The Home Education movement here in the UK has grown quite a lot in recent years and even more so since we started out journey just over a year ago. Home Education was something I had thought about on and off for some time, but the reality of it and really making that choice wasn’t something I was fully considering until there was little choice left.
Oct 2014 both our boys were in the same mainstream primary school. This was our eldest son’s second school and although our little one went to a previous school for nursery, the latest one was the school he started reception (kindergarten) in. The boys had spent the previous school year trying their level best to adjust to the rules, the demands and the pace of school life and they were both struggling. Our youngest had been excluded(suspended in the US) 3 times within his first 12 months of school and our eldest was slowly getting depression through the daily torment of school life and bullying.
Watching how, not only, the relationships with his classmates but the teaching staff too were causing our eldest such emotional upset, was quite soul-destroying for me. Speaking to him nightly about the day’s activities, I struggled to explain to him about the possible mind-set of others and trying to get him to see he was a wonderful child and could achieve so much just wasn’t helping him. He spent every day at school frightened, left out, chastised and feeling uncared for by same people who promised me they would look after my precious son. No matter how many discussions I had, ideas I gave for them to implement, plans for actions and reports for them to consider, nothing seemed to really be put into action. They always put the blame on a member of staff or there was excuse after excuse and even in some cases, placing the blame at my son’s feet for their own inaction or follow through. They slowly took my confident child and turned him into a boy I almost couldn’t recognise. He was struggling every day to try to hold in his vocal and motor tics because of his Tourette’s syndrome, so as to not disrupt others or draw attention to himself, which is not only exhausting but for the most part impossible. Suppressing tics badly affected/affects his ability to concentrate, which would in turn get him into trouble with the teacher. This distraction made it hard to process any instructions but he was too worried about asking for them again for fear of getting into trouble. At times he wouldn’t ask at all and try to figure it out himself which often resulted in incomplete work or the task being done incorrectly and in the end he would still get into bother. The teachers would then tell him off for his “failure” to either ask for help, lack of following the task or minimal work. This happened every day several times a day and he would either get held back in class at break times to finish the work which segregated him or he would get chastised by the head teacher for not applying himself. These things were all just become too much for him to cope with. He felt as though he couldn’t do anything right, on top of feeling like he had no friends and nowhere to run. He hated school. In spite of being in the top groups because of his intellect, he was still pushed because the amount of required work wasn’t there. He struggled, daily and would release it all once he was safe at home. It was hard for me as I felt I was failing him and I was just bashing my head against a brick wall because even with all my, almost daily, meetings with the school they would all nod their heads and agree what needed to be done, but no action was really taken. I felt like I was fighting every day for my son, but getting nowhere and with no real recourse. In fact, I even caught a couple of teachers actually lie to my face because they knew they hadn’t done as they were instructed and how is a parent meant to tackle that when the head teacher just says “leave it with me”? Where do you go? What choices do you have? Whilst they only had to implement a small amount of support none of my suggestions were being done and my child was suffering. The bullying also just made his daily life a misery and I could tell it was psychologically negatively affecting him and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get him back again.
All the while, our youngest too was struggling but on the other end of the scale. The school just couldn’t handle the stuff my son was chucking hard and fast in their directions. In fact, the reception teacher said to my face, “we’ve never had a child like yours in school before.” I mean really? You’ve never had an Autistic child? In fact they had but apparently he was just too definite for them. Much like my other son, all my suggestions, in fact the experts suggestions too, all seemed to fall on deaf ears. They were constantly putting my youngest into situations that they knew would be difficult and they struggled to contain him when things went wrong. Most were terrible at preempting situations or reading his signs that he was getting distressed or unable to cope. He was lucky to have one teacher assistant who worked hard for him, but even she struggled because of the parameters within which she was made to work. For them, unless my son was crying, which rarely happens, they weren’t prepared to see he was having difficulties. They just continue to push and push, writing all the negative things my son did on a daily basis. Nothing positive, nothing about his progress and nothing about things he contributed to or took part in, just the negative. How is a child meant to grow and develop when they are constantly made to feel that everything they do is “bad”? In fact at one point, when there was a “situation” the deputy head was dumb enough to say in front of my little repeater ” he is in the wrong school”. To say I was livid is an understatement and the next day I informed the head teacher that the deputy was to have nothing more to do with my son or be at any of his meetings. How was my son meant to feel like he belonged when even the deputy head doesn’t want him there? My little man just didn’t enjoy school either, he disliked the head teacher and the deputy head for good reason, and to be honest I didn’t like them much myself. But I had to work with them as much as I could and I certainly did my level best. Our youngest improved by the end of his first year at school and I was hoping we were going to move to a new stage, but sadly it didn’t happen.
At the start of their new school year we hoped things would be on a better level for them both and we were expecting some new school year teething problems but it just wasn’t meant to be. Through the actions of the school, their lack of support, their constant need to shove my children in quiet little boxes like the other children, my boys just couldn’t take it anymore and neither could we. The eldest was crying daily and the youngest was having a hard time adjusting to the new rules for his new year. He’s a very advanced reader, although the comprehension does not always match at the same level, they put him into a more advanced reading class. The children were in the year ahead of him and so a year older, the pace of the lessons were much faster and he just didn’t enjoy it. The school weren’t willing to back track for my son, even a little bit, to give time to adjust. They forced him, which resulted in him biting the head teacher (principal of the school) on her shin. I am actually quite glad he did. Now I don’t condone violence, but if anyone deserved it…it was her. She was a big reason why the school was not doing their job and through her own ego, my children were suffering. Due to his actions our youngest got excluded for his last time and I wasn’t prepared to settle for their new proposal of putting my son on a part-time timetable whilst ostracising and segregating him to be taught only by the head teacher to the deputy head daily for two hours. They also were expecting me to collect him for the rest of the day to make their lives easier. They also wanted to send him to a different school, for a term, for children who have been permanently excluded (expelled in the US) from school with new teachers. THe headteacher also then would be “willing” to bring him back to their school after a few months to “re-integrate” him back in with the children again. How the heck is that a solution? How is changing his whole routine 3 times going to make a difference? They were trying to punish a 5-year-old child because they didn’t have the skills to knowledge to deal with him. He also wasn’t going to learn anything from the changes other than they didn’t want him. It wasn’t something I was prepared to do. I wasn’t going to allow them to essentially treat my son like a prisoner and ship him from pillar to post because of their incompetence. All of this coupled with our eldest again getting into trouble because “he just isn’t concentrating or focusing well” yet again. I told the teacher, “look lady, you imagine having a fish bowl on your head filled with bees and you have the hiccups and you are in the middle of a windy lightning storm…ok now see how much work you get done!” Perhaps my analogy wasn’t the best but I wasn’t impressed with her at all as she knew at the time my son was being assessed for Autism and he already had a Tourette’s diagnosis.
It was the end of the road for us. They were both too “intelligent” to be in special schools, but both unable to cope in mainstream school. They wasn’t their failure, it was the the educational systems failure. All children no matter what their issues deserve a right to education and an education that suits their learning style. For us, I couldn’t and I wouldn’t sit back anymore and let people tell me what my kids were going to do. I just wouldn’t do that anymore. I have always loved learning and since we had a home business and I knew that our boys loved to learn too. It was already part of our home life, learning, trying new things and exploring so I knew it could work with some adjustments. It would just take time to get our heads around it all. The boys needed time, time to adjust to the new way of life, to let go of what they were expecting our home education to look like and to get all the “schooling” out of their heads, to let go of the bullies, the teachers, the expectations that they had become somewhat accustomed to. So, that is how our journey started. Oh what a journey it has been so far. It was the best thing I ever did, by taking them out of school and giving our boys a chance to be free, think for themselves, feel motivated by learning, actually enjoying social engagements rather than dreading them, being more open-minded to new and interesting ideas…it all takes time.
Our lives are so much different now. We are all more relaxed, we see more, do more, bond more, take more time to explain more, getting to really know how our children’s minds work and what real level of learning they are at. They aren’t there to tick people’s little boxes to say they are doing their job, they are learning to be leaders and not followers, to question everything, to ask how, what, where, when and of course why. They are learning to understand the world around them, people, relationships, nature, science, maths, reading…all on their own levels and their own learning styles. It isn’t easy, but everything thing is a learning opportunity and we are a very close family. I love teaching them because it doesn’t have to mean endless worksheets and books, it can be communities working together, it can observations, it can be just conversations that go off on odd tangent where we all learn something new and different, it can be hands on life experiences that help my boys to become more independent. And what parent doesn’t want that for their child? My children don’t have to fit into the learning, the learning fits in with my children, they get one to one support, we see their progress, we watch the pride in their faces when they achieve things they have strived for and listen when they tell us interesting things they have learned by discovery. We are only at the beginning of our journey, but it is one I am so very lucky and grateful we can take.