“But where will the whiteboard go?!” Moving from school education to home education

“But where will the whiteboard go?!” Moving from school education to home education

Matt and I are adoptive parents to three wonderful daughters all of whom, if they were in school, would be in secondary education. But they’re not in school. Our story is a familiar one of initially buying into the traditional way of education by entrusting our girls to the school system in their primary years. At first, all seemed well and we enjoyed being part of the school community and had a good relationship with the teachers and leaders. But it soon became clear that the emotional and educational needs of our daughters needed more support than the school could offer. And so the ‘home education’ niggle was born……..

Oh, how I tried to suppress that niggle! I’m not a natural revolutionary and I really did want us to be ‘normal’ and to follow a ‘normal’ school route – I had been a secondary school teacher for many years, so the school system was my comfort zone! But it was not to be. When your children so obviously need a different provision, it’s hard to keep pushing on, hoping that next year, with a new teacher, it will finally all fall into place. As Einstein so helpfully pointed out, ” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” And we were all definitely becoming insane!

In the book ‘Another way to learn? Discovering the Beauty of Home Education’ I tell the story of how Matt and I finally gave into that niggle and jumped into home education. We are now four years on and despite many wobbles along the way, we are so incredibly thankful that we are able to live our lives as a home educating family. There is, after all, no ‘normal’. We are all parents, home educating or not, who just want to find the best path for our children that will enable them to thrive and grow into who they were created to be.

In the following extract from the book, it picks up the story following our eldest daughter’s deregistration from school at the end of the summer term. The start of the autumn term is fast approaching and Rosabella (not her real name, but chosen by her!) will not be returning to school. I take some time in this part of the chapter to pause and reflect on other people’s responses to our decision to home educate.

Navigating questions and comments

The summer came and went, and in all honesty, I didn’t give an awful lot of thought as to what I would be doing with Rosabella come the start of the autumn term. She had left school, but her sisters were going back; Matt and I were still dealing with our own response to that as well as fielding all the questions and comments that came our way from friends and family, most of which we didn’t have answers to! And breathe … Maybe here is a good place to pause and say a word or two about those questions and comments.

If you choose to home-educate, get used to it: questions and comments from other people will be a part of your life – even from complete strangers! In our experience, most of the time, comments come from genuine curiosity and some have been wonderfully encouraging and affirming. It would be a fun exercise to gather from UK home educators a Top Ten list of the most frequent comments they have received! The most common we hear is “I could never do it”, a loaded comment driven either by fear, or by admiration, or a mixture of both, depending on how satisfied that person is with the mainstream education system. “You’re so brave” is another, to which my response in the early days was “Yes, I am!” followed by a slightly hysterical giggle. “I couldn’t spend all day with my children” is another favourite, and one that I’m still never sure how to respond to, so I don’t. “You’re a teacher so you can do it, but I wouldn’t know where to start” is the one that makes me laugh out loud, because it should make perfect sense. “No, no, I don’t know what to do!!” is what I wanted to scream in the early days, knowing even then that being a home educator would be a very different thing to being a secondary state-school teacher. Reluctant teenage learners taller than me I can cope with, but home education?!

What about friends; what will you do with them? How will you follow the school curriculum? What about socialisation? What if they fall behind? What about GCSEs? What about Art? How will you teach science? Where will the whiteboard go?! The list goes on and on. But at the end of the day, whether these questions are asked from concern, curiosity, or just undisguised criticism, as a new or imminent home educator, they can be unsettling and unnerving. But remember this: when you step outside of the norm, it can be unsettling not just for you, but for those around you as well. I’m not great with change; I’m better than I used to be, but generally I like predictability and familiarity and I’d prefer it if everyone else would just stay the same as well, thank you very much. I don’t know about you, but if a friend moves away, I struggle. I want to be happy for them, but the truth is, I liked them living where they lived, near me. If they’re moving, should we be moving? Are we missing out or are we OK where we are? Maybe this inner questioning just highlights my own insecurities, but I do wonder if, when someone else makes a change or steps out into something different, it provides us with an opportunity to review where we’re at in life. This is how I choose to view the comments I receive about home education.

Within your school community, some parents will be perfectly happy with the provision for their children and so will either think you have lost the plot, or simply be very happy for you. For others, it will cause them to consider in greater depth their child’s school experience and what they want for them; having paused to review it all, they will either happily continue as is or watch you closely to see how you get on. And for others, there may just be plain regret that this is something they are not able to do right now. Whatever the response, my advice is to try to respond with an awareness of what may be going on for that person. It’s very much a relational thing.

Back then, with those who I knew had our best interests at heart and who mean a lot to us, it was good to take the time to talk it all through, remembering that ultimately it was our decision. With others whose motive for questioning I was less sure about, a quick “Oh, it’s just something we want to try to help Rosabella with her confidence – we’ll see how it goes” was sufficient, followed by a change of subject if needed. I tried hard to be me, to not hide my nervousness, to be real, to say “I don’t know” when I didn’t. “If you see us banging on the school doors come October, let us in!” was my parting plea as we finished the summer term. Most people respond well to vulnerability, I find, and boy, did I feel vulnerable.

This is an extract taken from the book “Another Way to Learn? Discovering the Beauty of Home Education” due to be published in September 2022.You can find out more about the book and pre-order a copy here: https://www.anotherwaytolearn.co.uk/

Dreaming Spires Courses

Dreaming Spires Courses

We have been using Dreaming Spires since 2018, our 4 older teens have done a number of different English courses as well as Spanish and a couple of the summer mini-courses.  They offer a wide variety of subjects and we have friends who have enjoyed some of their science and history courses.  I initially used it to help our eldest get through his English Language GCSE (3 sons have now completed their English gcse successfully with DS) but I have been really impressed with the wide variety of literature they have read (and mostly enjoyed!) and the Charlotte Mason emphasis on reading Living Books and doing narration.  There are also plenty of optional fun activities they can do alongside the more academic side of things and they get to do about three presentations a year as part of the course which is great experience.

The lessons take the form of a lecture from the teacher with slides to look at and the students communicate with each other and the teacher via the chat box at the side of the screen.  The kids have made some really good friends through their classes and the chat forums on the site (though we do have to monitor how much time they spend chatting with their friends instead of working!).

You can do a 30 week year course (£365) with an additional ‘add on’ class if wanted (£140) or one of the 6 week crammer courses in January or summer courses (£120).  We have found the courses quite home-work heavy (mainly lots of reading!) we found two courses (one English and one Spanish) just about manageable in addition to our other study commitments.  Dreaming Spires came highly recommended to us from other families we knew and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others!! We have really enjoyed meeting other home-educating families from around the country through the connections the children have made as well!

Groundmark Learning

Groundmark Learning

We have made use of Groundmark Learning for several years. They are based in Leamington Spa and Coventry, so my children used to go to Ian Richards (founder) for maths. The idea was that they would be prepared for their maths IGCSE and they were able to join a group of home educated children for weekly tutoring, which was significantly more affordable than one-to-one tutoring. Ian is very highly thought of amongst home educators in this area as he does a great job of preparing the children for exams in a calm and methodical manner.

With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ian took all his tutoring online, which means that classes can actually now be accessed from anywhere. When all exams were cancelled, my daughter was able to go ahead with her maths IGCSE as Ian was able to work with the exam centre to provide tutor-assessed grades. This was a huge relief to us in a somewhat stressful and uncertain time.

In the following year, with most exams still cancelled, I needed to ensure my son stayed on track with his plans to gain a couple of IGCSEs. He continued his tutoring with Ian, but we also signed him up with Elaine who tutors English for Groundmark Learning. Elaine was extremely positive and supportive, and was able to prepare my son for the tutor assessment process that summer (a period of about 5 months).

My son related well to both Ian and Elaine, and felt that they provided him with an organised programme of preparation which helped him to feel confident and equipped throughout the various tests and mock exams which would allow the tutors to assess him. We have made use of other tutors, but my son has felt that Groundmark Learning provided him with the best tutor experience. Ian and Elaine were both very accessible and responsive when any questions arose, which provided us with a stress-free and supportive experience.

From Home Ed to School

From Home Ed to School

I was homeschooled until I was 17 and one of the biggest benefits has been being with my family a lot of the time.   My memories of early homeschooling include sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings to do school work, going on trips together with friends to castles/museums/walks and reading the bible at breakfast time.  All this means I get on really well with my family and love spending time with them. We even had a whole year away together so we got to spend a LOT of time with each other then!  We all get on really well and like doing a lot of the same things as well as having our own interests.

Another great thing about being homeschooled has been learning to teach myself.  It’s been a gradual process as my studying has become more and more independent but I was able to teach myself the curriculum for all the GCSEs I took and I have found it really helpful with my A-levels even though I’m now at school (it was especially helpful having those skills during lockdown when there was no school, a lot of my friends struggled as they weren’t used to learning by themselves).

A question homeschoolers often get asked is ‘do you have any friends?’!  I could point to various activities like sports, church, clubs etc but my most numerous and best friendships have been with other homeschoolers.  When we were younger we spent time almost every day with other homeschool families to play, study, go on walks and had yearly camping trips together.  I’ve never felt that there has been a lack of people to be friends with and it has been great to have the shared experience of being homeschooled and almost growing up with other families and doing so many things together.  I have close friends who are a couple of years older and a couple of years younger – if I was in school I guess a lot of my friends would all be the same age.

I started doing some online English courses with Dreaming Spires Home Learning a couple of years ago and really loved the lessons and the interaction with the other students and I think this helped to prepare me for starting school.

When I was 17 I started doing my A-levels at our local secondary school.  I think this is a really good time to enter the school system because sixth-form is a lot more relaxed, I only have to go in for my lessons (which are 3 subjects that I have chosen to study) and there is no school uniform!! I’ve found it easy making friends with some of the others who are doing the same subjects.  I enjoy the routine of school and find it helpful to have the deadlines for doing my homework!

Story written by Dan and uploaded by Streams.

TES Resources

TES Resources

TES is a brilliant website that I use regularly. It’s a platform where people share their own resources. Most of them are free and there are some that are only accessible for a one-off fee (usually around £3-5). The resources vary in type (worksheets, powerpoint presentations, explanatory videos, etc.) and quality, but there are so many, that everyone can find something for their needs. You can find complete packs that teachers use in their classes, with presentations and activities, which might prove really useful if parents are not so familiar with the topic they want to work on with the children. On the other hand, if people just want some extra worksheets they will find that too. The best thing about it is the sheer quantity of resources that makes it possible to compare, combine or choose the best. And as it is a shared platform, age is no restriction here.


Review written by Nandor and submitted by Streams.