When W reached CSA (Compulsory School Age), I found myself thinking that we had hit a major milestone – that now it is official and W really isn’t going to school. We are ‘officially’ home educating now, although you could say that we have been home educating for years, since nothing has changed in terms of her child-led learning. We have been doing it all along.
Of course, we have had other milestones along the way. I remember when W was 3 and I received letters telling me that she could have a place at nursery, which I ignored at the time. This felt like a minor milestone. Then the deadline for applying for a school place (in reception year) neared and I had fleeting worry that I should apply, just in case. However, I didn’t. I strongly believed that home education was right for W at the time, and when the deadline did actually pass, I felt a sense of relief that the decision had been made and that now we could just get on with it.
But then her peers started school in the September when she was 4. I saw all of the Facebook posts, chatted to my friends about their excitement at their baby starting school, how cute they look in their new uniforms and how their friends from nursery will be in the same class as them etc etc. I couldn’t help feeling that W was missing out and that that was all because of me. What if she actually would have liked school? What if she needed more than I could offer her?
At this point, W was still nervous of loud noise. She didn’t like big groups of people and was a sensitive soul. Should I have pushed her to overcome her fears or would that make her withdrawn? Should I go with my gut and keep her out of the institution that is school, until she is actually ready and more able to cope with the challenges of the classroom? Is any child really ready at only 4 years old?
All these questions would pop into my head at night and I found that I was asking myself over and over if I was doing the right thing. If so many people were doing the same thing as each other and sending their 4-year-olds to school before they were even CSA, surely they were right and I was missing something?
However, I had read the studies and reports on the fact that the UK starts formal schooling when children are too young. The evidence is clear (More information can be found in this New Scientist report and this report by the Foundation for Economic Education, both taking evidence from, and linked to, various respected studies on the subject) that early school enrollment is having a negative effect on our children’s health, wellbeing and also educational attainment.
So what could I do to feel better about my decision? How could I find my ‘tribe’ who would support me and my daughter through our brave and unusual choices
I joined all the home education email, Facebook and real-life groups that I could find and talked to as many people as I could about home education. I asked them about their journeys. Some home educated from the start, some took their children out of school when they found that they could not cope with the school environment. Some were radical unschoolers, some were structured home-schoolers, and some were somewhere in-between, but all had an absolute belief that what they were doing was right for their children. That they were their child’s advocate when others wouldn’t listen. When parents of schooled children questioned my new-found friends on home education, they responded that they were certain this was right for them. Not for everyone – but for them.
I started to feel more assured of my decision. I felt that maybe I could educate W myself and maybe it would turn out ok, as my new friends were telling me.
Later that September, when W and her peers were still 4 years old, my friends with school children started to tell me of the difficulties their children had settling in to their schools. They told me of the tears at drop-off time and the stress and tantrums when they came home, exhausted from the day. Of course this wasn’t the case for all of them – a few of my friend’s children settled-in straight away and loved school from the beginning. However, the majority didn’t and that is when I knew absolutely that I had done the right thing for W.
I am not anti-school – far from it, in fact. But I do dislike the all-or-nothing approach that our government and Local Education Authorities have towards school. Children either attend school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, or they are home educated. There is no in-between (flexi-schooling is vanishingly rare and in almost all cases a temporary measure leading to full-time schooling).
If only we could make our own decisions about our own children’s education in the way that we want to.
If only our government actually informed every parent that their child does not legally have to go to school (or be home educated) until the term after they turn 5 years old, instead of sending letters to parents giving them the false information that they need to enroll their child in school for their reception year. What would be the effect on the nation’s young children if all parents were told when their child is legally supposed to start education, I wonder?
Anyway, one year after W would have started her reception year, W has reached CSA, I have never felt more certain that I am doing the right thing for her. We have had so much fun so far, and I have loved to see W’s development in a way that I just wouldn’t be able to see if she were in school. I look at her and I see how happy she is, and I know I have done the right thing for her as an individual.