Friday, 24 May 2013

A freedom we do not take for granted

We had some interesting evening discussion with our French visitors this week about the decision to home educate and our relationships with our respective authorities. Home education is a legal alternative to schooling both in England and France, and the freedom we enjoy is not something we take for granted. I blogged here about the appalling story of a boy removed from his parents by the Swedish state because he was home schooled, and I recently heard of a home educating family refused asylum in the US who fear being sent to jail if they return home to Germany. Surprised by such affronts to parental liberties in Europe, I decided to find out where home education is illegal and found this interesting chart on Wikipedia. I think it is interesting to cite here the information pertaining to home education in the UK, France and Germany respectively ....

United Kingdom
Status: Officially Legal (England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own education laws each with slight variations regarding education otherwise than at school.)
Education provided outside a formal school system is primarily known as Home Education within the United Kingdom, the term Homeschooling is occasionally used for those following a formal, structured style of education – literally schooling at home. To distinguish between those who are educated outside of school from necessity (e.g. from ill health, or a working child actor) and those who actively reject schooling as a suitable means of education the term Elective Home Education is used.
The Badman Review in 2009 stated that "approximately 20,000 home educated children and young people are known to local authorities, estimates vary as to the real number which could be in excess of 80,000."

Status: Legal
Home education is legal in France and requires the child to be registered with two authorities, the 'Inspection Académique' and the local town hall (Mairie). Children between the ages of 6 and 16 are subject to annual inspection.
Every other two years, the social welfare, mandated by the mayor, verifies the reasons the family home educates and controls that the training provided is consistent with the health of the child. Parents will also be subject to annual inspections if they are teaching children between the ages of 6 and 16. Two consecutive unsatisfactory outcomes of these inspections can mean the parents will have to send their children to a mainstream school.
While homeschooling parents are free to teach their children in any way they like, the children must master the seven key competencies of the common foundation of competence at the end of the legal obligation (age 16). The key competencies are:
Written and spoken French
Maths/basic sciences and technology
At least one foreign language
French, European and World history and geography & Art
Computer science
Social and civic competences
Initiative and autonomy
Homeschooled children must also demonstrate that they can:
Ask questions
Make deductions from their own observations and documents
Be able to reason
Generate ideas, be creative and produce finished work
Use computers
Use resources sensibly
Evaluate risks
French organisations involved in homeschooling include Les Enfants D'Abord, LAIA (Libre d'Apprendre et d'Instruire Autrement), CISE (Choisir d'Instruire Son Enfant) and Hors Des Murs.

Status: Illegal
Homeschooling is still illegal in Germany with rare exceptions. The requirement to attend school has been upheld, on challenge from parents, by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. Parents violating the laws have primarily or most prominently been Christians seeking a more religious education than that offered by the schools. Sanctions against these parents have included fines of thousands of euros, successful legal actions to remove children from the parents' custody, and prison sentences. It has been estimated that 600 to 1,000 German children are homeschooled, despite its illegality.
In a legal case commenced in 2003 at the European Court of Human Rights, a homeschooling parent couple argued on behalf of their children that Germany's compulsory school attendance endangered their children's religious upbringing, promoted teaching inconsistent with their Christian faith–-especially the German State's mandates relating to sex education in the schools—and contravened the declaration in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions".
In September 2006, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the German ban on homeschooling, stating "parents may not refuse... [compulsory schooling] on the basis of their convictions", and adding that the right to education "calls for regulation by the State". The European Court took the position that the plaintiffs were the children, not their parents, and declared "children are unable to foresee the consequences of their parents' decision for home education because of their young age.... Schools represent society, and it is in the children's interest to become part of that society. The parents' right to educate does not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience."
The European Court endorsed a "carefully reasoned" decision of the German court concerning "the general interest of society to avoid the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions and the importance of integrating minorities into society."
In January 2010, a United States immigration judge granted asylum to a German homeschooling family, apparently based on this ban on homeschooling.

Cette semaine, nous parlons en francais ....

I have sometimes imagined how great it would be for home educating families to be able to swap homes or stay with one another to enhance their children's education, enabling them to explore a different area of the country or the world, possibly exposing them to another language in a real life context. So it was with delight that I received an email from a home educator in France asking if anyone would be willing to host her family on a visit to our region of England. Her daughter (aged 4) had expressed an interest in learning English, so they were keen to visit and meet other home educators. I admired this woman for being bold enough to ask, and I was pleased to hear she had received several positive responses which enabled her visit this month. Her family have just spent a few days with us, and it was wonderful to see our boys interact with them and attempt to communicate. We have tried to introduce French to them before, and they have not been very interested. But faced with real people, and a real need to communicate and make themselves understood, the boys asked, "How do I say _____?" and were willing to have a go. The French children, also, had a great opportunity to stay in English families and to hear and speak English in a real life context. Maybe we will be able to take a similar "tour de France" someday ....

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Spring sunshine, challenge and training wheels!

One of the best things about home educating - especially here in Britain, where the weather is so changeable - is the freedom to get up and go out when the sun shines. This week, we took two short breaks and the sun shone down on us, which added to our enjoyment of the great outdoors. In my experience, small boys are like dogs in that they should be exercised out of doors daily! I don't always manage that, but I do aspire to it. All our boys love being outside, and our youngest (now 13 months) is proving no exception. I also think boys need high levels of challenge and risk taking, things I do not believe the education system provides.

Our first short break involved getting on our bikes on a cycle trail through the beautiful Peak District. Since I had our youngest in a child seat on the back of my bike, and our 7 year old was still on stabilisers, our eldest set his own challenge and cycled solo to his destination, meeting us at a set point for lunch later. He and our next eldest enjoyed the freedom of this, and the next day set out together to cycle around a reservoir, completing the 8 mile circuit in just over an hour. This demonstrates a real growth in confidence in our second son, which is great to see.

For some months (years?) we have been encouraging our third son to ride without his stabilisers, but to no avail. A couple of times, we have removed them and tried to get him going without them, but he hasn't quite been ready. Maybe it is linked to his being left-handed, but he hasn't been able to find his balance. I have often pondered the fact that whilst some children can ride a two-wheeler at age 3, he has still not been ready. Well, after cycling the trail - with considerable extra effort as a result of the stabilisers - he was thrilled at his achievement, and began to say that he had cycled most of it without his stabilisers touching the ground. We suggested he might be ready now - after such a great ride - to have a go at riding without them. He was a little unsure, but also excited. So the next day, at the reservoir, we removed the training wheels. He was really determined that he was going to master this new skill. And, without any bother and no falls, just a few wobbles, off he went! He was abolutely delighted with his achievement - no matter that he is 7 years old. He did it! And he has not looked back, but has been riding daily on two wheels ever since.

This really got me thinking about other skills, and how for each child there is a readiness for acquisition. Whilst one child might read at 3, another might not be ready until much older. Why should this not be true for writing too? Mathematical concepts? If we push something before that readiness appears, the child may learn, but it might require much more effort and anxiety than it would take later on. (I remember my eldest son learning to ride a bicycle with great angst and many tears.) Is there any harm in waiting? If the child is not compared unfavourably with others, there is no reason why he or she should think of him/herself as not being any good at the said skill. And when it is acquired - in good time - there is no reason for the child not to be thrilled at their own achievement.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

More evidence as to why nursery shouldn't be like school ...

This article cites a couple of interesting studies conducted in the States to look at how children learn when they are taught something as opposed to being encouraged to explore something and discover it for themselves. The writer focuses on why young children need more opportunities to explore - not more formal schooling ever younger. Worth a read ...