After last week's deliberations, and another visit to our nearest grammar school, my eldest son decided to accept the place and go to school in September. I am so very proud of him, and I think there is a great deal he will gain and learn from the experience but, I must confess, I also feel immensely disappointed. I am disappointed because I do not believe institutions are the best places for people - be they children, the abandoned, the disabled or the elderly. I do not believe an institution - however 'good' it might appear - is the best place to nurture the gifts and talents of the individual. It cannot be, because it's very nature requires that it deal with the masses. The grammar school still has class sizes of 30. It is still a system, an organised machine, a processor. How will my quirky boy adapt to conformity? To having to sit amongst the crowd whilst the curriculum is delivered? What effect will this have on his ability and desire to determine the course of his own learning? What will the impact be on our family relationships when he returns tired and grumpy to a pile of homework? Where will he find the time to pursue his projects and passions? My concerns are many.
However, one of the strengths of home education is an ability to tailor provision to each individual child. My second son would not thrive in a grammar school at all, but our eldest really might. And as we talked to him, it became clear to me that he has a real need for more company of his own age. He is a very sociable, extravert boy and this need is as great as any other. I feel disappointed that we have not been able to find that for him, that there are not more families learning autonomously outside the system, more community learning hubs where he can hook up with like-minded companions. That would be my dream. For the moment, I must content myself with going back to holidays at peak times, stressful mornings getting him out of the door on time with a packed lunch and a clean uniform, and the consequences of dancing to the beat of the school bell. On the positive side, he will need to be organised, learn to get himself up and out and to school on time; he will have new challenges, new friends, opportunities to do new things he might not otherwise try. He will hopefully encounter new people and new ideas which inspire him, and all this will come home to inform his brothers also. Most importantly, I think, unlike most of us, he is choosing to be there. We have talked extensively about what he is signing up to, and I have told him I will not be nagging. School responsibilitues will be his own responsibilities and he can face the consequences at school. He is excited and positive, up for the challenge, busy studying his uniform list and summer homework. So let's see .... Most importantly, for him on his educational journey, school is one resource he is choosing to utilise and, if it fails to enable him to learn and thrive, he will choose to move on and determine his own destination - however he might get there. That is truly autonomous. Perhaps my greatest concern is that I'm not sure what a school will make of that.