People might stare at them like they’ve lost their minds, but Hazel Davis and her partner are beyond excited about home-edding their kids. She tells Standard Issue why.
Not so in my relationship, which is why we have a three-foot Fontainebleau naked hunter on the fridge, a stuffed owl on the wall and a bright green kitchen. We have nobody to tell us not to.
“Would you ever consider home-schooling?” I casually asked my partner during an endless drive back from a friend’s wedding in Birmingham. The children were two and one at the time. They are two and three now.
“Yeah, totally,” he said. “Shall we?” I said. “Yes. We’d be awesome at it,” he said. And that was that. From then on, if ever there was a quiet moment, talk would turn to just how awesome we’d be at home-educating (something I have learned in the last year: don’t call it home-schooling, call it home-educating – ideally home-edding – but more on that later…).
And so, come September, when all other four-year-olds will be skipping off to school in plaits, my oldest child will be, um, doing what she does now: haring round the garden singing at the top of her voice, probably.
It turned out all our friends totally assumed we would home-educate anyway, apparently. It’s probably something to do with the green kitchen and fondness for chickpeas. And in the main, they have all been very much in favour. “I’d do it if I wasn’t scared,” said one, “I really, really wish my children didn’t have to go to school,” said another.
Well, they don’t!
Neither of us had a good time at school. I was bullied horribly and I did badly academically because I hated being there and I had no idea what learning was all about. My other half hated school for different reasons. Both of us have done okay so we figured if we could provide a nice environment and a love of learning, that’s half the battle won.
“‘They could spend a day a week working on the local National Trust estate!’ my other half says enthusiastically, spying ways to be ‘home-educating’ while also being out for a long walk on the moors.”
Add to that the fact that we both just think that they shouldn’t be at school yet. In Finland, children don’t start school until they’re seven, which seems much more civilised. And just the other day it was announced that children as young as four were going to be tested in the UK (for the love of fuck). If when they’re eight or nine they decide they want to go to school then of course we’ll revisit it, but there is no way, if we have the time and energy, that we are going to start them down a miserable tunnel when we don’t have to.
And ever since we made the decision, the possibilities keep appearing. Granted, lots of them are pie-in-the-sky: “I COULD TOTALLY TAKE THE CHILDREN ON A MONTH-LONG EXCHANGE IN BERLIN!” I say, mentally buying cool scarves and renting a large apartment next to that massive fleamarket. “They could spend a day a week working on the local National Trust estate!” my other half says enthusiastically, spying ways to be ‘home-educating’ while also being out for a long walk on the moors.
“We won’t have to book holidays during the school holidays!” we both shout. “We can go to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park/Eureka!/National Media Museum when there’s nobody else about!” “We won’t have to deal with homework/last-minute baking/costume/PE requirements!” “We won’t need to worry about them swearing at the teacher.”
So we’re basically going to home-educate so I can carry on playing Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole by Martha Wainwright at top volume to the children with no local authority comeback.
But seriously, the positives just keep coming. The negatives, not so much.
There is, of course, the very serious issue of socialisation, a word hated by anyone who home-educates. “But they’ll be weird kids with no mates,” goes the refrain. Well, (a), I was a weird kid with no mates and I went to school for 435 years and (b) I don’t intend to spend 24 hours a day with my children in crinolines in the kitchen learning their times-tables. Since investigating home-edding (oh yeah, I know all the jargon now), I have found about 50 local groups, already met up with several people who are already home-edding, or are planning to, and I’ve already wished there were more days in the week to fit it all in. As one parent I met said, scathingly, “Unsocialised, my arse.”
Oh yes, money. WELL. Here’s the thing. I work 24/7 as a freelance writer, raking in as much work as I can, half-dying in the process. My partner works two night shifts and spends the rest of the week doing childcare/sleeping/making furniture. In my fantasy home-eduverse, the children will sit quietly at the kitchen table, engrossed in an advanced construction project while I quickly bash out winning article after winning article. I know this won’t happen BUT if they went to school, we’d all have to be out of the house by 8.30am (I imagine); one of us would probably have to collect them for lunch (my friends ALWAYS have lunch problems with their children); then again at 3pm; then dealing with the post-school meltdown (yeah that’s a thing, apparently), homework (HOMEWORK!) and the late-night panics and then up again to do the whole thing all over again. I could have written three informative articles about laser printers at the kitchen table while all that was going on.
“I can recall my parents practically throwing a schoolbook across the room at me because I just didn’t GET numbers and they did. This will not happen in our house because we’ll all be in it together.”
Some friends have suggested that we will be sick of having our children around all the time. I can’t see it yet, to be honest, though ask me again in five years. Neither of us has ever sat and thought, “I can’t bloody wait for you to go to school.” I’m not judging people who do (because, CHRIST, childcare can be hard sometimes) but the idea of having my kids around most of the time for possibly the next 14 years actually sounds quite delightful.
Others have questioned whether we feel we are “qualified” to home educate and that is a very serious concern for us. In fact both of us have done SOME teaching (I was actually let loose on undergraduates when I was doing my unfinished PhD) before, not that I think it matters particularly. We’re both bookish types and very good at words, history and languages and stuff, but when it comes to maths we start to come unravelled. However, because we know we can read and we’re not stupid, we feel we can work through textbooks WITH our children. I can recall my (numerically advanced) parents practically throwing a schoolbook across the room at me because I just didn’t GET numbers and they did. This will not happen in our house because we’ll all be in it together… Hell, I might even learn to like it.
Qualifications are a very serious issue for us. Some home-educators don’t work towards GCSEs but we are going to – if they even exist by then – and we’re already looking into how this will work. We’ve looked at the National Curriculum as it is now and intend to keep our eyes firmly on what it thinks we should be doing, even if we deviate from time to time. But guess what? Our children can choose the GCSEs they want to do. They can do them when they’re 12 if they like, or at night school. We will have to pay to enter them into the exams but I intend to knock that money off the overly expensive school trips they won’t have to go on or the trainers they will NEED because all their classmates have (naïve? Moi?).
Okay, so it might all go tits up but we’re going to give it our best shot and, if nothing else, it gives me a very good excuse to secretly learn science whilst pretending to help my children. Winner.
Home edding: the facts
• The website edyourself.org reports that in July 2014 local authorities in England recorded 27,292 home-educated children, a 17 per cent increase on the previous year.
• According to UK charity Education Otherwise, education is compulsory in the UK for children between the ages of five and 16, but school is not. Home-educating families do not have to follow the National Curriculum and there is no single ‘right’ way to educate a child at home.
• Home-ed children have to take exams as external candidates at exam centres (schools or FE colleges). These have to be paid for. Many home-edders use correspondence courses for the GCSE period.1918 Views
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".