Why I chose to home educate my sons
A special request blog
Founder of VictimFocus, Research Psychologist, Founder of The Eaton Foundation
This is quite a different blog, and something I never planned to write. However, there are two reasons why I have decided to write about home education:
1. Lots of people keep asking me to write about this, to explain why my children do not attend school and to discuss how we educate the boys
2. It does feel like there is a current attack on home education in the U.K. at the moment and I don’t like the way it’s heading.
So this blog will work through a list of my most FAQ about home education. I will answer them honestly and openly, from my own perspective. The blog will also provide information to other parents who might be considering home education. Finally, I will provide an overview of an average week of education that our kids get up to, so you can get a feel for how it works in our house.
Please remember that home education is extremely varied. Some parents choose completely unstructured unschooling and some parents choose structured timetables with tutors and breaks. Lots of parents are anywhere in between those two, sometimes with a bit of both.
Our sons are 10 and 8 years old.
Frequently asked questions
Why did you choose to home educate?
There were a number of cumulative reasons that seemed to hit us all at once. But if we go back to when the kids were in reception, it really started to enter our consciousness there.
When our eldest son started reception, I remember exactly what I said and wrote in my diary – that I felt that I had committed him to the rat race, the same one I was fighting against and trying to get out of. I felt like I had lost control of his well-being and his upbringing, for it to be taken over by a school system that was under resourced and over stretched. A school system that was designed to create compliant factory workers that moved on the bell, sat in silence, all looked the same and spoke the same. It felt like a loss to me. I felt the same way when our second son went from nursery to reception.
Then there were a few things that bothered us both as parents. The kids coming home looking tired and bored. The kids never being able to tell us anything they had learned. The kids suddenly hating reading books. The kids avoiding homework. The kids becoming more and more concerned with peers and mates than actually learning anything. The kids hating school every day and begging for the weekend to come.
Then, when our eldest was in year 4 and our youngest was in year 2; they really started to change.
Our eldest is extremely bright but had basically given up. He was acting the clown at school, distracting other kids and no longer being challenged with any harder work. He was being reframed as troubled and naughty – but he was bored. He was also perceived as too old beyond his years and teachers didn’t like him having the same straight forward communication style as his mum and dad. I was once brought into school by a teacher who complained to me that my son had asked her how she was and how her weekend had been. In our house, that type of dialogue is normal, but she told me he needed to remember his place and to never speak to an adult in that manner. I laughed at her and told her he was being polite and friendly in the way he knew how. She said I had to tell him to stop acting older than he was.
I told her I would not do that.
Meanwhile, our younger son, whom we had always been told was a little slower and very withdrawn, was becoming extremely fearful, depressed and quiet.
At home, he was like a ninja tornado. But all of his teachers told me stories of him being as quiet as a mouse and never speaking all day long. Apparently this was a good thing because he was easy to manage. Teachers described him as a ‘pleasure’. I on the other hand, was gravely concerned by my child being so withdrawn at school. It didn’t match what we knew of him.
Then, at parents evening the teacher told me he was crying if he got anything wrong, crying if he was asked a question, crying if he was asked to read and crying if he didn’t get 100%. He never told me this, so I went to talk to him.
My then-7 year old son told me he was thick.
My heart shattered. My eyes welled up. My son thinks he’s thick? He’s seven!
We spoke to him for hours over a period of days. He told us he cried because he was so embarrassed that he got anything wrong and he wouldn’t get his name on the chart or he wouldn’t get golden time if he wasn’t perfect.
For me, that was the final straw. I had one kid losing the will to live with school cos it was too easy and one kid who was crying every day because he thought he was stupid.
We decided to remove them from the system. Both kids were being failed by a system that cannot tailor individual education easily – and uses such heavy positive reinforcement and assessments that they don’t notice how much it harms the kids who think they need to be perfect.
We talked about it solidly for two weeks. We talked about it alone, as parents. We talked about it as a family. We talked to each of the boys separately and together. Our eldest wanted to leave school immediately with no questions, but our youngest was petrified of leaving school, thinking he would be doing something wrong. However, right on the last day, he approached us both and said he had decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore because it made him feel stupid.
We deregistered the kids and decided we could do a better job.
In the first few weeks, we let them rest and get out of the habit of school. School is not the same as education. They needed to get completely out of the habit of ‘school’. It was June so we decided to keep them off all throughout summer to play and enjoy themselves, and begin proper structured education in the September.
Our eldest loved it immediately, but the first week for our youngest was one of the most heart breaking times I had ever had with him. Every task we gave him, no matter how small, he cried and told us he was too stupid. He told us he couldn’t do anything right. He wouldn’t try anything new. He needed constant love, positive regard and support in those first weeks.
However, sticking by him, encouraging him and showing him how well he was doing eventually paid off as his confidence grew. Within a few months, he was happy, confident, trying lots of new things and excelling far beyond anything we had ever seen him do at school. In fact, he completed the math curriculum for his year in a few months – something that he would never have done in the school setting or in his previous state of mind.
He now sings, performs, writes and works with such brilliant confidence in himself.
Home education has been amazing for our eldest too. He has gone from hating reading, hating drawing, hating learning and never sticking at anything – to being a promising young musician who has discovered he can literally play any tune he hears, he can write music and he can even compose. There’s no way we would have known that if he was in school, and he has an amazing guitar tutor who inspires him.
Home Ed has completely changed our kids.
Isn’t home ed illegal?
No. Absolutely not. Home education is elective. It might seem odd to the average working class person like me or you but think to yourself, how many celebs, royalty and politicians home educate or privately tutor their kids? Why does no one question whether that’s illegal? It’s almost as if the wealthy are seen as eligible and entitled to home educate but the working classes must be breaking a law.
It’s completely legal to choose to home educate.
Do the local authority come to your house to inspect you?
No they don’t. They can ask, but you don’t have to oblige. To be honest, if they pushed, I’d just let them meet us and the kids just to satisfy them that my kids aren’t feral. But from a personal and political perspective, I don’t think they should be able to inspect us and we have a right to a private life and to educate the kids in our own ways without interference. As long as the children are safe, healthy and getting an education; we are entitled to privacy.
I think there is an assumption that if kids aren’t in school, there must be something gravely wrong – either with the kids or the parents. This is simply because home education bucks the social norm, so it makes people anxious and suspicious. Unfortunately, there are still strong stereotypes around home education.
Don’t you have to be really intelligent to home educate?
A few people have asked me this, right before telling me that they are too dumb to teach their kids. The last person to say this to me was a children’s social worker who told me she always longed to home educate her children but fears she’s ‘too thick’.
The reality is, home education does not require you to be a genius in everything. Second, there are amazing resources, books and apps to help you. Third, do you really think your kids’ school teachers are geniuses of every topic? Don’t you think they have to read up on a topic or a mathematical method? Don’t you think they need to keep learning too?
Home education is just that, it’s family learning in a natural environment. The whole family learns when a family home educates. Learning becomes naturalistic. You end up having conversations about grammar on a sign at the garage. You find yourself talking about whale migration during dinner time.
You learn as parents, as you support your kids to learn. I’ve really enjoyed learning along with my kids in some topics I didn’t know much about.
People say to me ‘Yeah but you teach for a living and did a PhD, so you can Home educate’ or they say ‘you have to be a trained teacher to home educate’.
That’s not true. Home educators come from all walks of life, and you certainly do not need to be a teacher or have a doctorate.
Teaching your own kids on a one-to-one basis is completely different and so much easier than teaching 30 x 6-year-olds how to write in cursive!
Do your kids learn anything?
Haha. Yes. In fact, both of them have chosen to move up a year, because their current year became too easy and boring.
We have a really cool app called IXL which covers and analyses their maths and English skills against national curriculum. This is how they learned that they found their designated school year work far too easy. Our youngest has moved up two whole school years in Maths and one school year in English. Our eldest son has moved up one school year in both Maths and English.
They also regularly learn about biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, geography, psychology, religion, cultures, music, literature, poetry… just all sorts.
As an example of recent tasks they have undertaken in Home Ed:
⁃ The boys watched Martin Luther King speeches and then wrote their own anti-racism speech
⁃ They used the internet to research how the criminal justice system works in different countries around the world
⁃ They researched famous rock musicians and wrote their biography
⁃ They created mind maps of all of the emotions they had ever felt and what triggered them
⁃ They watched The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and then wrote a film review and a discussion about the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust
⁃ They created Mother’s Day cards
⁃ They went to climb trees and play on the park
⁃ They went indoor rock climbing each week
⁃ They went trampolining
⁃ They learned to bike ride safely and signal properly
⁃ They researched two different cookie recipes and then created a shopping list, bought the ingredients from the supermarket, followed the recipe on the internet and then taste tested which one was best after baking them
⁃ They watched a documentary about sharks and then designed an exhibition poster to invite people to learn about sharks
⁃ Our eldest learned to play three different guitars and is now playing famous songs confidently in different keys, and can tune and retune accordingly
⁃ Both kids have read Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses Book and have been writing and evaluating it as they go along
As you can see, it’s very varied. And honestly, I cannot say my kids would have progressed this much if they were at school.
Do your kids do exams?
One of the reasons we removed them was because we fundamentally disagreed with SATs, exam pressure and learning by rote. I have no interest in putting my children through arbitrary exams. However, purposeful exams and vocational qualifications will help them later in life, so they will probably study for GCSEs and A-Levels. I would not support them having to study and undertake 13 GCSEs like I did, though.
There is no sense whatsoever in forcing a kid to cram for months for 13 GCSEs that they will never remember, and most of which are not actually required to secure a place on an FE/HE course. For that reason, I would much rather support the boys to only study the topics they require and/or enjoy, than whacking in as many topics as possible.
I would also not support the exams all being done at one time. In any other setting, exams for different topics are not all done within a week or two. They are usually spread over modules, which can be months apart. It would be better for them to study and then take the maths GCSE, for example, and then study and prepare for another GCSE a few months later.
I know one thing, and that’s that if my degree or my PhD relied on me completing 13 exams at the very end of each course, I would have failed or done very very badly. Or passed out from the stress.
What is it like to home educate your own kids?
We both love it and don’t ever regret it. However, do not ever fall into the trap of thinking that home education is easier than sending your kids to school.
I’ve seen some comments that home educating parents are lazy or can’t be arsed to get their kids to school.
What I think those people seem to misunderstand is that it is EASIER to send your kids to school for 6 hours per day for the free childcare and the free education so you can work or rest or do housework. It is therefore HARDER to home educate and it requires much higher levels of effort and input on a day to day basis. Either from the parents or from tutors.
It would be much easier to just send our kids to school and have all that free time to ourselves to work or to rest. However, home educating parents choose to give up that freedom and childcare because they feel they can do a better job for their children.
Do you get sick of them being at home all the time and never getting a break?
We aren’t really like that as a family but I’m sure many home educating parents feel like that sometimes – and I’m sure we will one day.
I think we have the balance about right at the moment. We share all the home educating of the kids and we also have two tutors who come in a couple times of week. This means that sometimes I’m at home with the kids, sometimes it’s my husband, sometimes it’s a tutor or sometimes it’s a mixture of those people. Tutors mean the kids get different people teaching them with different approaches and talents and skills, too.
Do you have to follow a curriculum?
Home education is your own design. I designed a desired curriculum for the kids based on what I thought they would want and need. However, we chose to follow the national curriculum for Maths and English. Everything else is designed by us or guided by the kids.
Will your kids go to secondary school?
I hope not! Secondary schools are really struggling at the moment and a lot of them are a microcosm of abuse, harassment, bullying, racism and adolescent stress.
And this isn’t just my personal opinion, this is backed up by government reports, academic research, inquiries and committee reports.
I just don’t want my boys in that environment. I am also acutely aware of lad culture, gender roles, misogyny and a constant pressure to be ‘hard’. It’s so difficult to bring up healthy, happy, respectful young men if they are in that environment 30 hours per week. We are also very concerned by the way bullying seems to be being brushed off by some secondary schools as ‘not their problem’ – especially when it is happening online between students.
I mean, for me, it’s working in my job that has left me so certain that the boys won’t be going to secondary school. I’ve worked with kids who have been raped on campus. Kids who have self harmed because of relentless bullying. Kids who have become involved in gangs. Kids who have bought drugs at school. Kids who have been exploited, abused and blackmailed. Kids who have used sexual pics to threaten and blackmail other kids. Kids who have engaged in racism and joined far right groups. I even know two sets of parents who lost their secondary school kid to suicide because of bullying that was not being addressed by the school.
And don’t even start me on the absolute state of sex and relationships education.
Sorry, but no thanks. My job as a parent is to protect my kids and to give them the best life and best start possible.
What does an average week look like for your kids?
Okay so our kids only study Mon-Thurs. When kids are in school, they are in large groups of 25-30 and one teacher is trying to balance everyone’s needs whilst trying to teach them new information or skills. That is extremely difficult to do, and I teach adults!
So a lot of home education researchers argue that our children could learn what they learn in a school day in about an hour at home. This means that when you home educate, you tend to get a lot more done to a lot higher standard. So we don’t need the 5th day. And we only study 10am til about 2pm, unless they are busy or stuck into something, like today they just happened to be loving what they were doing and they didn’t stop until 16:50. Totally up to them if they choose to go over or to do additional learning each day. Sometimes they go to their rooms and do extra music practice or extra writing or extra coding on their apps.
So each day begins with Maths or English, and then late mornings and afternoons are topics and tutors. This could mean that on a Monday they do maths and then biology, but on the Tuesday they do English and chemistry. But on a Thursday they might do English and music practice.
There is no schedule in our house, it’s all very much based around what they fancy or what we fancy, as long as they have done their maths and English curriculum work beforehand.
Okay, so that’s everything I can think of for now. Maybe I’ll print this out and start giving it to the people who stare at us in the street or tell my kids they are ‘skiving’ lmfao.
Please don’t judge home educating parents as lazy, dangerous and abusive. Parents can be anyone and anything. Sending your kids to school doesn’t make you a better or safer parent, just as home educating your kids does not make you a worse or more dangerous parent.
For lots of home ed parents, the decision was long, considered, researched and quite nerve wracking! We have to trust ourselves that we are doing the best for our kids with no help. But parents have many reasons for taking this decision. Maybe their kids have ASD and they feel they are being failed. Maybe their kids are traumatised from abuse and school is too much for them. Maybe their kids have eating disorders and school is not the right environment. Maybe their kids are too bright for the system. Maybe their kids need extra support and help from one to one learning. Maybe their kids don’t suit classroom learning. Maybe the parents don’t agree with the education system.
We’re a very diverse bunch.
I hope this blog has answered your questions about why I home educate. I would like to take the opportunity to thank my husband and our two tutors for their amazing dedication and support of our kids.
Written by Jessica Eaton