The day my life changed - I had to face the fact that school had failed my son

9th April 2010 at 01:00
When a teacher's child became unhappy and stressed at primary, she opted for home education

I trained as a teacher at Manchester University and worked in secondary schools for about three years, mainly in east London teaching English with French as a second subject. I also taught abroad, and my husband and I took a year out to go travelling in South America. Then I had my first child and I planned to go back to teaching when he was older.

Joe ended up going to school for two terms. I had enjoyed my primary years and I expected him to as well, but it wasn't to be. It was the early days of the Labour Government and the atmosphere was very test driven. Everything was geared to the end result; the process was secondary.

He began to lose confidence in his ability and there was no time for play or art. Several times he would be in tears and say he didn't want to go to school. The tragedy for him was that he couldn't draw a picture; for me, it was that he had lost his love of learning.

He became unhappy and stressed. He was frustrated because he couldn't do the things he wanted to do. My mum said he was like my husband after a stressful week at work - that's not right for a five-year-old.

I knew about home education, although I didn't know anyone who did it, so I went to visit home education groups. Joe is a very social child so I needed to know if he would have enough going on in that respect. I also started to think how much I would regret knowing that there was an alternative and that I had not tried it.

One day in the summer term he said he didn't want to go to school. On this occasion I said, 'You know what? You don't have to go today, or tomorrow; you don't have to go at all.' He said: 'Really?' He couldn't believe it.

It was a very impetuous decision. It felt like jumping off a cliff. I had been talking about it for several months and had discussed it with my husband, but it wasn't until that moment that I took the decision.

I didn't plan to home educate for ever. It was a temporary option, maybe for a year, until Joe was older and could cope better. As I got into it I realised there were a lot of benefits. When I started, I went into teacher mode. I prepared lessons and would plan what we were going to do, but it didn't always work out. I cut out shapes so we could learn about them, but when Joe saw them he was so excited he just wanted to make stars out of the triangles and a moon out of the circles.

Another time he was playing with toy soldiers and I was standing next to him reading out The Charge of the Light Brigade. That was my low point. I realised it wasn't school, so I switched to a style more akin to parenting. We learnt through conversation, reading books, doing things, going out and about, meeting people - all those ways of bringing the world to your child. It was a big step to accept that I didn't have to be putting everything he needed to know into his head.

When it came to my second child, I had to take the decision afresh. He had a different personality, but I decided to teach him at home for other reasons. My third son was more like Joe, so it was an easy decision. Then I had two girls and I revisited it for each one. My youngest is four-and-a-half and would normally start school in September, but it's so obviously the right decision, I don't need to think about it. Joe is 16 and is going to go to a sixth form college for his A-levels.

There have been benefits for the whole family and it has been wonderful in terms of relationships. My children have learnt in different ways and have made lovely friends. I've found it fascinating to see up close how a child can learn in a fairly natural environment and how they have a hunger for learning. It's not just the way you educate your children: it has become a way of life.

- Carolyn Crawshaw was talking to Nick Morrison. Do you have an experience to share? Email

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