Guest post: "The traditional school system is effectively a sausage factory"
After home-educating for 10 years, Jax Blunt no longer worries about ticking off age-related achievement targets
Making it up
Posted on: Wed 23-Sep-15 10:01:54
(157 comments )
I watched my 15-year-old daughter walk into a classroom for the first time this month. While most other parents dropped off their four-year-olds for day one of school, I waved off the daughter I had, until now, been educating at home.
My daughter had made her own decision, and for her own reasons she put on a uniform and joined our local school in year 11. I, meanwhile, will continue to home educate my 12-year-old and five-year-old. My three-year-old won't be going to preschool.
And so, while many parents are sharing pictures and anecdotes of their child's first month at school at the moment, a growing number aren't. We are choosing, instead, to home-school.
In my view, the traditional school system is effectively a sausage factory. No matter how much is said about individualised or child-led systems, the nature of the beast is that it's mass processing. I wanted my children to have time to be children, and time to be themselves. Individuals.
The rise in this movement is perhaps driven in part by changes to the education system, but also, I suspect, because it is now so easy to network. There are national and local Facebook groups, and depending on where you are, lots of groups meeting up.
Home education is easiest with younger children - there's lots of outside play, lots of art, craft, and stories. There are so many resources now that primary age education is very achievable either following a structured school-at-home model, or completely following your child's interests or, as is most likely, doing something in between. That's my approach with my younger ones - the five-year-old is very interested in art and nature, and I've picked up great nature resources very cheaply in Lidl. We do some semi-formal activity most mornings - I'm also Montessori trained and use these resources regularly too. Afternoons are more free format.
No matter how much is said about individualised or child-led systems, schooling is mass processing. I wanted my children to have time to be children, and time to be themselves. Individuals.
I'm a lot more relaxed and confident with the younger two than I was first time round. There were all sorts of panics about learning to read with my eldest, as we felt it was the central skill. Now though, I know most children get there when they're ready, and that happens at varying ages. So as long as I'm making sure we're offering the chance to develop skills, I don't worry about ticking off any age related boxes.
Questions about academic issues tend to come later in the age range, and I will admit that qualifications can be the issue. There are courses that can be studied from home, and there's a thriving support network helping families find examination centers that will take private candidates. If any government was serious about helping home educators, they could make a single change to say that every area should have at least one state school that will take private candidates, Having details of the exam boards on a central website would also make life easier.
Qualifications are why my daughter has chosen to go to school. She believes it will be easier to follow courses done with her peers, and for her, I think it's the right choice. She is finding the organisational aspects of school more challenging than the academic side and she does have an uneven level of learning, being advanced in English and creatively, but not having covered all the maths she needs. But we are well placed to support her through that.
My 12-year-old, however, is determined that he won't go to school for any reason. He's already started to prepare for the maths and computing qualifications that will suit him, and in a year or so, I'll be hunting for one of those exam centers.
Home education was a philosophical choice for me and something I considered before I had children. I discovered the potential while on a teacher training course back in the 90s. Once we had children I looked into the subject further and found a wonderful network of early years home ed families, brought together by the Muddlepuddle email list as it was then - it is now the Early Years HE group on Yahoo. As well as the email list, there were local and national meetups and camps. There are now a number of national organisations too, such as the Home Education Advisory Service and Education Otherwise. Although home educators don’t have to follow the national curriculum, resources are available if they choose to.
My traditional teacher training (PGCE) is of next to no help as a home educator, as most of what you learn that way is about lesson planning and managing a classroom, although some of the incidental reading was interesting. My Montessori training and experience, however, is very useful, particularly with younger children, as it's all about practical hands on learning and seeing children as independent learners.
As for socialisation - yesterday we went to home education roller skating and soft play. Today my 12 -year-old will go to an after school hours computing club. My 15-year-old is (almost) struggling to fit school in around her other commitments - paper round, swim club, army cadets. On offer locally there are home education art sessions, forest schools, and a communal group where each family brings an activity.
Is home education for everyone? No, there's no one approach that suits every child or every family. But it's great to see a rising awareness of it and for people to know that they have choices. When it comes down to it, that's the important thing.
By Jax Blunt
Thanks for the post. I know that I need to ratchet back the concern on what age everything happens by in school too! I mean, if I wanted DD to be pushed to do everything at the average time, rather than the time that is appropriate to her I might as well have started her in school in the first place.
This is a great post. Our (just) 4 year old is upset asking why he has to be at school so long? And for what's best for him, so young, I feel he shouldn't be if that's his reaction and wish he could go back to learning together outdoors, in museums, as he climbs in the playground...
If only the system was less rigid and I know it's complicated and most parents need the longer days but for me more flexible or part time schooling would seem the ideal for DS He was getting lonely where we lived as school age children weren't around until after school.
Your last paragraph resonates with me so much.
My one regret in life is I didn't know about H.ed sooner.
I learned too late for our ds2 who had traits of ASD and experienced a terrible school education.
However, with a G&T musical dd by the time she had completed y3 she wanted to leave school in order to pursue her goal and ambition to perform.
She started school again a few weeks ago, at a specialist music school.
I don't think any other school would have been suitable for her.
The problem with a schooled education is that it is prescriptive and not all children fit into the narrow curriculum which is compulsory.
Like you OP, I'm not worried about gaps in education because they can soon pick up with support from school or home. In our case it is school as she boards, which is a huge difference to being at home.
The comments of "Are you not worried she will behind her peers" always used to make me laugh. How can you be behind in something you haven't done and a system you haven't been involved with?
Thank you for a very informative post Jax
You are perfectly entitled to do what you feel is best for your child and I'm not remotely anti home ed and for some children it must be a huge relief to them and their families to have that option but mine have thrived at school.
They have not been turned into sausages or some other kind of identikit non-thinking dead meat product by going through the education system. They have childhoods and opinions and fun and are as different from each other as chalk and cheese...one of them is even creative!
School is only one aspect of their lives.
Am pottering off now to ponder whether my children are just unsuccessful sausages...
I am a primary school teacher that thoroughly supports the idea of HE. It seems obvious that some children are not going to thrive in the school system, or in one school over another.
I rather object to the sausage factory quote though. My dc are at school and are thriving, with their individuality being encouraged and celebrated.
To be honest my ONLY beef with Home Education is the fact that often people who do it seem to labour under the delusion that they are the only parents who ever do interesting or educational stuff with their children.
Have you ever seen that poster, which is meant to be 'anti rat race' saying 'If you liked school, you'll love work'? - link here: poster
It always makes me smile, because my older DD thoroughly enjoyed school & is also enjoying the world of work, which delights me as I think the world needs clever, creative women like my daughter.
My DD succeeded in a vast, mixed comprehensive, so she has the resilience to thrive in the work place. I feel HE often comes from a place of backing off from the cut and thrust of the modern world, which is a valid life choice, as long as children have the tools to succeed in the modern workplace. You can turn up your nose at sausage factories, but factories create jobs and wealth.
Individuality encouraged from a very narrow perspective. All following the same curriculum working along others of the same age is hardly individual.
Nor does it prepare you for work unless you are going to work with people who are only from your school year
I have nothing against schools btw, but it's ridiculous to suggest they encourage individuality. This is the reason my child left because of lack of encouragement to be an individual.
All people are individuals. Going to school doesn't prevent that. I have taught for 20 years and have not witnessed children being made into identical 'sausages' in any way at all. I think there are a lot of things that need to be changed in the school system, and I absolutely agree that people should be able to HE if they want, but suggesting that all school-educated people are deprived of their individuality is insulting and frankly ridiculous.
While I am whole heartedly in favour of home ed for those it will benefit I do think your ant school stance is a bit offensive. If I was to say that home ed children are hippy kids or something then you'd be offended and quite rightly so.
There is space for all types of education but putting my children through state schools hasn't produced sausages, far from it. My oldest is now in her final year, preparing for uni next year. My youngest at middle school showing huge flair for art and maths.
As for clubs and activities, both my two have active lives outside school, kayaking, swimming, rangers, volunteering plus the oldest works at weekends. They are both individuals.
I find it interesting that your child has opted to start school to do exams, which indicates the desire in her to conform to the mass sausage producing idea you despise. Clearly home ed hasn't completely succeeded if she's far behind in maths and I hope you are prepared for tears because she will have a tough time catching up in gcse years.
Overall I find your post a tad condescending and patronising. Do you think schooled children don't get art supplies or have time for walks in the woods? If home ed works for you, brilliant. But don't criticise others choices to make yourself feel superior to what you see as mass produced children who don't do anything except go to school and live grey boring lives. You couldn't be further from the truth.
I did some HE but was mostly at school.
HE was fantastic for being tailored to us, for letting us fly, and learn at our natural pace. That said it was intense and I chafed at the bit to get out of the nuclear family sometimes.
I didn't feel 'sausaged' at school, I have to say. For various reasons (race, life experiences, family, level of ability) I very much stood out but was under no pressure to conform intellectually or otherwise. Big state schools are pretty good at avoiding that, I think. Differentiation was good at my secondary school-lots of groups going at different paces in the same classroom.
And I got to do teamwork, group learning, mutual support plus acceptance of varying academic levels and how to accomodate them. All those skills have stood me in good stead. Probably most of all, I learned about not just toeing the line but going right up to it and giving it a nudge, about humour, satire, political protest, subversion, agitprop and how to undermine hierarchies (we weren't bad, we just weren't very good at deference). Now those skills have stood me in seriously good stead in later life.
"Individuality encouraged from a very narrow perspective. All following the same curriculum working along others of the same age is hardly individual."
Children respond as individuals. They write poems, draw pictures, play games, do maths, grow things and learn as individuals . I look at my happy, thriving children who go to an excellent school that gives them opportunities to play music, games, climb mountains, go caving, grow veg etc etc and simply do not see 'sausages'.
It IS rude.
"I wanted my children to have time to be children, and time to be themselves."
Children only spend, on average, around 25% of their waking hours in school over the course of a year. Even if their school time were spent sitting rigidly at desks, doing "unchildish" things (which is very far from being the case in most primary schools), they would still have plenty of time to "be children" and to "be themselves". I am always suspicious of this kind of hyperbole.
I suspect that much of the superior attitude I see in those who HE is simply the response to the constant need to defend themselves from people who are aghast at their choice, simply because going to school is such a mainstream option.
"The comments of "Are you not worried she will behind her peers" always used to make me laugh. How can you be behind in something you haven't done and a system you haven't been involved with?"
Exactly. By definition, if you haven't done something then by definition you are (far) behind in that subject.
It's all great that OP's DD has done more creative stuff but if mine were significantly behind her peers in mathematics at age 15, I wouldn't be feeling as
smug happy about her education as OP seems to be.
That's great it suits you OP - although I take massive issue with the patronising and rather insulting thread title. Remember - there are parents, children and teachers at the receiving end of that rather sanctimonious claim.
Incidentally - if you are well placed to support her through bringing her maths skills up to the level that is needed at that age, why haven't you done so before now?
I don't understand the "sausage factory" analogy. Presumably you went to school OP and yet you consider yourself rather alternative to mainstream. Also if you add up the compulsory school hours (not including after school clubs and the like) then children learn more and do more and spend more time out of school than in it, so again I'm not sure where you're going with this - most parents do educational and fun activities with their kids outside school so kids get the best of both worlds.
Anyway I'd rather read a post like this further along the journey - you won't be so smug if none of your kids get GCSEs and can't even get a job at a checkout let alone go on to do A levels. I'm not convinced that forcing your children to be "alternative" gives them adequate choices as they gain independence. In this country you need GCSEs or your life choices are severely limited.
Do universities accept home Ed applicants at 18? If they have no gsces/a levels etc?
Ive never seen that either. They'd expect them to get GSCEs then A level or equivalent.
Well, the fact that schools encourage individuality is something we will have to disagree on.
To me individuality comes from letting a student learn at their own pace, the subjects they choose and the topics. Not following what everybody else is expected to learn from policies, procedures and curriculum set by governments. If everybody is doing the same it isn't individual at all, it's prescriptive.
What's the expected career path for home educated students then? I think this is the first time I've thought about it as a lot of home education discussion focusses on primary age children.
I taught around 75 students today. Every class full of young people whose individuality shines through. I hope this smug guest poster is not representative of most of the home educators out there.
thatstoast in the OPs case one of her children is starting school at 15 in order to do GCSEs. You can also enter exams as an independent student, so HE parents will do that.
NewLife4 that's not the case really though is it. All schools provide a range of GCSEs/qualifications, so children choose their options, and not everyone does the same thing. Add onto that extra curricular activities (in school time or after school) and there is more personalisation still.
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