Home-school critics should get out more

25th November 2011 at 00:00
Cliched attacks miss the many positives about this approach, says Rachel Trafford

TES has reinforced the cliched view of home education as littered with child abusers, truanting parents and hippy "alternative" types ("Neglect and abuse under the cover of home education", 4 November).

It is about time we engaged in a more interesting discussion instead of fuelling the same conflict with the home-education lobby. Even on the rare occasion that some positive light is shed on this subject, it tends to be one-dimensional. When was the last time we read not about the home-educated intellectual who - impressive though it is - went off to Cambridge with five A-levels at the age of 13, but about the "normal" majority, who enjoy a rich educational experience and associated high achievement?

Having completed one year at primary school, I was taught at home (alongside my elder sister) until I went to secondary school. We enjoyed a varied curriculum and undoubtedly benefited from a personalised approach to learning. But the unquantifiable gain was that of flexibility: complete autonomy, and the accelerated progress permitted by one-to-one or one-to-two teaching, allowed us to dedicate huge amounts of time to our passions for gymnastics and music.

Undoubtedly, I would not have been able to pursue both of these interests to a high level while restricted to the confines of a typical school day. Though the demanding nature of the sport - and, in my case, injury - hastened an end to my career as a gymnast, it spawned a base level of physical self-confidence and fitness that I have enjoyed ever since; and I was simultaneously able to master three musical instruments. The time afforded to extra-curricular activities provided ample opportunities for social interaction, rendering the widely held image of the "home-schooled kid" deprived of social skills yet another ill-informed caricature.

Far from an "amateurish education" delivered by parents who thought they could do better, mine was of an exceptionally broad and high quality. Moreover, my experiences form the fundamental basis of values that now inform my professional life: following a short career in business, I returned to the world of education as a secondary-school teacher.

Ironically, perhaps, I now work in a boarding school: in some ways the polar opposite of home education, though one that embodies the same ideology of a well-rounded schooling. For me, the assumption that a teacher would be affronted by a parent's decision to educate their child at home is ludicrous: any rational colleague would appreciate that, in many cases, home education can offer opportunities tailored to the individual that we can only strive to deliver through a mass education system.

But we cannot ignore the fact that a tiny minority of home-schooled children are abused, nor should we forget that our overstretched, under-resourced social services system struggles to protect our population of schoolchildren from harm.

Furthermore, it would be naive to claim that even in the environment of a privileged boarding school, individuals never suffer, emotionally or otherwise. While appreciating that the issue of child protection is an important one, meaningful dialogue needs to progress beyond the same superficial, dichotomous debates.

Wouldn't it be more valuable for educators to engage with deeper issues such as processes of learning in the context of home schooling in order to generate a more stimulating discussion? Who knows: we teachers might even discover something we could apply to the classroom!

Rachel Trafford is a geography teacher at Wellington College, Berkshire.

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