‘School is very oppressive’: why home-schooling is on the rise

Every morning Ben Mumford starts his school day with maths. At the age of 10 he is already working at GCSE level, but he doesn’t always bother to get out of his pyjamas in time for the class. He reads more books than most of his friends, studies science on the beach, and recently built a go-kart in a technology lesson. Ben is happy and fulfilled. All, his mother Claire Mumford believes, thanks to home-schooling. The Guardian reports.

“It’s not that I’m anti-establishment,” says Mumford, who has been home-schooling Ben and her other children, Sam, 11, and Amelia, eight, for the last year. “It’s just that schools haven’t got the time to nurture and teach children the way I think they should. School is very oppressive for young people. It’s not natural to be sat at a desk all day, with fluorescent lights, computer screens, barely able to see outside.” Her children get “time to relax and to be kids – to go to the woods, build dens and to learn what they’re excited about.” 

She describes her style of home-education as “child-led”. The only formal lesson is maths, where the children work from books for half an hour every morning. “Then we see what we want to do that day,” she says. Lessons can take place in the library or the woods; rather than learning science, they “experience it” by growing plants, say, or by digging water channels on the beach. Structured weekly activities include youth club; home-ed drama group; talks by the police, air ambulance or the coastguard organised by Rookley Home-Ed Meet, a group on the island made up of around 20 families; and football training with Southampton FC on the mainland.

The home-schooling movement emerged in the 1970s, when it was considered a fringe pursuit. Today, it is probably the fastest-growing form of education in the UK. The number of home-schooled children has risen by about 40% over three years, according to recent research by the BBC. Around 48,000 children were being home-educated across the UK in 2016-2017, up from about 34,000 in 2014-15. But the real number is likely to be higher. Data is not collected centrally, and while local authorities keep a register of home-educated children, this only covers children who have been withdrawn from school. Children who are never put into school are currently not required to register.

Helen Lees, visiting research fellow at York St John University, and a specialist in alternative education, believes the increase suggests “something quite worrying about the state of the education system. I’m not sure having 30 children in a classroom all doing the same thing works any more. Not with the way the classroom is structured, and the way the curriculum is followed.”

Changes in technology have made it easier to teach out of the classroom, and methods range from the traditional approach of textbooks, study schedules, grades and tests to “unschooling” or “autonomous education”, a philosophy conceived by the US author and educator John Holt in the 1970s. He believed that if you give a child the freedom to follow their own interests, and a rich assortment of resources, they will do the actual learning themselves.

Critics argue that the “cocooning” desire of some home-schooling parents is fuelled by a romanticised vision of the past. “It is not just about seeking an escape from the problems of the ‘city’ (a metaphor for danger and heterogeneity), it is a rejection of the entire idea of a city. Cultural and intellectual diversity, complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and proximity to ‘the Other,” writes educational theorist Michael Apple in Away With All Teachers: The Cultural Politics Of Home Schooling. He likens home-schooling to a “gated community”, mirroring the filter bubbles that have been created by the internet. “Even with evident shortcomings,” he says, schools “provide a kind of ‘social glue’, a common cultural reference point in our polyglot, increasingly multicultural society.”

There is criticism, too, from within the community. “The most popular educational method used by those who withdraw their children from school is autonomous education and involves nobody teaching children anything at all,” says Simon Webb, author of Elective Home Education In The UK. “Children’s interests often involve lying in bed until very late, then getting up and watching cartoons on television and eating nothing but sugary snacks. Children aren’t the best judge of what to learn or what lifestyle to adopt.”

Read the full article about the continuing rise and how home schooling is viewed by different experts  ‘School is very oppressive’: why home-schooling is on the rise

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