Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Why We Don't Need LA Visits

I have said before that as long as visits from the Local Authority are not a legal requirement for home educators, I will not have them.  A few misguided individuals in the last government tried to force the matter and lost - and although some HEors are fortunate enough to currently have LA workers who are friendly and well-meaning, for me it is the principle: I am not prepared to yield any ground that was fought so hard for by the HE community just a few years ago.  I wrote politely to our LA declining visits, and they have been fine with that.  No problem.  But occasionally the subject comes up again, and I read two articles this evening, back-to-back, that set me off on a bit of a rant.  I posted opinions online, raged mildly at hubby, and decided to get it off my chest here...

First, this article from the Guardian, about the home educators in Westminster having to take action against their council who want to enforce monitoring visits etc, despite there being no legal requirement to do so...

Second, this (seemingly unrelated) article from the Telegraph, about the compulsory promotion of Marxism in Chinese universities.

Actually I had also read an article this morning written by an unschooler in Canada.  With the inspiring words from the Canadian writer still ringing in my ears, the contrast between that and the Chinese system was so extreme.  I asked hubby incredulously how the Chinese could hope to produce world-leading inventors and creators if they don't allow free-thinking - and then realised that our own state system is not so different, with even primary schools being so tied up in targets, tests and league tables that the child has ceased to be seen as an individual and is rather just a statistic; an impersonal product - successful or otherwise - of a desperately over-burdened and hyper-legislated system.

Home educators in Westminster and all over the country have turned their back on the education system: some had high ideals and principles right from the very beginning of their children's lives, but many chose the HE route because their children had been badly let down by their school experience, and there was a sense of "we have no choice: we can't do any worse than leaving them in school".  As I have often said before, I have nothing against teachers - I have many teacher friends who are all diligent and dedicated professionals doing their very best for each child in their care, as evidenced by the children who do succeed in school.  BUT.  The system is broken.  It does not work for every child, it is not designed around the well-being of children, and it certainly does not work for most home educated children.

So - given that I have chosen to pursue an education for my children that I believe is better than the government can provide (not because I am so great but because they are so bad), where is the sense in my submitting to a Local Authority assessment on how I'm doing?  Even if I did somehow manage to satisfy their tick-box inspectors, how can I possibly accept advice from those who work for a system that I - and many, many experts and professionals - can see has failed?

Some of our friends do have visits from the LA: most are a rubber stamp; occasionally in specific circumstances they are helpful; many are a stressful and unproductive intrusion.  But as far as I am concerned, the LA team have nothing to do with my boys' education - they have no expertise in the style of education that I aspire to and no understanding of what drives us, as it is completely at odds with the targets set by the Government.

The education received by those two boys in Canada is so whole - so free - so healthy, it is utterly inspiring.  But can you imagine what a Chinese official would make of them?  Surely they would deem them to have completely failed, by their own narrow academic and ideological diktats. It may not be a fair comparison, as the two examples that fell into my lap appear to be so extreme in their opposition to each other - but in my opinion right now, sending a government official to assess home educators is as meaningless as a Chinese assessment of Canadian unschoolers.  And that is why we don't need LA visits.

Experimental Structure

Over the last few years we have enjoyed the odd foray into total unschooling or using as little structure as we can.  I think that is because we had so much structure at school that we all needed to experience different ways of 'educating', and we have appreciated the benefits of chilled-out flexibility.  We have never gone to the other extreme of full structure though - yet...

Last 'term' (I still think in school terms so there is clearly still some structure in my mind) we started off with loose plans and ideas rather than strict schedules, and we had a very enjoyable active start of term.  By the beginning of December however it all fell to pieces, partly due to the time of year - it's not practical setting high expectations for children who are getting increasingly hyper about the Christmas season - and partly due to a family bereavement that quite frankly floored me.  I was grateful for the festive distractions that kept the boys occupied while I dealt with the practical details (and churning emotions) that ensued.

I confess though, that I am uncomfortable with the complete lack of structure that we experienced this month.  I know it was understandable and even necessary, but it has left me craving a bit more structure.  In fact, while going over my thoughts for the coming year I found myself wanting considerably more structure than before (control issues?  you don't say!)  In theory if I have it all laid out in front of me up front, the boys will know what to expect and I will not have to do any significant planning as we go along - well, that's the idea anyway.  Spring term traditionally lends itself to more at-home HE, so it's a good time to be trying it out!

I'm not going for a purchased complete curricula as I already know the boys don't respond well to that.  And I'm not going to cram their days with so many demands that they have no free time to be creative and follow their own pursuits.  But I am going to write out a plan for the coming half term - with specific subjects/ activities for each day - gleaned largely from the internet and our own resources.  I am going to plan probably four mornings a week for six weeks, leaving one totally flexible day a week (weekends don't count!) plus all afternoons for either social activities or the boys to do what they want.  Oh, and my planned activities will still be based on ideas that I know the boys will find fun, as it doesn't matter how precise my plans are, if the boys think it's boring it is all pointless anyway!  And if we fail to achieve the activities allocated to any specific day?  Well who cares?  That surely is the beauty of HE - its flexibility!

So it will be a new structure for us, but I'm looking forward to it.  Who would have thought that nearly three years into our HE journey we would still be experimenting with the best way to structure (or not) our learning?  It keeps it fresh and interesting though - I love it!

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Death or Life of a Favourite Subject

Thoughts today have turned to next year's Home Education, and one thing in particular is on my mind: English (urgh).  It is more than ironic that an English graduate should have such a reaction to the subject, but that is how it now is.

Eldest, age 12, is getting to the age where we are thinking about the possibility of iGCSEs.  He is not ready yet, I know that, but we are still mulling over options in the hope that we will have an idea of how we want to progress when the time is right.  It is highly likely that we will follow the iGCSE route within the next couple of years, and Maths and English seem the most obvious subjects that are generally required whatever path he then pursues.


He hates English.  Middle hates English now too - and I hate their English workbooks.  We've abandoned them in favour of reading and writing for pleasure.  All three boys love reading and are quite happy to do the odd bit of writing, but all of the National Curriculum type workbooks (from KS2 onwards) that we have attempted are absolutely and dreadfully off-putting.  It is not just about basic grammar: they dissect and pull apart the construction of a piece of writing until it becomes meaningless.  Many of the questions are so vague and often subjective that I can't even answer them - and I have a degree in the subject!

How are we going to get Eldest through a qualification in my specialist subject when the way it is taught is so repellant to both of us?  I love English: I love grammar; I love books; I love writing... but I cannot abide what the National Curriculum has done to the subject.  I heard a teacher recently comment that the way English is taught nowadays has smothered our children's creativity and robbed us of our inspiring readers and writers, and I couldn't agree more. English as a subject has been dissected to death; the Government have killed my favourite subject!

So this is my dilemma: do I try to teach English in the way required for Eldest to be able to gain a qualification in it, and risk putting him off the subject for ever - or do I do my best to encourage him in the love of literature and language that I enjoy but risk him never gaining a generally required qualification?

I'm stumped.

All I can do is move on to planning other subjects for now and hope that one of my fellow home educators has a genius idea.  If so, you can be sure I'll share it!