My three children all attended the local primary school in the village where we live. The school gets impressive reports from Ofsted inspections and holds up well in the government’s school performance league tables. Most of the pupils come from relatively affluent homes and have intelligent parents who care about their children’s education and well being. Interested and supportive parents can be a double edged sword for teachers who need space and freedom to be allowed to teach, but compared to many other establishments, teaching in this school should not have been too much of a challenge.
It is unfortunate that the school has a culture of bullying. Not the violent, frightening, obvious bullying but the insidious, misery inducing, mental bullying of the powerful, popular protagonist. It starts in the early years with minor threats such as to exclude a child from a party that everyone else is invited to if they do not do as they are asked. This continues through the complex iterations of development as the bully realises that he can get away with his cruelty and thrive. The staff at the school were either unaware or disinterested. Perhaps they thought it was just something that the kids needed to learn to put up with. Thankfully, not all schools are so accepting of this type of behaviour.
To say that none of my children enjoyed their time at primary school would be to seriously understate their feelings on the matter. I was not aware until well after the older two had left just how much they had disliked the place. Much of this was down to boredom and the helplessness felt when they observed innocents being blamed and bullies rewarded. As their parent I tried to talk to staff at the school about particular issues when they directly affected my children but things rarely improved. This situation finally came to a head when my youngest son was nearing the end of his penultimate year. Whilst trying to have a discussion with the Headteacher she went red in the face (a sure sign that she was angry) and told me that I was a bad parent.
I would never hold myself up as a shining example of good parenting but I know for sure that I am not and never have been a bad parent. I considered carefully this breakdown of trust between the school and myself, looked at how particularly unhappy my child was, and decided that I needed to remove him from the cause of his misery. I believed that he needed nurturing, to have his confidence in himself rebuilt, and to catch up academically after years of neglect. I took the decision to home school him.
It surprises me that not many parents are aware of the rules surrounding a child’s education. In the UK, education is compulsory between the ages of five and seventeen, but attending school is not. There are a plethora of resources available on the internet which provide all that is needed to plan interesting and challenging lessons for all ages and abilities. Although state schools must follow a national curriculum this is not a requirement for those being educated outside of the system.
When I first discussed with my son my idea of becoming his teacher he asked a few pertinent questions and then, showing great excitement, wanted it to happen immediately. So it did. The next day I delivered the required letter to the school, he went to say goodbye to his teacher and friends and we left. Rarely have I seen him happier. I ensured that he was aware that if he did not work hard at his lessons for me then he would be sent back to school (a different one), but this was never an issue. He was focused, diligent and cheerful in his work. We had a lot of fun.
During this time, my older two children were attending a secondary school in one of our nearby towns. They had taken a little while to settle in after their experiences at primary school but seemed to have found friends and were doing well academically. I was not convinced that I would be able to teach my youngest son much beyond primary level so he was aware that he would only be home schooled until he was old enough to join his siblings. The only request he made was that he would be put in a class away from any of the pupils he had known at primary school. The secondary school acquiesced to this request and in due course he made the transition as smoothly as I could hope.
My son thrived being home schooled. We went out and about a great deal, studying local history and geography in situ. These field studies formed the basis for many of our other lessons. With one to one teaching concentrating on the areas he did not understand so well he would whizz through my lesson plans. It was incredibly hard work for me. As I had never taught before I would spend hours preparing the lessons, teach the lessons, and then revert to being mum at the end of the day. I had to ensure that the rest of my family still got my time and attention. It was challenging and exhausting but so rewarding.
One of the things that has surprised and somewhat saddened me since I took the decision to home school is the response I have had from other parents. Local parents have all said they understand why I did it – and several have commented that they wish they had the courage and confidence to do the same. Other parents have approached me for advice as they are seriously considering removing their children from school. How sad that the system is failing so many. I was always aware that other parents had issues as each year there would be a trickle of local families moving their children to another school, not because of family circumstances but because long standing problems were not being dealt with. I guess there must have been some satisfied parents but I have yet to talk to them.
Home schooling will not suit everyone. It requires time, effort and infinite patience from the teacher and a willingness to learn from the pupil. As a result of our experience I have met a number of other home schooled kids and they appear so confident, articulate and pleasant compared to their peers. Perhaps it is the type of child who suits home schooling as much as the method of education. Taking my child out of the emotionally toxic environment of that school was certainly right for him.