Did you know that home education is actually the default choice for families in the UK? School has become so widely used that we have come to assume that it is the standard pathway through childhood. It is, in fact, a service that is available for families to opt into and access free of charge, in much the same way as pre-school or nursery provision is available to all 3 year olds and some 2 year olds. School is not compulsory, an education however is. Section 7 of the Education Act states:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable
a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by rregular attendance at school or otherwise.
It is the otherwise that we have decided to go for, at least for the foreseeable future.
So what exactly is home education?
In America and many other places it is called home schooling. But many families in the UK prefer the term home education because it moves away from the expectation that to gain an education requires sitting at a desk with workbooks for much of the day. Although some people do choose to spend a lot of time on set academic activities, possibly even following a curriculum (often referred to as a structured approach) for many the increased flexibility of being away from an institutionalised setting is a major appeal. For some, a semi-structured education allows for peace of mind that key skills and topics are covered while still allowing time for plenty of outdoor pursuits, hobbies and socialising. Those who consider themselves to be child-led or autonomous home educators prefer to follow their child’s lead rather than a curriculum or long term plan. They may still plan activities but these will be very much based on a child’s interests at that time and are not usually enforced in any way. Unschooling is an autonomous education which follows the premise that a child is built to learn and will continue to do so actively in whichever way they are comfortable with as long as they are supported and encouraged. No form of learning is held to be superior to others, so gaming, TV, crafting, playing, reading are all seen as viable learning opportunities. Parents may choose to strew things of interest or learning prompts around the home, but there is no compulsion on the child to act on it. Radical unschoolers continue this philosophy into all areas of family life. They look to find consensual ways of living together and, as such, children are not coersed in any way. Bedtimes, eating, use of technologies etc are not limited or enforced by the parents.
So you can see that there is no easy answer to ‘what is home education?’ Every family will differ in what they feel is best for their children, and there is certainly no right way to do it. We are in the very early stages of our journey. Elizabeth, 6, would not even have started formal academic instruction if we lived in one of the many European countries that wait til 7 or 8 to begin teaching reading and mathematics. Georgina, 4, would only be starting reception in September. So for now we are totally child-led or autonomous. It feels right for me and seems to be perfect for them so I figure we are certainly providing an education suitable for their ‘age, ability and aptitude’. And we are enjoying our choice very much!