In some cases, children thrive in schools, and there’s no reason to consider any alternatives. In other cases, children have such a bad time at school, for whatever reason, that home education becomes a necessity. But for most children, school is a mixture of good and bad. This article looks at some of the pros and cons of home education, in the hope that more parents will consider their options before enrolling their children in schools, and that, each year, will discuss, with their children, whether to continue what they are doing, or try something different.
Pros and Cons of Home Education
The balance will be different for each family, and for each child within a family. An extraverted, sociable child who likes structure may be happier in school than at home; a quiet, focussed child with specific interests in the same circumstances may be happier at home. Much will depend, too, on where you live and what your local schools are like. The family structure is also relevant: for a single parent, or when both are working full time, home education is more complex than when one parent is able to be home full-time.
Nevertheless, there are some general principles that should be considered when determining how your child will be educated. Remember that it’s education which is required in the UK, not (necessarily) school.
Pros of home education
1. Individual attention and instruction. However you decide to go about home education, there is a much higher adult-to-child ratio than there can ever be in a regular school. Even if you have three or four children at home, you can give far more attention to them than a teacher can with a class of 28 or 30, even if there is a teaching assistant or parent volunteer to help. Even when schools have different levels of work for different abilities within a class, there will be some who are bored and some who don’t understand. With home education, you can tailor each child’s education precisely, working at his or her pace, answering questions as they come up.
2. Children work at their own pace. This is related to the first, but is from the child’s perspective. Whereas a school may take a term to cover – say – basic trigonometry, or Ancient Rome – a child educated at home can cover these topics in far more diverse time periods. An hour or two may be sufficient to introduce a maths or history topic, or – at the other extreme – it may take a year or more for a child to grasp something which, in a school situation, would make him feel ‘behind’.
Reading is a good example of this: some children learn to read as young as three, some not until they are nine or ten, or even older. It doesn’t matter! There’s no shame in being a late reader, and no reason for pride in early readers. At home, education can be tailored to the child’s needs and abilities (as, indeed, the law requires) and they can take as long as necessary to learn.
3. Children’s interests can be followed. While some home educators choose to use a curriculum, or follow school subjects, there’s far more scope for encouraging children to follow their own interests, whatever they may be.
4. More time for relaxation. While a typical school day is about seven hours, with – by the time a child is in the teens – two or three hours of homework each night, the actual learning/education part of the day is no more than a couple of hours. This gives so much more time for reading, music, board games, walks… or whatever appeals.
5. Flexibility with holidays. With education authorities becoming stricter about authorised absences, holidays or day trips in term time are almost impossible for children in school. With home education you can take a break whenever you wish, and take advantage of off-season travel or days out.
6. Lack of peer pressure. The teenage years can be stressful and depressing for teens who are bullied, or insecure in any way, or who feel that they don’t fit in. Peer pressure can be devastating, leading some teens to experiment with dangerous lifestyles that they might not wish to try. Home educated children and teens are usually confident in their abilities, and far less prone to negative peer pressure.
Cons of home education
1. It can be expensive. Quite apart from the potential loss of income when a parent is home full-time, any textbooks, art supplies, writing materials, musical instruments, and so on must be paid for, rather than supplied by the school. If you want to follow a curriculum, that can be pricey; if your children want to take GCSEs or A-levels, even if they can study them at home, there’s a fee for every exam taken as a private student.
2. Lack of friends. While some children are friendly with neighbours, or take part in youth groups, Scouting organisations, and so on, it can sometimes be difficult to find friends when educated at home. While there are more opportunities of mixing with local people of all ages, home education can feel isolating, particularly if living in an area where there are no other home educating families around.
3. It’s full-time for parents. While many parents love having their children around all the time, it can be tiring and overwhelming never to have time to oneself. Home education is a full-time job; even if you’re following a curriculum and choose set hours of the day for structured education, questions may arise at any time of day or night. As when looking after a toddler, parents are never really off-duty when home educating.
4. Disapproval of relatives and friends. It can sometimes be hard for grandparents, who are worried that your children might miss out. Friends whose children are in school may take offence, thinking that you see yourself as superior in some way. Discussion is usually helpful, and as time goes by, these facets may become easier; but they can be difficult to overcome when you first start home educating.
5. Dealing with the LEA. While home education is legal throughout the UK, some LEA officials want to monitor or advise, even if you don’t want them to. While some LEAs are fine, perhaps even helpful, you may have to deal with those who don’t like your style of education and do all they can to get your children into school.
6. Further education application may be complex. While many home educated students go on to university, the process is less straightforward if they have not taken A-levels, and don’t have careers advisors to help or Head teachers to give references.
I’ve tried to be fair, giving six potential advantages of home education, and six possible disadvantages. Whether or not any of these are relevant to you will depend on your own educational philosophy, and the character and needs of your children. However, if your child is being bullied, or finds school life impossible for any reason, please consider home education for at least a year or so. No decision has to be permanent, and most of the cons listed above are not relevant when home educating for short periods; nor are they important if your child is suffering in a school environment.
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