Taking the decision to home educate our daughters wasn’t an easy one. It’s something we’ve talked about on and off since our eldest was offered a school place, but things seemed to come to a head pretty quickly during the last week of the school year.
I’m sitting drinking coffee with some mums I’m friends with. The conversation inevitably turns to talking about school. Three of us have kids in the same school, our other friend knows us from pre-school days.
It’s no secret to anyone that I’ve been unhappy with school for a while. Well, not so much unhappy, more unimpressed. We start talking about the so-called “voluntary” contribution of close to £300 that school have requested for iPads. I’ve been against the tidal wave of technology from the start. This year our daughter is the only child in her year group not to bring home an iPad every day. Teaching is more and more dependent on iPads and I feel that the school motto really could be replaced with “There’s An App For That”.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for technology in all of our lives. Hell, we run an IT business. I just don’t think my children’s souls need to be sold to Apple just yet. Yes iPads are wonderful, but what about using an actual computer? Learning to type? Using a mouse? What about just not staring hunched over, tapping on a screen, for up to 3 hours a day?
“I could buy a bloody iPad, download some apps and do a better job at home!” I almost shout, not for the first time. Of course, it helps that I’m a qualified primary teacher. I have the confidence in my ability to teach.
There are murmurs of agreement around the table. It’s an off-hand comment and no one takes me seriously.
A Light Bulb Moment…
On my walk home, I realise that I’ve said something similar many times over the last academic year. My eldest, currently 8, loves learning and for the most part loves school. But she’s lonely. She’s struggled to make friends despite being friendly, bubbly and interesting. Of course, I’m biased. There are two girls who have been mean to her for about two years now and last week one of them picked a fight with her and another girl and got them all a detention. The unfairness of it all is getting to me.
Back in October when things seemed at their worst for her, I spent hours crying and looking for an alternative: local schools, Steiner Schools, Forest Schools… home educate? I decided back then that it was too much for me to take on. We put the girls names down on waiting lists for some other local schools.
Over the past few months the idea to home educate has buzzed around in my head from time to time and been swatted away again. Sure, I can teach. But teach my own children? What about our business, what about work/life balance?
The Final Straw
This week was the final straw. The day I sat ranting about the school for the millionth time I also received about five texts. School wanted donations for non-uniform day; to know how I was paying for our iPad; reminded me to buy ice creams after school; wanted me to buy cakes another day and they needed to remind me about having afternoon tea with my youngest. It’s constant.
That night we had to drive up to Manchester after school. All two hours of the way there, girls oblivious in the back, we had a tentative discussion about our ability to home educate. Could we do it? Should we do it? They are first on the waiting list for another school, maybe just until then? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to this iPad thing? Are we just being ridiculous?
When it comes down to it though, I know it’s not just because of the iPads. It’s because our eldest is unhappy; she’s never made any real friends; school are obsessed with technology (they even play instruments on the iPads for music); the Head that we loved left (and was replaced by someone who went straight on maternity leave, leaving the school in the hands of a temporary Head who hid in her office and a Deputy who is best described as a wet blanket); neither child is being challenged enough; they’re not outdoors enough; they’re expected to love dance and drama and all the girly crap they don’t care about…
Loss of Faith
It’s a hard realisation for me: I’ve lost faith in the system. Me; a child who loved primary school from the minute she got there. Who didn’t enjoy secondary school, but set her sights on becoming a teacher and did it. Who taught and loved it and was as surprised as anyone when I didn’t go back after maternity leave. And that’s when it hits me, I gave up teaching for my children. I put them first then and I need to put them first now.
To home educate though? It’s huge. Being with them all of the time and being responsible for their learning. Not having any time out. Although, the way life is now we don’t really get any time out, except for school hours; we don’t exactly have people clamouring to babysit. We got married this year and didn’t even have a honeymoon.
As we walk around the Trafford Centre, I casually mention it to our eldest after she says something about her day. “How would you feel about staying at home and being taught by Mummy, just until we get into the new school?”. She thinks about it for a second and her answer breaks my heart, “That would be good, because it’s not like I’ve got any friends anyway.” In that instant, my mind is pretty well made up, but I hug her and tell her I need to do some research first.
All I can think about if I can home educate. All through my meeting today and the time I blocked out to get some work done. I drift about on the Internet finding books, groups, websites. I feel sick with worry that I’m making the wrong decision, like it’s a Sliding Doors kind of moment for my children. Then I realise that I’m not saying it’s forever, it’s for just now. I call the LA to make sure we’d stay on the waiting list for the other school and they confirm that we will. That puts my mind at ease.
I see a book by a home educator recommended on a website and it’s on my Kindle within minutes. I have to read and research when I make any kind of major decision. The writer was a teacher and has two girls around the ages of mine, so I immediately feel more at ease. The book is helping me realise that I’m not crazy.
When we get home after school I broach the subject with both girls. I’m not sure my youngest is even listening, she’s still looking at the TV even though we paused it. Suddenly she turns around with the biggest grin I’ve seen for a long time. I think that’s a yes.
Home Educate? Are We Mad?!
Being a worrier by nature, I almost sabotage the whole thing by making sure they know they won’t see their teachers again, or the children, or anything. I don’t want to put them off, I just want them to make an informed decision. I tell them that when a place comes up at the other school, they can definitely go again if they want to. The youngest is just thrilled that she doesn’t have to wear uniform anymore. It’s escaped her that we break up in a couple of days, so she won’t be wearing it anyway for at least 6 weeks.
That evening Andy and I talk again about if we can really home educate. We agree that our lives are flexible enough being self-employed and that I’ll do the bulk of the educating whilst he carries on with the business. My role isn’t billable as such, so I can do what I do in the evenings, or whilst the girls are busy. Except for some networking events I’m already booked in for, but we’ll work around that. We know that it’s going to be hard work and it’s a huge commitment, but we feel happy to give it a go. After all, it only has to be temporary. Doesn’t it?
I’ve finished my book. I feel like a weight has been lifted just by reading about someone else’s experiences. My mind is made up. We’re going to do it!
I find out that to take your children out of school, a letter has to go the Head. I find a template online, edit the parts I need to and print it out. Then it’s time for my youngest’s afternoon tea, which she has been excited about for weeks. I walk up to school carrying my letter like a guilty secret.
Throughout the afternoon tea that her year group have put on I have mixed feelings. She looks so happy performing a Maypole dance but then looks thoroughly embarrassed when it’s time to perform a times table song (in a Texan accent… what!?). I think about all of the performances we’ve sat through, and the Sports Days. They’re part of the fabric of school life but for what purpose? My daughters have never enjoyed them, we can never get a seat near the front to see them and we all go home feeling fairly deflated. It’s always the children that love to show off and shout and preen that thrive during these things. They always seem to have parents that do them same.
I hand the de-registration letter into the office, but not after checking and double checking with the girls that they’re sure. That they’re sure that they’re sure. They’re sure.
Amazingly I don’t feel guilty anymore, I just feel excited. I love spending time with them both and we’re going to have loads of fun together. The National Space Centre have got a home education day sometime in September, so I tell the girls that we’ll go and that’ll be our first official day of home education. They practically skip home.
And so, the last day of the year rolls around. For my two, it’s the last day of school for now. I’ve had no response to my letter yet, but as the school are famed for poor communication, I don’t expect one. I’m half expecting to have to send it again.
It’s a very weird feeling knowing that we won’t be going back to that school again after today. Although that’s not entirely true as we have karate lessons there. I make a mental note to go and thank the staff that have had a particularly positive impact on my girls, and I also would like to collect the work that they’ve both done.
Not Much Of A Goodbye
Home time comes and, being the last of this school year, it’s particularly chaotic. We give our gifts and cards to the youngest’s teacher and teaching assistant, expecting a little more than, “She said she’s leaving to be home schooled?”. I confirm that she’s telling the truth and get a confused “Oh. Good luck with it.”
Over to say goodbye to the eldest’s teacher with her gift. Again we confirm that home education really is happening. She asks why, in a genuinely interested way and I find myself becoming a bit emotional as I explain that the iPads were the last straw. I sense some agreement on her part as she tells me I should pass that feedback onto senior management. She wishes our daughter all the best and says she knows that whatever she does, she’ll thrive. Teachers like that are wonderful.
Our eldest says that her teacher told the class she was leaving. I ask what they said and she says “It’s not like anyone cared.”. Right there I know we’ve made the right decision.