“But where will the whiteboard go?!” Moving from school education to home education

Matt and I are adoptive parents to three wonderful daughters all of whom, if they were in school, would be in secondary education. But they’re not in school. Our story is a familiar one of initially buying into the traditional way of education by entrusting our girls to the school system in their primary years. At first, all seemed well and we enjoyed being part of the school community and had a good relationship with the teachers and leaders. But it soon became clear that the emotional and educational needs of our daughters needed more support than the school could offer. And so the ‘home education’ niggle was born……..

Oh, how I tried to suppress that niggle! I’m not a natural revolutionary and I really did want us to be ‘normal’ and to follow a ‘normal’ school route – I had been a secondary school teacher for many years, so the school system was my comfort zone! But it was not to be. When your children so obviously need a different provision, it’s hard to keep pushing on, hoping that next year, with a new teacher, it will finally all fall into place. As Einstein so helpfully pointed out, ” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” And we were all definitely becoming insane!

In the book ‘Another way to learn? Discovering the Beauty of Home Education’ I tell the story of how Matt and I finally gave into that niggle and jumped into home education. We are now four years on and despite many wobbles along the way, we are so incredibly thankful that we are able to live our lives as a home educating family. There is, after all, no ‘normal’. We are all parents, home educating or not, who just want to find the best path for our children that will enable them to thrive and grow into who they were created to be.

In the following extract from the book, it picks up the story following our eldest daughter’s deregistration from school at the end of the summer term. The start of the autumn term is fast approaching and Rosabella (not her real name, but chosen by her!) will not be returning to school. I take some time in this part of the chapter to pause and reflect on other people’s responses to our decision to home educate.

Navigating questions and comments

The summer came and went, and in all honesty, I didn’t give an awful lot of thought as to what I would be doing with Rosabella come the start of the autumn term. She had left school, but her sisters were going back; Matt and I were still dealing with our own response to that as well as fielding all the questions and comments that came our way from friends and family, most of which we didn’t have answers to! And breathe … Maybe here is a good place to pause and say a word or two about those questions and comments.

If you choose to home-educate, get used to it: questions and comments from other people will be a part of your life – even from complete strangers! In our experience, most of the time, comments come from genuine curiosity and some have been wonderfully encouraging and affirming. It would be a fun exercise to gather from UK home educators a Top Ten list of the most frequent comments they have received! The most common we hear is “I could never do it”, a loaded comment driven either by fear, or by admiration, or a mixture of both, depending on how satisfied that person is with the mainstream education system. “You’re so brave” is another, to which my response in the early days was “Yes, I am!” followed by a slightly hysterical giggle. “I couldn’t spend all day with my children” is another favourite, and one that I’m still never sure how to respond to, so I don’t. “You’re a teacher so you can do it, but I wouldn’t know where to start” is the one that makes me laugh out loud, because it should make perfect sense. “No, no, I don’t know what to do!!” is what I wanted to scream in the early days, knowing even then that being a home educator would be a very different thing to being a secondary state-school teacher. Reluctant teenage learners taller than me I can cope with, but home education?!

What about friends; what will you do with them? How will you follow the school curriculum? What about socialisation? What if they fall behind? What about GCSEs? What about Art? How will you teach science? Where will the whiteboard go?! The list goes on and on. But at the end of the day, whether these questions are asked from concern, curiosity, or just undisguised criticism, as a new or imminent home educator, they can be unsettling and unnerving. But remember this: when you step outside of the norm, it can be unsettling not just for you, but for those around you as well. I’m not great with change; I’m better than I used to be, but generally I like predictability and familiarity and I’d prefer it if everyone else would just stay the same as well, thank you very much. I don’t know about you, but if a friend moves away, I struggle. I want to be happy for them, but the truth is, I liked them living where they lived, near me. If they’re moving, should we be moving? Are we missing out or are we OK where we are? Maybe this inner questioning just highlights my own insecurities, but I do wonder if, when someone else makes a change or steps out into something different, it provides us with an opportunity to review where we’re at in life. This is how I choose to view the comments I receive about home education.

Within your school community, some parents will be perfectly happy with the provision for their children and so will either think you have lost the plot, or simply be very happy for you. For others, it will cause them to consider in greater depth their child’s school experience and what they want for them; having paused to review it all, they will either happily continue as is or watch you closely to see how you get on. And for others, there may just be plain regret that this is something they are not able to do right now. Whatever the response, my advice is to try to respond with an awareness of what may be going on for that person. It’s very much a relational thing.

Back then, with those who I knew had our best interests at heart and who mean a lot to us, it was good to take the time to talk it all through, remembering that ultimately it was our decision. With others whose motive for questioning I was less sure about, a quick “Oh, it’s just something we want to try to help Rosabella with her confidence – we’ll see how it goes” was sufficient, followed by a change of subject if needed. I tried hard to be me, to not hide my nervousness, to be real, to say “I don’t know” when I didn’t. “If you see us banging on the school doors come October, let us in!” was my parting plea as we finished the summer term. Most people respond well to vulnerability, I find, and boy, did I feel vulnerable.

This is an extract taken from the book “Another Way to Learn? Discovering the Beauty of Home Education” due to be published in September 2022.You can find out more about the book and pre-order a copy here: https://www.anotherwaytolearn.co.uk/

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