Home educators: busting the myths

When I tell people I’m a home educator, one of two things usually happens. Either the horrified person steps back with an audible gasp, or they ask conspiratorially whether it’s legal and look around as if expecting Michael Gove to jump out ready to drag me off to prison.

blackboard-292x300The latter doesn’t bother me. In case you’re interested, Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that all children shall “receive an efficient full-time education….either by regular attendance at a school or otherwise.” It’s the ‘otherwise’ bit that’s important. There are regulations covering the ins-and-outs but home education is legal.

What does bother me is the assumption that I’m in some way harming my child, holding him back from the real-word, denying him the opportunity to mix with others and indeed learn. Yes, it’s unusual but it does not follow that it’s a wrong, even dangerous, path.

Here’s my list of the most common myths about home education and why they’re not true.

Myth 1: Home-educated children can’t make friends

It may surprise you to know that I’m a primary teacher, so I have met many children, educated in school and at home. I have never met a home-educated child who doesn’t have friends. Home-educated children go to clubs, they play outside and they meet children at the park. Yes, parents of home educators choose where their children go to make friends, but that’s only like the parents of school children choosing which school their children will attend. My son goes to 3 weekly social groups where he plays and collaborates with other children. He has swimming lessons and he’s in a football club. He’s trying to persuade me that it’s a good idea for several of his 4 year old friends to come for a sleep over. I’d hardly call that friendless and socially awkward.

Myth 2: Home-educated children are members of cults

Some probably are. But so are many families whose children go to school. There is a huge variation in the types of people who home educate and why they do it, just as there are different people in society as a whole. It’s not a one size fits all club. We home educate because we want our son to have a strong academic background whilst not losing the chance to enjoy his childhood. We don’t believe that can be achieved while Gove is calling the shots. We might be wrong, but that’s the way parenting works. Everyone should be free to bring up their child in the way that they feel is best.

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There are of course people who home educate because they want to protect children from influences outside their own beliefs, just as there are people who do perhaps use home education as a way to hide abuse. But this is not the norm. There have been many cases of abuse where children attend school. Does this mean it’s caused by children attending school? Of course not.

Myth 3: Home-education takes place at a table, at home

This is where the term home education is really inaccurate. We do some formal learning but the bulk of it takes place outside the home. We cover all the subjects children learn in school, but because the teaching is one to one, the time it takes to learn is much less. This gives us lots of time to do the things childhood is really about – playing in the woods, climbing trees, exploring, visiting museums and going to English Heritage sites. You could argue, and many do, that just as much learning takes place from these activities as from formal learning. We are quite structured but I know many autonomous learners who still go on to university, apprenticeships and get jobs.

You’re always going to find home educators who fit the stereotype. An isolated family with 25 socially awkward children, running around with bare feet whilst their mother gives peace signs from a trailer. But the overwhelming majority of us are just typical parents, trying to do what we think is best for our children.