Seen, but very rarely heard

Anna Cleaves

Anna Cleaves on why she decided to educate her 15-year-old daughter at home.

Last year we decided to educate our daughter at home for six months. She was just 15, in Year 10 and understretched.

So, from January I taught her on an accelerated learning programme and in June she sat nine GCSEs. Now her results are through: two As, five Bs and two Cs and she is going to sixth-form college in September to study physics, maths and English literature at A-level.

At her school the teachers had commended her abilities, but seemed to have little idea of which particular strengths needed developing. This wasn't altogether surprising - some of the higher sets she was in had 33 students while there were smaller classes for less able students.

My daughter was quite adamant that her excellent coursework and high-level test results were mostly the outcome of work at home. More than half her time at school, she said, was spent listening to explanations that she was way ahead of, or waiting for breaches of discipline to be dealt with.

When I went to see two senior managers of the school they were taken aback by the unusual circumstances under which my daughter was leaving. Nevertheless, they were immensely helpful in providing information about coursework content and deadlines, and agreed to allow examination entry through the school.

Only one teacher seemed to be personally affronted, but others agreed that as budgets tightened there was an increasing number of invisible or partly-visible children in the system who coped reasonably well, but for whom a lot more could be done, given the time.

I don't think that my daughter has exceptional abilities; there are thousands of youngsters like her who would have done just as well. But there aren't many households like ours with a spare part-time teacher hanging about with most of the necessary expertise and the means to buy in the rest.

Our experience has highlighted two broad areas of concern which seem to be off the political agenda, but are in the minds of teachers and parents of above-average pupils.

First, higher-achieving pupils are deemed to be able to cope in large groups, but is coping enough? Second, the removal of large amounts of the coursework element has debased the GCSE examination to a test of short-term memory. I believe there are many children being short-changed here.

Anna Cleaves is a science supply teacher living in Cambridge and runner-up in The TES Lucy Cavendish Award earlier this year. She is currently on a one-term contract.

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