Thoreau Quote

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Well, that was unexpected!

Just as you think you're getting used to the way it is, they go and move the goal posts don't they?

Last week the 'they' in question was A. Being the youngest, by the time she was 5 home education had become just a way of life for our family so sending her to school was not an option. Until she decided differently. Driven by curiosity she asked if she could go to the local village primary. Pros and cons were discussed, I tried not to take the request as a personal rejection of myself as a home educating mum (not easy I can tell you!) and A entered the school in Year 5. To those of you who have no idea what that means it's the penultimate year of primary school - so age 9!

She fitted in immediately and did really well. She's the most motivated, driven, self starter of a child, in fact she was a joy to home educate. She had taught herself to read and write and was highly literate. She is also very easy going, sociable and happy to go along with whatever activities are happening. All those skills and characteristics meant that school was a doddle.

Fast forward two years and after a very happy time at primary she was greatly looking forward to secondary school. We (including A herself) chose from the two that have a bus service from the village. Preparations were made, horrendously expensive school uniform purchased, bus pass applied for.

And all went well to start with. Lessons were fine, friends were being made, there was no trouble getting her up in the morning. A couple of minor hiccups - she got lost around the building a few times, missed the bus home once, but no major disasters.

And then the cracks started to show.

Right from the start the school had communicated its strict behaviour policy in no uncertain terms. No problem there, you think, it's unfortunately as it has to be. If you're going to choose to try and educate in bulk, hundreds of youths milling around the same institution for six hours a day, there has to be some crowd control. The thing was they just kept on and on about it - do this, don't do that, or this will happen. And A was really worried. Terrified that she'd forget her pencil case and get a detention. And detention these days, I have discovered, is immediate - 30 minutes after school on the same day. We were told that if that happened we'd be contacted during the day and - get this - we were not to make any family after school arrangements until after 3.00pm just in case!! Well, sod that!!

We brought this up in an early Parents' Evening. Well, A did in fact, so concerned was she. She asked her tutor what would happen if she genuinely forgot her pen. To give the tutors their due, they were very nice and tried to be reassuring. They said the rules were there so that pupils knew what was expected of them. That of course they understood that mistakes sometimes happen, that if a child who was normally well behaved just omitted to bring the right equipment one day they would loan them one.

It didn't help. The behaviour and punishment message was still being rammed home every day, in almost every lesson.

Then there was the grading. From the word go, the children were assessed and graded in every subject. And told what grade they should be aiming for. 'You're a 4b in English, we expect you to be a 5a by the end of this year'. She was even told what GCSE results she could expect based on her current grades!! Seriously, that's five years away! What did it for me especially was the Art grading. A was furnished with a list of achievements that would help her move up the grades, including such words of wisdom as 'colour within the lines'. I was dumbfounded. One trip around the Tate Modern shows that to be ridiculous. How can the children be creative with that kind of prescriptive attitude? Picasso wouldn't have done very well would he? 'Pablo, you really must try harder'!

While I was incensed at the box ticking mentality, I wasn't that surprised that it existed. What I was surprised at was the way it was so transparent to the children. So not only are they being taught to the test, they know it's happening. They are not encouraged to experiment or to express themselves, they are encouraged to comply with a set of conditions in order to receive praise and the reward of a nice healthy GCSE pass. And this environment is supposed to breed artists? And scientists? And entrepreneurs?

Of course that wasn't what A was thinking, but she was feeling the pressure. So she made a 'pros and cons' list (wonder where she got that from!). There were a couple of pros - one or two teachers were interesting, one or two lessons were enjoyable, one or two friends had been made. Tellingly, her cons list was longer. Many more of the teachers were grumpy or shouty, many more of the lessons were boring. Science in particular apparently, although she was interested in the kind of science we were doing at home.

I did persuade her to try school for a bit longer. With all my reservations about the system, it was such a quick change of heart for her I wanted her to be sure she was making the right decision. It might have been that she just needed to spend a bit longer getting used to the new environment. She only stayed another week, though, by which time she was adamant. We deregistered her last Monday.

And so my goal posts have moved. I am faced with a new challenge. Because A is going to be very different to educate. Her motivation is still there, she is still that driven self-starter she always was. In fact she educates herself really. But she requires, almost demands to be inspired and challenged. I'm going to need to be on my toes. So far, though, so good. Last week she raided the bookshelves for the (pretty small) collection of text books we have acquired over the years. They're in almost perfect condition really, since they have largely been rejected by all three older children. And finally I am justified in keeping them! My hoarding mentality has a use!! She's working through the English exercises, asking for algebra and talking about Latin. And Polish. Hmmmm..........I can envisage a request for 13 GCSEs including Ancient Greek!

Yesterday afternoon we had a go at some monoprinting - a first for both of use. A said it was 'the best art lesson ever'. Not sure that 'lesson' was quite the word, since the afternoon consisted of watching a quick tutorial followed by an hour or so of experimenting, but I was happy nonetheless!

And it feels so right. It feels like the natural order has been restored. I don't know if it's because we've been home educating for so long, but the concept of school just seems so alien to me now. In fact, the last four and a bit weeks have given me a newfound respect for all you parents supporting your children at school. How you put up with that daily grind, and keep your sanity, is beyond me. And for the schooled students. How you manage to get an education with all those obstacles deserves a round of applause at the very least. 

Next time someone discovers that we home educate and asks me 'I don't know how you do it!' I shall be asking the question right back!


  1. Oooh, exciting! Sounds like you might be the one being inspired and challenged ;-)

    1. I think you might be right Alison! Just as well I like a steep learning curve :)

  2. Great post Jane, so many can learn so much from your experiences! And what you've described makes me glad we by-passed all that with home educating!x Wishing you well with Anya now at home again.

    1. Thanks Ross. Yes, I'm glad I don't just have to grit my teeth and live with it. I don't remember it being that bad when I was at secondary school. There was certainly pressure further on down the line, but not like that - or do I just have a selective memory?

      Still, no need to concern myself with it now :)

  3. We had a bit of a scare this summer, when my son announced he thought he might like to try high school after all. Luckily he changed his mind before termtime (I think it was the fact that he wouldn't be able to have every Friday off that swung it ;-)) but I am tempted to show him your post in case he gets the idea again.

    "Colour within the lines" - isn't that about the opposite of art?!?

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. Brilliant post. I am glad Anya's back at home and enjoying herself:)

  5. Oh gosh, it's such a lottery isn't it?! One school is great, the next - really not!

    I must say, I don't miss school runs, bits of paper, constantly trying to second guess or ferret out what has REALLY been said or has gone on, etc etc, one little bit!

    I get the 'how do you do it' and I'm like - 'it is SO Much easier than the school run'!

  6. loved the enthusiasm spilling out from every sentence :) have a great time!

  7. Some of the rules in schools just seem really daft, it appears that most of the new academies round here appear to think that uniform and conformity in appearance is the be-all-and-end-all (and I include my 16 year old's 6th form in this too!)

    My personal thoughts of secondaries are that they are generally awful.

  8. Schools, I think, mostly do the best they can with what they have. They have thirty plus kids per class to herd around and they have to instil some sort of fear and control to enable things to run smoothly-ish.

    And this is why it fails for so many children. Their rules and prescriptiveness are just beyond necessary for them. The box ticking, the lack of opportnity to develop proper interest in subjects just stunts them.

    I hated ds being in school and am so glad we dont have to do that now.
    Looking forward to hearing how you are all getting on.

  9. how wonderful!

    Colour between the lines indeed.... rolls eyes!


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