything. He spent much of his time crying. I took him out of school and the transformation is astounding. I now have a happy and contented son. Choosing to home-educate him was the best thing I could have done, I wish I had known it was legal before so much harm was allowed to be done."
"Now home-educating my son and daughter. Both have various disorders and difficulties. Finally removed them from school in February 2013 and am trying to undo the damage school has done. Wish I had know about home-education from the start."
"Started home-educating in December 2012 having spent the previous four years battling with the school. Loving life now and haven't looked back, but wish we had known about home-ed sooner."
"Home-Educating my 7 year old daughter having found out that there was an alternative to school in December. Wish I had known before, lots of damage has been done and I now have to try to put my daughter back together again."
I know that home-education awareness is ever growing. I have received numerous messages seeking support from people who have chosen to home-educate from the word go. They already know that they have various options open to them and they have decided on the route they are taking before their child even reaches school attendance age. More and more people are telling me that they know a family of home-educators, or that they have read about a home-educating family or have seen one mentioned on a TV programme. Sometimes the publicity isn't all that positive, but it is still planting the seed in someone's mind and that seed might just be enough for someone to want to find out more.
But what about those (like I was, many moons ago) who haven't had the luxury of knowing anyone that home-educates their children? What if the only TV programmes you have watched involving home-education as a story line have been American based? If you had had it drummed into you constantly, throughout your own childhood and beyond that "ALL children HAVE TO go to school!" would you really seek an alternative in your time of need? Or would you believe that the 'professionals' have your child's best interest at heart - after all they keep saying they will help you and when you are at the end of your tether that 'we will help' offer is like music to your ears.
Many people that get in touch with me feel as if they are at the end of the road. Their children are suffering and they, as a parent, are struggling. The help they have received isn't helping or perhaps promised help hasn't been forthcoming. The child they they know and love is disintegrating in front of their eyes. Some speak of self-harm, others of tears and solitude. Talk of suicide, self-hatred, and loathing of life is common.
If you were in my position, upon being entrusted with such tales (and I am not the only one, there are many many home-educators out there who also hear of such experiences), would you not wish it to stop? Would you not strive to try to ensure that no-one needlessly goes through such things again? Would you not want home-education to be talked about, openly discussed where it needs to be, just so that parents know they have a back up if plan A fails.
I'm not for one minute suggesting that every child should be home-educated. As said, I'm not anti-school and I know that the lifestyle that comes along with the home-ed choice wouldn't suit everyone. And that's just what I view home-education to be. A lifestyle, not purely just an educational decision, but a decision that will affect many areas of daily life.
What I am suggesting is informing parents of their right to choose. Just as I had the right to choose. Just as many of the people reading this blog had the right to choose. It may or may not reflect on their current or future choices, but they would be aware, and that awareness could, just possibly, save a family from sinking to the depths after months (or in some cases years) of traumatic suffering.
If, when Joseph was struggling, I had known that there was an alternative, I would have pulled him out of the environment that was damaging him sooner. I would have still attempted to discuss things with the headteacher and his classroom tutor, and tried to find a solution that way (mainly because I lacked in self-confidence at that time), but I wouldn't have had to prolong his agony. I expect that I would still have thought of home-educating him as a short-term, temporary solution, just as I did back then. I expect that I would have still thought that we could make school work for him if we rebuilt his lost confidence and equipped him with a better understanding. But, the decision to pull him out would have been made sooner and perhaps less harm would have been done. I feel that is the case for many people. I feel that by equipping parents with the knowledge that an alternative to the school system exists, we may well save many children and young people (and their parents) from severely damaging experiences.
So, should we all be hush and think to ourselves "I'm ok, and my children are ok. I'm happy with home-educating families being such a small proportion of the population as it means I'm going to be left alone. I don't want to rock the boat."
Perhaps self-preservation isn't a bad thing and we should be quiet and continue travelling on our own merry paths without hindrance.
Or, maybe we should we be thinking "Do you know what? Home-education has been an absolute saviour for me and mine. I don't know where we would be now if we hadn't known about it. I would love to share what we know with others so they too are able to make that choice if they want to or have the need to in the future."
No matter which way I look at it or how many times I think about it, I still think the latter. I just can't be 'selfish' about home-ed. I want to shout about it loud and proud. I don't want to stay hushed and not rock the boat. I am prepared to defend my right to home-educate if the need ever arises and my eyes are wide open to that possibility in the future, but surely if just one child, one family, can be helped by being informed of their legal rights, it's worth it?
So that is my view. If you share it, do think about getting involved in Classroom Free. You can see the how you can help page by clicking here. There are some suggestions on there but I'm sure the list isn't exhaustive. You may have your own ideas, share them with me if you wish. I envisage the website becoming community focused, with many voices, not just mine. I'd love to have you on board if you share the same vision.