Today’s Daily Mail contains an upbeat and encouraging article about the TV presenter Nadia Sawalha and her decision to home-school her two daughters: “My two girls are home schooled and it’s brilliant, says TV’s Nadia”. In a refreshingly positive story about education – albeit with some editorial sniping at private schools – Ms Sawalha describes how she and her husband came to the decision that a standard, one-size-fits-all school was not right for their daughters’ specific needs, and so took the step into home schooling.
It is estimated that over 50,000 children are home-educated in the UK, and while the article suggests that this is down in part to the squeeze on school places as the population rises, one of the major reasons is that many parents realise that the schools to which they have access do not suit their children, and they recognise that they need to forge another educational path if their children are to be able to make the most of their potential. Home schooling does not require children to follow a specific curriculum, and nor does it have regulated hours or approaches; the downsides are the potential lack of social contact and the potential lack of contact with a variety of highly trained teachers, but the upsides are its flexibility and responsiveness to the child’s needs, and the freeing and empowering effect it can have on children’s creativity, their ability to think, and their happiness.
There is much to be said for home schooling. It is hard work for parents, and it does not suit everyone, but its real value lies in its fundamental belief that children are individuals and that they learn in different ways, and that a programme of education designed for children should accommodate to them, and not the other way around. The best schools recognise this too, and ensure that they understand and respond to the needs and uniqueness of their students; it is very easy, however, for even the best school to slip into patterns of teaching and assessing that – while effective for most – do not always work for everyone. If schools seek to be truly excellent, then from time to time they should take just a few minutes to reflect, genuinely, on what they can learn from alternative approaches to education.
The question for the day, then: how can schools incorporate the best of home schooling into their programmes? The answer: really know your children, spend time thinking about what would work for them, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Every moment we spend reflecting on what we could do better in education contributes to the growth and development of our young people. What better way to spend our energy?