School’s Out

In which Vicki Sigston looks at why so many families in Medway and beyond are turning to home education..

There are many reasons why families, like my own, choose to home educate their children. Some are not a fan of our rigid national curriculum and lack of funding in music and the arts. For others it’s the freedom that home education provides in letting children learn at their own pace, in their own way. The freedom to travel without the threat of fines for missing school. The freedom to spend a whole year on a topic if that is sparking a passion. Sometimes children who are home educated have needs that our schools struggle with and home education can provide a much less stressful environment for them to learn in.

There are lots of choices that lead to the decision to not have your children in mainstream education. But it is just that, a choice, and one that families should be free to make without fear of retribution.

The argument over whether home educated children should be monitored in some way has been in the news again over the past few weeks, firstly because of a Dispatches documentary shown on Channel 4 in February and now with the latest reading of a proposed Home Education Bill being due on the 15th March. This bill calls for the registration and monitoring of home educated children. How often this monitoring should happen, who will be doing it and where it would take place, remain to be seen.

The biggest reason our government use in their argument that monitoring should become law is that our home educated children are invisible, but they just need to open their eyes to see how mistaken they are. During traditional school term time go to any library or park, any swimming pool, community centre, gym or trampoline club. Visit any zoo or animal park, museum, shopping centre or woodland and you will see those children, with their friends and families in plain sight. Home educated children are registered with GPs, dentists, opticians and family hubs just like their schooled peers. They are not invisible, and they are not hidden.

The Department for Education states that “education is considered suitable if it allows children to reach their full potential and prepares them for adult life in their community” and it is not currently a legal requirement to follow the national curriculum. Guidelines state that the education provided can be tailored to the individual child’s needs and interests and that education does not have to follow “normal” school hours and terms.

So how exactly are our underfunded, oversubscribed education departments going to effectively, gently and safely monitor the thousands of children receiving these individual educations? The quick answer is they won’t be able to, and very soon we’ll see the pushing of curriculums, timetables and testing in order to try to get the same data they do from traditional schooling.

The trouble is, the test/exam results and data they will be comparing home educated children against come from a failing UK education system. All over Europe children start formal education much later than they do here in the UK but yet when we look at league tables and exam results they beat ours every time. Our young children have higher rates of anxiety disorders, depression, self harm and suicide rates than ever. Our schools are on their knees financially, with headteachers and other staff reporting no money for new equipment, cleaners or adequate staffing levels.

So, our government have lost control of schools, yet believe they should now oversee home education too.

In Medway and Kent there has been a huge increase of children being home educated. Let’s ask why. All these families can’t be wrong. Our system isn’t working.

I would like to add that children who have been let down and expelled from school (incidentally Medway has one of the highest exclusion rates in the country), often leaving struggling parents at a loss on how to proceed are not the home educating families I am talking about. While it is true that some families who have home education forced on them are eventually pleased that step was taken and find their children flourish outside of the classroom, there are those who are in this position involuntarily, unwittingly and without proper support or guidance. We need to ensure that these children and families are getting the help they need.

It is thought that a huge proportion of children entering school this year, will very likely, by the time they leave education, starting a job that currently doesn’t exist, the technology to do that job might not even have been invented yet – so why do we doggedly insist on our outdated curriculum.

It’s time we changed how we viewed our education system – and it needs to start with those in it and those who have opted out or been failed by it, not those who went through the system decades ago and who stubbornly refuse to move with the times.

Vicki Sigston is an Antenatal Practitioner and Breastfeeding Counsellor currently living in Medway. She and her husband have 2 boys that they home educate with support from Medway’s incredible home ed community. You can follow her work life on Facebook and Instagram.
Vicki has a website called
Mum of 2 Boys that she likes to post (hopefully) useful bits and pieces on too. She also suffers with a chronic condition called Endometriosis and she shares her journey with all of that here.

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