When Scotland first went into lockdown a year ago, many assumed that this was not the same body-blow to families who had always home educated. For our primary-aged home-educated children, however, nothing could have been further from the truth.
While our bookwork might have been intact, home is not the centre of home education. Instead, most families seek out real-world experiences: small groups learning to bake in a community bakery; embracing history tearing round a medieval castle; or science brought to life by damming a stream. At the heart of our learning are our hall-based groups, where our children come together to learn with their peers: performing a kid’s version of Macbeth for Halloween; playing parlour games like Ebenezer Scrooge for Christmas; seeing who can build the fastest self-propelled car – the nuts and bolts of a full, happy childhood.
Like all Scottish families, our children found the first lockdown horribly hard but, unlike their schooled peers, as most children returned to school and some sort of normality last August, our nightmare was just beginning. The Scottish government grouped home-education groups with recreational activities, such as Scouts and Brownies, failing to acknowledge that our groups are our core educational provision, not some optional extra. With impenetrable guidance, most community groups failed to secure indoor space and, with most public spaces closed, we struggled to meet anywhere except outside.
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Learning outside is fun, but not having any indoor base really limits what you can deliver. Many things are impossible in the rain, wind and mud, with no electricity or shelter.
It’s also really hard to plan because you never know when you’re going to be rained off. Half of our September meetings were cancelled for torrential rain, at a time when there was little Covid and most schooled children were in classrooms full-time. Our new normal was an endless sea of negatives: there could be no Christmas play, creative writing could only be online (which our children hated) and our resources were still locked away in community cupboards.
By December, with winter coming, most home-educated kids were already shut inside, and went into lockdown with their metaphorical cups empty. As the months passed, anxious parents exchanged stories of children plagued with nightmares, unable to concentrate, tearful and anxious. Happy children dissolved into sad, dispirited and sick shadows of themselves.
Yet worse was to come. Unlike England, where the UK government always releases home education alongside schools, the Scottish government has provided no date for our release. When Scottish primary school buildings opened once again to all pupils earlier this month, our children were left as the only under-12s in the country who were expected to continue with online platforms. Small children have an innate sense of justice, and their hurt and disappointment was palpable.
Our children are the forgotten children. If children are the top priority, this cannot be allowed to stand.
Dr Susan Ireland is a home educator based in Scotland