Thursday, 28 January 2016

Forcing Home Educated Children into Schools for Child Protection Won't Work

Choosing to educate your child at home is a human right, writes one leading headteacher, and attempting to do away with home schooling would benefit no one ... Read Dr Bernard Trafford's (head of Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School) personal piece HERE.

Why registering wouldn't help ....

If you are wondering about the invisibility of home educated children, there is a good post HERE to help us understand why registering home educated children wouldn't have helped Dylan Seabridge. The writer at Rambling Violets asks, "Why was EHE (Elective Home Education) blamed for LA failures?" Worth a read.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A Visit to Parliament

So, in the post below, "Mustard Seeds", I talked about our home ed environmental group and explained how our involvement with a local conference ended with our children being given the task of delivering a pile of petitions to our local MP, prior to the Paris climate talks in December. When 4 of the children and I went to talk to our MP, he invited our group on a tour of Parliament, which we finally organised for this month.

I had never been inside the Houses of Parliament before, so this was a great opportunity. Our boys have acquired a lot of historical knowledge through talking with their Grandpa, and the visit brought to life some of the stories of ancient kings, plots, rebellions and beheadings. We had a delightful guide for our visit, who was really engaging and eager to share her love of history with the children. Best of all, she didn't patronise them, and loved all the questions they asked her.

The buildings are impressive inside - with beautiful architecture, paintings and portraits, amazing wood carvings and ornate gilding. It was fascinating to see the House of Lords, quite the most ornate room, and then the House of Commons, so familiar from television, and to hear the story behind the rule which bans the Monarch from the Commons. All the children and accompanying parents seemed to really enjoy the tour. My third son was particularly excited to get so close to Big Ben as he has had a long-standing interest in architecture, and iconic buildings in particular, enjoying building a good number of 3D puzzles, including Big Ben. Exiting the Houses at dusk, and seeing the clock lit up, and the sunset in the sky, was really beautiful. Quite an experience, and I hope an inspiring one for our young people.

During our visit to London, we also called in to The Faraday Museum at The Royal Institution.It was interesting to learn of all the scientific discoveries which have been made on that site, and about the research which is currently going on there. The boys were excited to visit the location of The Christmas Lectures, started by Michael Faraday in 1825, which we always enjoy watching, and we had to go and find the lecture theatre. They also loved The Periodic Table game, and spent a fair while trying to beat each other's record.

We met our friends for lunch at The National Gallery and were able to pay a fleeting visit to the Van Gogh and Monet galleries, where our second son was impressed to see in reality some of the paintings he has studied in books.

Later in the week, I asked the boys to write up a brief description of our day in London for their journals (I am trying to encourage them to keep journals this year of all their outings) ... I have told you before that they are not keen writers, so I encouraged them to use adjectives and to try to describe the Houses of Parliament to evoke the atmosphere of the place for the reader. After all, I thought it was pretty impressive. Anyway, they hadn't really gone in to too much detail ... until I got to the bit where they had written about their dinner! So it was immediately clear to me what the highlight of the day was for the boys - Our friends joined us in visiting a restaurant my husband used to frequent as a boy with his family. He recommended the chicken kiev, and the meal obviously inspired the boys' writing more than the Parliament! "It was really good. As soon as you cut into it, the garlic butter exploded out of it. It was coated in crispy breadcrumbs and came with roast potatoes and veg. For pudding, we had tiramisu. It was creamy and chocolately." Mouth-watering description form my foodie boy!

From Teacher to Facilitator

It takes quite a shift in thinking to put children in control of their own learning. For trained teachers, this is perhaps harder still. We must make the shift from imparter of knowledge to facilitator, seeking to guide the child in his/her learning adventure. Children are designed and made to be learners. So we can trust that they will have enquiring minds, and will want to investigate and try to make sense of the world around them. As their mentors, our job is to assist and guide them in that learning journey, and to seek to fill their days and paths with interesting discoveries. We can do this by leaving intriguing things around for them to find, or by taking them out and about to interesting places. We can introduce them to many varied people. We can expose them to different ways of thinking, and encourage them to ask questions. We can discuss what is happening in our families, communities, country, world. We can stop, and observe ... and strive to see what the child before us is truly interested in. Can we facilitate learning that will help them dig deeper into their areas of interest? It can be hard to do this. It can be hard to let go, to take ourselves out of the driving seat, to let go of our list of expectations or measures of learning. How can we be sure learning is taking place? What if our child isn't learning what they need to know? There are so many voices, so many pressures which can lead us to doubt what we can see happening before our own eyes.

People ask me, "How can you get your children to do anything? I find it hard enough getting mine to do their homework." But if a child is interested, if s/he is working on his or her own project work, which holds deep, intrinsic interest, coercion becomes unnecessary. Rather, it is we who sit alongside and ask questions, probe deeper, encourage and nurture that interest.

My third son, who is almost 10, has been fascinated for some months with supersonic cars, an interest he first developed when visiting our local transport museum which showcases the history of the land speed record, including Thrust 2, which broke the land speed record, and Thrust SSC, the car which broke the sound barrier. There is even a simulator visitors can ride to experience being in the cockpit. Independently, over some weeks, he has researched so many things about supersonic cars - mostly on the web - and has become particularly interested in Bloodhound SSC a unique, high-technology project to design and build a car that will break the 1,000mph barrier and set a new world land speed record. He has learned so much about this amazing car that he has become quite knowledgeable about it. Recently, we went to The Skills Show and, almost as soon as we entered, he spotted the Bloodhound project stand. Well, we needn't have gone any further. He loved chatting with the guys there. "Ask me anything," he said to them, "I know all about Bloodhound." We could see them looking at him kind of a little disbelievingly .... "OK," one guy said, "What three engines does the car have?" Straightaway, my son replied, "An EJ200 jet engine, a hybrid rocket engine and a Jaguar F-Type V8." The guy raised an eyebrow and cracked a smile. But this is what I am talking about ... the desire and the passion to dig deep into an area of interest, and to really acquire an expert level of knowledge - however old or young we are. That is what true learning ought to look like.

Our boy's Christmas wish list was filled with Bloodhound merchandise ... Imagine my delight, when checking out the website, to discover workshops enabling him to visit the warehouse where Bloodhound is being built, and to actually see the car of his dreams. He went just before Christmas, and his smile said it all. Engineering come alive.

The challenge for me is that I know nothing about supersonic cars, and I'm not really too hot on science and have no interest in engineering. People say, "But how could I teach my kids?" They assume we must be ahead, to have a superior knowledge and competency to impart. But this is not the case. As facilitators, we can be fellow learners. Indeed, by demonstrating that we do not have all the answers, we give children the freedom to forge new pathways, and to exceed any expectations we might have had for their learning. Learning to relax and to put them in the driving seat has been the hardest lesson for me to learn on our home educating journey, but perhaps the most important.

Home Ed the Focus of Media Attention ..... Again!

There have been a number of newspaper headlines recently casting negative shadows over parents' right to home educate their children .... Fears of radicalisation, and the possibility some might be 'filling their children's minds with poison' (You can read more about government concern HERE); and another abuse case, this time the death of Dylan Seabridge in Wales, apparently from preventable scurvy following neglect. (More on that story HERE). It is perhaps inevitable that, in these rare abuse cases, if a child is home educated, the spotlight falls upon home education, but both Dylan Seabridge and Daniel Pelka (whose story you can read about HERE) - who was in school - are described in the media reports as being 'invisible to the authorities'. In seeming contradiction to that statement, though, concerns had been raised about both children before their deaths. It therefore seems logical that the spotlight needs to fall upon children's services, and child protection - rather than on home education. Abuse is abuse ... whether a child is in school or not.

Images the media choose to portray home education don't help ... dark images of solitary children, kept away from society. Nothing could be further from the reality of our own experience. In an attempt to combat some of the negative ideas flying around, the home ed community launched a campaign you might be interested in, showcasing more positive images of children learning outside school: #freedomtolearn #homeeducation and, most recently, #HandsUpForHomeEd.

(This picture featured beneath an article on home ed in The Guardian in April 2015 You can read it HERE.)

We can look back nostalgically on a time when communities knew each other well, and perhaps took more responsibility for watching out for one another. On the flipside, there was so much abuse in the past that was never exposed. In recent months, much abuse has come to light within institutions, particularly within the care system. With the state in a position of responsibility for everyone's welfare, if something goes wrong, fingers point, blame is assigned, heads roll. We have given the state this responsibility, and we expect a great deal ... but at the end of the day, how can 'the state' ensure that children are safe? The issue is not whether they are at school or not. Many children suffer at school, too. Schools can be rife with bullying, both of staff and students.‬

So, what do you think? How much responsibility should the state have for 'checking up' on people? How do we keep that in balance with the freedom we all enjoy? There are clearly no easy answers. If you tune in to Woman's Hour tomorrow at 10.00, there will be some interesting debate about home education. I know because I was contacted, and I thought I might have to go down and speak up for home ed on the programme ... But it wasn't to be this time around. Maybe on another occasion, because I'm pretty certain this debate is not going to go away!