Learning Without Using School is generally referred to as Home Education. The legal term “otherwise than at school” is an accurate description as it encompasses the many ways that children learn.
Home Education is the original method for supporting children’s learning. While most families use schools today Home Education is still perfectly legal. In fact this opportunity for personalised education is protected carefully by the wording of the 1996 Education Act (though the wording originates in the 1944 Education Act, a time when they understood the importance of flexibility and freedom in the delivery of education).
Home Education is an involved, effective and efficient way to raise children and to lead a full family life. It benefits the growth and learning of parents as well as their children.
In our modern world, where knowledge is so much more easily available than it has ever been, learning outside the structure and constraints of school makes a great deal of sense. Home education enables families to learn efficiently throughpurposive conversation and other ways that are not easily available within the school model of education.
Home Educators in the UK today support their children’s learning, not just at home but, in many different environments and in many different ways. They simply prefer not to use school to fulfill their natural and legal duty to educate their children. Instead, they use: the bookshelf, the kitchen table, the garden, libraries, parks, museums, other peoples’ homes, the street, the bus, the train, the local farm, the internet, online tutoring, computer games, sports, the open university, sometimes they even use ordinary schools and colleges, clubs, scouts, woodland, the seaside…………they just don’t tend to use school.
Lancashire is a great county in which to home educate, easy access to the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, The Forest of Bowland, The Lakes, The Pennines, the coast and Morecambe Bay. Lancashire has many great towns and villages with strong communities, good museums, libraries, parks and plenty of activities for children. If you begin the home education adventure you’ll wonder how it’s possible to take full advantage of the best education the county can provide if children are in school most days. There is a busy home-education community and plenty of opportunities to socialise with other families and join them in educational activities. Home educated children tend to have energy as well as time in the “after-school” slot of the day to meet and play with friends who go to school and to attend clubs and activities frequented by schooled and home educated children.
The notion that children/people learn without teaching and that school (particularly a one size fits all, universal schooling system) can hinder learning is held by many home educating parents and it’s a notion that has also been challenged by many thinkers through time: Herbert Spencer, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, John Taylor Gatto, Howard Gardner. For quotes on learning and education to inspire you and engage your curiosity in educational philosophy see here.
Learning is like breathing, it happens easily and naturally, unless it is constrained or forced. This metaphor is used by John Holt to explain the essence of his philosophy on education, any of his books will be useful as an introduction to the kind of thinking that drives the choice to home educate. School and other imposed education can function like a straightjacket on learning; it can slow down, misdirect and hinder it in a severe way. Many people have forgotten, or never knew what unhindered learning in a rich environment feels like or looks like. They cannot envisage that children could or should learn without school or a school-like approach. Home Educators have often forgotten how natural learning is too, they have forgotten that children are hardwired for learning; for one reason or another, though, they manage to remember or to find this out anew and put this knowledge into practice in the choices the make around the upbringing of their children.
One reason that home-ed parents don’t shout these insights from the rooftops is that they don’t wish to offend those who don’t know or don’t yet believe this truth about learning. Another is that they would prefer not to argue and be left to educate their children without too much discussion or challenge. They are generally shyly quiet about the joyous learning that happens in their families. They love to get together with other HE parents to share amazing stories, to talk openly and excitedly about the way their children love to learn, about how they learn without any forcing, often with great effort and motivation but without the need for adults to push them or plan the learning. In ordinary company they are quieter, not wishing to offend, not wishing to seem smug and not wishing to prompt the same old questions we so often get asked and are still learning how to answer without showing the passion of home-ed evangelists and rising judgment and confrontation.
But what about when they are older ?
How will you teach physics ?
How will they learn to socialise ?
Here are some delightful photographic answers to these and other questions.
Since February 2009 home educators have become much more active in defending this way of raising children from attack by the Labour government, some (but not all) local authorities and some children’s charities who have sought to constrain and regulate this last bastion of natural learning for children.
Driven by their understanding of the importance of freedom and diverse opportunity in learning, home educators have lobbied hard to educate their MPs and the Lords. Writers such as Ivan Illich have likened the need to protect diversity in education to the importance of disestablishing religion in order to enable creative, effective and free learners. This has also been understood by some politicians in recent times
Some, however, don’t understand and seek to ensure that education is controlled and regulated through the monopoly of the established school system.
In 2009, following a review on Home Education, Labour attempted (and failed) to pass law forcing parents to seek Local Authority permission to home educate and submit to monitoring by their staff. This law, had it been, passed would have fundamentally changed the role and duty of all parents and handed the responsibility to educate to the state instead of the parent. Home Educators understood the danger. If the duty and responsibility to provide an education is taken from the parent it is taken from the people most closely connected to the child, those most closely motivated to ensure that it is appropriate for that child. It is taken from the people who are most qualified to assess that provision and adapt it as needed. The Duty is passed instead to the state education system, the system, which as we know fails those whom it allows to fall though the cracks in its structure and those for whom its provision is insufficiently flexible.
To take this duty from parents would remove the safety net children need if school does not provide for their needs; it takes away the ability of parents to seek other avenues if school cannot be made to work. If all education must be monitored and approved by the local authority then there is an uncreative monopoly on children’s’ education.
The spin surrounding the bill and the use of home education as a smokescreen to divert blame in cases where neglected children were failed by their parents and then by the system has resulted in confusion by local authority staff and others over the law with regard to home education. School is seen as a safety net for children who may be at risk, it does perform such a service but there are some big holes in that net and a safety net with many holes may well be less safe than no net at all. This confusion has increased the fear of home educators that they need to follow the direction of the LA in the home education they provide.
A solution is required that supports children who are at real risk, regardless of their place of education, but one that does not adversely affect the freedom of home educating families to engage in creative and sensible methods of education simply because they are not understood by those who seek to monitor them. Nor should the solution be one which will damage the natural healthy interaction between generations and members of society.
Some local authorities indicate that monitoring occurs with the expectation that home education reflects school education. In some families this is so but there is no need for home education to replicate school or use the same methods or structures. One problem is that home education is evaluated by those who are immersed in the school system, as one home-ed mum has described it it’s like butchers evaluating the vegetarian diet, your average butcher may think vegetarianism is mad but that shouldn’t make it illegal. Your average teacher (except the many who HE their own children) may think HE is mad but again that doesn’t make it so.
It is important that parents are aware of the law and DCSF Guidelines so that they are not afraid that the authority can require them to use specific methods or record the education in particular ways without partaking in ultra-vires practice.
It’s easy to be fearful and not take full advantage of the freedom and possibility to enable our children to have childhoods in which they can learn and grow naturally surrounded by all the advantages that 2010 gives them. It’s easy to be fearful when previous HE families have had great battles and when some Local Authorities currently threaten the involvement of social services if families do not go along with their preferences wrt to education. The best education is not necessarily achieved by following the preference and possible prejudice of the local elective home education department but by following the preferences, interests and needs of your child.
Where social services have intervened or been threatened some families have felt the need to leave the country . One hopes that such a response is unnecessary but it indicates the level of fear. The sadness runs deeper though through the less obvious choice of many families to choose education that will tick the boxes required by the LA in order to avoid pressure and hassle, rather than engaging in the self-directed learning that they would otherwise choose.
The current culture of fear is harmful, it is very important that families do not act out of fear and the authorities reassure parents that they will understand and act within the law.
Evidence from Lancashire EHE Protocols and Procedure indicates that they do not fully understand the law and the reasons behind it. Evidence from the Local Safeguarding Board Minutes (January) indicate that the EHE dept presents the law on HE inaccurately to other professionals. We are looking forward to improvements so that Home Education can continue to flourish in Lancashire