Education Quandary

'Some of my friends are enthusiastic about home schooling. I'm interested in it for my daughter, but unlike them I am not a teacher. Would this matter?'

Hilary Wilce
Thursday 18 March 2004 01:00
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Hilary's Advice

It's important to realise that home educators are among the most evangelical groups on the planet. According to them, teaching children at home solves just about every problem known in education, from hyperactivity to head lice. They often seem driven to win others over to their cause - ironic, given that their basic beliefs are all about people being allowed to follow their own paths.

Don't be swayed by other people's view of children and schools. They may not fit your child. If your daughter is not doing well at school ask yourself, first of all, why not? Is there a learning problem that isn't being picked up, or bullying that no one has noticed? Maybe she doesn't like her class teacher, or is bored with the pace of lessons. Talk to the teacher and the head about your worries, and see what they can suggest to improve things before diving into home schooling.

Then, if you are still interested, do your own research into the subject. There are many sources of help on the internet - www.education-otherwise.org is a good place to start - and plenty of information about resources, planning, and events for home-educated children.

You needn't be a teacher to be a successful home educator (although teachers are the biggest group of parents who educate their children at home - which says a lot about what people who know think about schools). But it may be more time-consuming for you to plan how you intend to go about it, and to track down the best books, worksheets, websites and computer programmes for your purposes. You may also have to put more spade-work into getting up to speed in subjects you're rusty on, and acquiring the coaching skills that teachers tend to have at their fingertips - asking good questions, prompting and nudging effectively, and not jumping in too quickly to provide the right answer.

So while you don't need the training of a professional teacher to home educate, you do need the commitment that comes from being sure it is what you want to do, and the willingness to give up a lot of time to it. But the decision to become a home educator doesn't have to be a final one. Many parents take their children out of school for a time, then put them back in for the teenage years, when exams and friends are vital.

Readers' Advice

I home-educated my daughter for two terms after she suffered bullying, and it worked out better than I could have hoped. I am not a trained teacher, but had lots of help from friends who are. I also had support from my daughter's future secondary school. My concern was that I could not provide the breadth of social interaction that is part of education. Home schooling provided a vital short-term respite from school. My daughter is now happy at secondary school.

Celia Howells, Guildford, Surrey

I have been teaching my eight-year-old son at home for four years. I don't think being untrained matters at all. There are books designed for home schoolers that assume no prior knowledge, the National Curriculum is available online and organisations such as the Home Service support home-schooling families. Many of us were terrified when we first took our children out of school, but have found fellow home schoolers a great source of support. Together my son and I have learnt more than I ever knew. My advice: go for it!

Name and address supplied

You don't need to be a qualified teacher, but there are other things you need: time, support from family and friends, patience, determination, creativity, money, and the willingness and enthusiasm of your child. Before you dive in, make sure you know what is involved.

Marlies Haselton, Sheerness, Kent

Next week's quandary

What is the value of a gap year? If our son goes to university straight from school in 2005, we won't have to pay top-up fees. But he says that he needs to grow up a bit, and see something of the world to make the most of university when he does go. Can a year off really make £10,000 worth of difference?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 22 March, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to education@independent.co.uk. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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