Advice regarding "home schooled" DN

(9 Posts)
Lagodiatitlan Tue 08-Mar-16 19:30:11

DN 14 has long standing mental health problems (self harming, school refusal etc). His mother (my DSis) has tried to get him to go to school and school, social services etc have been involved. But since January, he has not been going and according to my DSis - whose version of events may or may not be true- after a couple of weeks of a teacher visiting the home, he is now teaching himself. He is going to get a mentor at some stage - but for the moment is just reading books and revision guides at home. DSis - who herself has mental health problems and border line learning difficulties -tells me she is "home schooling". End result seems to be that a 14 year old is not receiving any education at all.
Can this be true? I know he is not going to school - but can a LA just give up on a child under 16? Or can a parent who is clearly not capable of educating a teenager just say they are home schooling.
DSis is very defensive about the whole thing and I do not want to make matters worse by interfering. But the bottom line is that a 14 year old seems to be getting no education at all, and I cannot see that it will end well.
Is there anything anyone can advise?

Saracen Tue 08-Mar-16 21:06:39

It's pretty difficult to know what is going on, as all you have to go by is hearsay.

As I see it, there are two possibilities. If the LA is still responsible for providing an education to your nephew then they may have decided that school simply isn't going to work for him and they are providing materials and planning to send a tutor out. This is sometimes called "home-based learning" or "education otherwise than at school". In this case they may well be offering very little in the way of formal tutoring. Alternatively, your sister may have decided that she is unhappy with the way the LA is trying to educate her son, and she has chosen to exercise her right to educate him herself, which is called "elective home education". In this case the LA is no longer responsible for educating him and probably she will get no help from them - but of course, if their "help" has not been useful in the past then that may be no loss.

It sounds as though you doubt your sister's capacity to make decisions about her son's education and to actually educate him. Do you also doubt her ability to parent him? Since Social Services have left him in her care, apparently they think he isn't at risk; or do you have additional information which would change the picture? If so, it would be good to share that with them. I think if she's competent to parent him then she's also competent to educate him, and I don't see any reason to believe that what she's doing is inadequate. At any rate, it isn't as if he was likely to have been getting a brilliant education while he was stressed and self harming and refusing to go to school, so maybe the current situation represents an improvement. If being out of the school system is going to help your nephew's mental health, that's the main starting point.

Saracen Tue 08-Mar-16 21:28:44

As a concerned and loving aunt, there are plenty of helpful things you can try to do for your nephew. If you offer them in a noncritical way, they are likely to be well received.

First, most of us HE parents find support from other home educating parents to be invaluable, especially at the outset. If your sister isn't aware of support networks, then you could help her make contact with someone in her area. Do you want to say roughly what part of the country she lives in, and we could suggest a local website or Facebook page etc for you to pass on to her? There will be other people whose stories are similar to hers, and families who are home educating in many different ways according to the needs and interests of their kids, so she will probably find encouragement and acceptance. Even if she isn't ready or willing or interested in meeting up with other parents, she can still learn about local resources that way. There may be free museum workshops, geology expeditions, history tours, or science kits which can be borrowed. There may be far more on their doorstep than they realise!

Second, take an interest in whatever your nephew likes to learn about, whether or not it has an academic slant. If you live nearby, you could then offer to take him on outings to places which will excite him, or visit and ask him to show you more about his interests. If you don't live nearby, you can still email him links to interesting related articles on the internet, buy him the bits he needs to build his robot, or send him books you think will engage him. If the education your nephew is getting at home isn't great, you could be instrumental in connecting him with new ideas and feeding his enthusiasm for those topics which may be key to his current and future happiness. If he's already getting a very good education at home, you could make it even better.

You can't force your sister to educate her son in the way you think is best for him. But there's no need to give up on him either. As long as you show respect for what she is doing and don't scupper the relationship you have with both of them, you can do a lot of good.

Lagodiatitlan Tue 08-Mar-16 21:49:54

Thank you for this. I do agree that formal school did not seem to be working for him. I also know his mother cares deeply for him and is doing her best. But as her own education was very limited - she did not attend school regularly and left unable to read and write properly - she is not competent to educate him. She suffers from a range of physical and mental health problems - depression etc- and I cannot see that being stuck in the house all day with her with little or no outside input is a good solution for a child of his age. He does have a few people he knows - but the couple I have met are older than him (18-20 )and have problems of their own. I also wonder why they are mixing with a boy his age and it concerns me. But since social services are already involved, I assume they have a clearer picture than me.

Do you think it is possible that the LA has encouraged DSis to go down the home ed route so they do not have to provide any help? They must be fully aware that she is not capable of providing an education. Some form of tutoring from someone who can at least point him in the right direction seems to me to be more promising than nothing. He only stopped going to school altogether in January so they do not seem to have tried for very long with the tutor route.

You are right, it is hard for me to judge as I do not live nearby and do not see them regularly. And my DSis can be economical with the truth. But it just seems so wrong that a child of his age can be effectively abandoned by the system. I do not want to meddle - as I doubt it will improve matters- but I would like to do what I can to ensure they receive any help they may be entitled to.

Saracen Thu 10-Mar-16 22:57:19

I know it's difficult to credit, but the low educational attainments of some home educating parents tend not to have an adverse effect on outcomes for their children. Compared with school, it's a different model of education, in which the parent is not the primary source of information but instead a facilitator. So if your sister is prepared to support her son, that is likely to be enough.

There is little good research on the subject, but an interesting British study looked at the educational attainment of children from various backgrounds who were school-educated and home educated. As is well known, parents' background does matter. Unsurprisingly, the children whose parents had completed the most education had the highest educational attainment, regardless of where the child was educated. In general, the study found that home educated children outperformed their school-educated peers who came from similar backgrounds. I'm sure it will surprise you to learn that the difference was greatest among children whose parents had the lowest levels of formal education. In fact, the home ed children whose parents had completed the least formal education were on average about two years ahead of school-educated children whose parents had a similarly low level of education. One might conclude that the best way a mum who can barely read and write could boost her child's chances is to take him out of school.

For what it's worth, anecdotal evidence supports this. I know a few HE parents who really struggle with basic reading and maths. But their children are average. It's because they aren't being "taught" these subjects by their parents, but are learning from everything around them.

I'd agree that it may be worrying if your nephew is stuck inside with his mum all the time and unable to get out. Will this be the case, do you think? Is she pretty much completely housebound and doesn't go out even to do shopping etc? Home education in itself doesn't confine kids to the house; it's really a misnomer in that respect. If you think his friends may be a bad influence then the best thing you can do is see if you can encourage him and his mum to meet some other people.

I don't think it's necessarily the case that he has been abandoned by the system. Maybe he and his mother have decided that the system isn't working for him, and they are abandoning it. But it's still there for them if they need it. If they are right, then that is a sensible decision to take. As the school system only has hold of kids until they are 16 or so, there is a real feeling within that system that time is of the essence, that kids must achieve before they are 16 because it will be too late thereafter. Home educating families generally develop a longer view: we witter on about education being a journey and not a race and we really do believe this. There's college and adult education later on if your nephew doesn't learn everything he needs right now. It will never be too late for him to get an education... unless he has such a miserable experience of education when young that it puts him off for life. Or, perhaps, if he spends all his time with people who think education is a horrible ordeal instead of with people who are enthused by it. Again, if you can encourage the family to meet other HE families in the area, this will help.

Probably this won't put your mind to rest much. But do send them our way if you possibly can. If their horizons are as limited as you believe, this will help. Even if you are mistaken and they are doing just fine, they may well enjoy being part of a supportive home ed community.

Lagodiatitlan Fri 11-Mar-16 10:16:04

Again, many thanks for this. It does leave me with some glimmers of hope!

I will encourage them to get in touch with local home ed groups. I do not want to post the location on here because there cannot be many DC in his situation and it might identify him.

GooseberryRoolz Fri 11-Mar-16 10:26:13

Stop saying things that make her defensive! smile

He's going to need recovery time, isn't he? Saracen has pretty much said everything, but I can assure you, from experience and observation, that given time to decompress after a traumatic school experience, DC very quickly find their own motivation to learn and pursue goals.

Lagodiatitlan Fri 11-Mar-16 11:55:36

I really hope you are right, Gooseberry. And I really am very careful about what I say, or show, to both of them.

I guess my concern is that it has always been the home setting rather than the school which has been the cause of the problems. Again I do not want to go into detail here. He was actually doing OK in mainstream schooling until the start of this year despite the other issues, and both school and social services have been pretty supportive over the years. It just all seemed to spiral out of control this school year.

But maybe we should give things a couple of months to settle down and I will encourage DSis to reach out to any other home ed families in the area.
I work FT a long way from them and have DC of my own so there is not much I can do from here. But I will try some of the things Saracen recommended.

GooseberryRoolz Fri 11-Mar-16 12:26:45

It might be that her MH improves as his does.

It's hard to know what 'borderline learning difficulties' and Soc Ser involvement means in practice without asking you to give too much away, but 14 is an age at which he could start to access all manner of things (including college courses PT or FT, virtual learning etc) for himself or with some small encouragement.

Maybe leave it until the summer and then go and visit. You could exert some influence with him directly and/or put your mind at rest by being really enthusiastically interested in his plans and ambitions and about the wide range of options HE brings.

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