When home is where the pupil is

Teachers should not feel upset or threatened when parents decide to shun school for their children's education, says Gordon Cairns

elped by recent changes in legislation, growing numbers of Scottish parents are choosing to educate their children at home. Despite the fact that the numbers of mothers and fathers deciding that the best place for their child to learn is at home is a trickle, this tiny group has come in for some quite ferocious criticism from a large number of teachers.

It is as if we, the professional educators, think that any parent who decides to try to educate their child outside the classroom is personally slapping us all in the face by accusing us of not doing our job properly.

But rather than criticising parents, perhaps teachers should be looking at the reasons why parents decide that home is the best place for their child to learn and also consider what we can learn from those who take an alternative educational path.

The attacks on home educators come on different fronts. Apart from the educational aspect of unqualified parents teaching their children at home, many in the profession attack parents for "wrapping up their offspring in cotton wool" or stopping their children from socialising with a wide range of pupils from different backgrounds.

I wonder, however, if the main reasons home education raises the hackles of so many teachers are not educational, but are rooted deep in the teacher's psyche.

The feeling of being snubbed by well-meaning amateurs rankles but I think there is also a sense of being neglected, not by the children abandoning schools, but by our own parents. Everyone must have woken up one morning and said: "MumDad, I don't want to go to school today." But our parents convinced the majority of us that going to school might well be horrible now, but we would benefit in the long run from being educated.

Now our parents are no longer there to tell us just to stay in bed on a cold winter morning when we don't fancy going in to face our awful third-years.

But those children educated at home have had their pleas answered and do not have to go in ever again. Are we simply envious of those lucky ones who do not have to put up with it like the rest of us?

And while we criticise the home educators in one breadth, when we are advocating alternative methods of education for the kids who simply do not fit in the classroom environment, are we not actually arguing for home education?

How often have you heard children in schools being described as like square pegs in round holes, better suited elsewhere? Not every child's learning style suits a classroom environment, and being taught at home does not have to be considered an easy option for those whose needs are not met among the 29 others in a classroom.

Inclusion policies have brought many new problems into the classroom for teachers, so surely we should be grateful to the parents who accept that their child will not be given the support they need in a mainstream classroom by an overworked teacher who has to meet the needs of all the other individual learners in the room.

Parents don't take this massive step without a lot of soul-searching, trying to decide if they are doing the right thing for their child. Once the decision is made, the parent who has taken on the teaching role has to sacrifice a great deal of time and energy for their child, perhaps with the worry about making the right choice nagging like a loose tooth at the back of his or her mind.

Teachers know that, in education, one size certainly doesn't fit all, so why do we all take it so personally when parents decide to take their child out of school and try to teach them at home? It is almost as if we are a profession of garage mechanics, holding on to our professional expertise and happy to keep the general public out of something they are not trained to do.

The internet or a parent who is only a couple of pages ahead of the pupil in the course book is not going to be as good an educational experience as being taught by a fully-qualified teacher. But the home-educated child will enjoy the benefits of one-to-one tuition and perhaps a more independent approach to learning by going and finding out things for themselves rather than being spoon-fed by a teacher, an approach which can cause many children problems when they leave the cosseted environment of school and have to be pro-active in their education at university.

School doesn't suit every child. Pupils may not socialise well, or cannot keep up with the class work or may be daydreamers, but rather than attacking parents for making a brave decision about their children's future, teachers should be applauding them for thinking outside of the box.

Gordon Cairns is a supply teacher.

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