I didn’t watch the ‘Dispatches’ programme on Channel 4 this week. Its focus was on children who are not in school.
The programme blurb said:
‘As the number of children leaving school in favour of home education doubles, Dispatches asks why, and if parents’ rights to remove a child are coming before the education, or safety, of children.’
I saw a short clip from it this morning
I found it pretty hard to watch and four words in particular struck a chord
‘this isn’t a choice’
Let me tell you my story…
This time last year we were caught in a downward spiral. Our AS was in Year 3 and not able to cope. The school could not manage him. His teacher was inexperienced. We had applied for an EHCP and were playing the appeal game; as of course getting an assessment agreed first time is as rare as hen’s teeth!
The stress on the family and AS was having an enormous impact. I was in compassion fatigue, hubby was disassociating from AS, older children were bitter about the effect their little brother was having on their parents, work was difficult.
It felt pretty dark and lonely.
Even when the EHCP materialised, it was fairly useless and didn’t describe my child. At this point we felt that a Specialist School would be the only way forward for AS. His school couldn’t and wouldn’t do much more to help.
So I took the decision to leave my job and remove AS from school.
Home education yes, but in my mind this was in no way elective. This was to protect my child’s mental health and to reset him. To reconnect with him and teach him afresh how to ‘do’ school. We relearned how to sit and complete a task, how to pick up a pencil and write, to remember that we were good at things.
We went on long walks, to the zoo, up Blackpool Tower, on picnics, to hunt for Romans.
I knew this couldn’t be a long term solution for several reasons.
- My mental health – no respite from a challenging child all week was tough and put pressure on hubby at the weekend.
- The financial impact was enormous. Luckily we got carers allowance and made the most of free carer tickets on trips out.
- Although we needed time together, AS needed to learn to live with his peers and develop age appropriate social skills. Spending all his time with adults he began to sound like a tiny Open University professor!
I believe that education is a right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:
‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.’
Therefore I felt that even though I could provide the necessary schooling at home, education should be broader. It should introduce differences to foster tolerance and teach children to live within their world. I felt that being with me didn’t offer the breadth of education AS deserved.
We had a wonderful summer in amazing weather and I will never forget it; but by the time September came around I was angry that we had felt forced into home education as no other suitable suggestion was forthcoming from our LEA. Once again I took matters into my own hands and spent hours researching local schools, ringing for places, questioning head teachers and SENCos. Fortunately I knew the right questions to ask otherwise how you would find the right school I have no idea!!!
I found the most incredible school. It’s a 25 minute drive away, but the transport is agreed in this EHCP. It’s a small, mainstream primary school, who have clear expectations of AS and work closely with us as parents. In return we back them on everything. Our child is thriving academically, socially and emotionally. We have been very lucky.
Would I do it again? Yes. It gave us breathing space and a reset for our boy. Should I have to? No! The LEA needs to listen to parents with the same weight as is given to professionals. We know what our children have been through and what makes them tick or explode. Believe us, our children don’t behave as they do because we can’t parent, or because we parent in a non-traditional way.
Isn’t it time that LEAs provide a range of alternative approaches and settings to support parents who feel that their children need extra nurture and support?
I have recently been working in a nurture unit in a Pupil Referral Unit. It allows that reset for children in blocks of six weeks, while simultaneously assessing their needs, before placing them in suitable provision.
How sensible is that?
Guess what though? It’s a free school. Enough said!
I have three friends whose children are not in school for a variety of reasons. All of them want their children to be in school. All of them are suffering financially or emotionally. Two of these families have adopted, one hasn’t. All three children are on the autistic spectrum. All of them have extreme meltdowns. All of them look ‘normal’. Two are school refusers and one is regularly excluded.
Following the ‘Dispatches’ investigation into home educated kids, Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield is calling for a “complete overhaul” of the system. Sensibly, she calls for a register of home educated children – for safeguarding reasons alone, who could argue against that? But she goes on to say:
“The right of a parent to remove their child from school can no longer come before the best interest and rights of the child.”
How ironic, when the best interest of the child is the very reason so many parents remove their child from school.
And while I agree that a register of children is sensible, I would argue that LEAs should be asked to justify, where parents request, why they cannot agree on a suitable setting with the parent.
To all of you home educating through no choice of your own, I salute you, I feel your frustration, and I thank you from your child for putting their needs first.