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First Published Sunday, 2 November 2008

May we never stop learning

Hope you’re all doing well. Time for a closer look at some of the latest news and issues affecting education/home ed in the world today.

Here in the UK, many new proposals relating to young people, whilst not directly aimed at home education, will greatly affect home educators and will effectively remove the option to home educate for many families. Wherever you may be, may your desire for learning never be quelled, may you/your children delight in life and learning despite obstacles that may cross your path, as they invariably do. Stay positive, stay inspired.

book stack, apple, pencil supply

Fraser Institute Report on Home Education Outcomes

Some time ago Paula Rothermel discovered that in the UK, working-class home-educated children performed better than their schooled peers.

This result has been confirmed by the independent Fraser Research Institute based in Canada. A study found that ‘poorly educated parents who choose to teach their children at home produce better academic results for their children than public schools do. One study we reviewed found that students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school scored a full 55 percentage points higher than public school students from families with comparable education levels.’

The research by Patric Basham and John Merrifield was peer reviewed and was researched using both new data and a 2001 study of the USA and Canada.

The director of education policy at the Fraser Institute said, ‘evidence clearly demonstrates that home education may help reduce the negative effects of some background factors that many educators believe affects a child’s ability to learn, such as low family income, low parental educational attainment, parents not having formal training as teachers, race or ethnicity of the student, not having a computer in the home, and infrequent usage of public libraries.’

This overturns many assumptions about less affluent parents who home educate their children. It suggests that there is something specific about parental provision that, of itself, causes an improvement in educational standards.

The report also demythologises the idea that home educated children fail to be socialised. ‘The average Canadian home schooled student is regularly involved in eight social activities outside the home. Canadian home schooled children watch less television than other children, and they show significantly fewer problems than public school children when observed in free play.’

Japanese calligraphy

Home Educators Visit Japan

Japanese home educators received a media boost earlier this past summer when a team of home-educated children from Swindon qualified to compete in an international Lego Robot competition in Japan.

The Japan Times reported positively on home education following the visit. The home education group delighted reporters when they revealed that they had studied Japan in preparation for the visit and one of them revealed a page of Japanese calligraphy he had produced.

While in Japan the UK home educators managed to do some exploring. They also stayed at a traditional Japanese Inn so they could try out Japanese accommodation and gain educationally from the visit.

Home education is illegal in Japan, so a high-profile visit of this kind is important to Japanese campaigners’ efforts. For years campaigners such as Kyoko Aizawa have worked tirelessly to gain acceptance for home education.

Home education in Japan is dominated by the issue of school refusal. Authorities tackle this issue with aggressive drugs that have led to a handful of deaths, either directly from the drugs or indirectly from suicides.

Irish children

Report on Home Education in Northern Ireland

An interesting report recently appeared in NI4Kids, a Northern Ireland magazine on parenting and children. In Northern Ireland home educating families are often the subject of harassment. Authorities frequently misrepresent the law in a way that was more common in England and Wales five or ten years ago.

The law in Northern Ireland is broadly similar to the rest of the UK. However, withdrawal from school can be difficult as different school boards have different approaches, some of which are fairly aggressive.

The article claims that quite a large proportion of the population home educate. Hedni, Northern Ireland’s home-grown support group, believes that it could be as high as 1%, which if accurate would place it somewhere around 2,500 children. That is approximately one and a half times to twice the estimated proportion in the rest of the UK. Furthermore, the number of people home educating is rising rapidly in Northern Ireland as it is elsewhere in the UK.

The report itself was refreshingly positive and generally accurate.

For more information on home education in Northern Ireland see: www.hedni.org

America's children mural

US Considers Federal Home Education Tax Relief Bill

The US Senate and House of Representatives are considering an amendment to the 1986 Internal Revenue Code to give home educators a whole slew of itemised and non-itemised tax relief amounting to $500 per child up to $2,000 dollars per tax year.

Many home educators in the US have grave reservations about receiving tax relief from the state. They are concerned that this may be used to justify authorities who want to ‘audit’ the families’ home education efforts. That is something campaigners have fought against from the earliest days of home education. Similar concerns have been voiced in the UK.

The bill was read in the Senate by Mr Vitter (a right-wing Republican senator for Louisiana, who has his own wikipedia page) on June 3 2008.

Global education campaign, Brandenburg Gate, Germany

Good News as Ireland MEP Raises Issues on Germany

For once I can report that there is some potentially good news for German home educators, but only via a very circuitous route.

A woman called Catherina and her family temporarily moved to Germany from Ireland to follow her husband’s work. For a variety of reasons, she decided to home educate her children.

As any regular reader of HEJ will know, the German authorities do not allow home education for any reason other than circus children and those with music careers. Inevitably the family became the subject of harassment by the German authorities.

However, Catherina would not let this situation stand. As an Irish citizen she had a constitutional right in law to home educate. She also discovered that German citizens working abroad are provided with German national curriculum materials to home educate their children in foreign countries, such as Ireland and the UK. However, the German authorities in Germany argue that children should go to school ‘for their own good’, which is clear hypocrisy.

Catherina argued that the rule that forbade foreign families to home educate in Germany was effectively a restriction of her right to live and work in Germany, a right protected by European Law.

She subsequently approached her MEP in Ireland, Kathy Sinnot, who presented a petition to the European Parliament Petitions Committee, of which she is also vice president. The committee agreed that this was an issue that should be discussed with the German authorities and resolved to do so. In summing up the decision by the committee, Ms Sinnot said:

“This petition brings into question workers’ mobility. One of the guarantees of the internal market is the freedom of movement of workers in the EU. There is an increasing awareness that workers have families and that flexibility to meet their needs should be part of employment law. However, Germany’s approach to home schooling compromises this and forces families to choose between a job and the best interests of the children. The need for family friendly employment policies must be recognised throughout the EU. We need to have flexibility in the education of children temporarily resident because of work. There is also an issue around the attitude to non-German families in the German children’s courts. I hope the dialogue between the Commission and the German State will resolve this discriminatory situation.’

German law identifies the state as the arbiter of a child’s rights, whereas European law and the law of most other liberal nations in the western world identify the parents as the principle arbiters. This is an important distinction, in consequence of which Germany has more children in care than any other country in the EU – removed from their own homes, families and parents for their own good!

While a successful resolution to this particular case would only allow foreign nationals to home educate in germany, it could lead to a higher profile for home-educated children and discussion in the press about the German ban on home education. Ultimately, if the German people see better adjusted home-educated children, it might encourage more German parents to challenge the authorities on this matter.

Further information: “Petition no. 477/2007 by Catherina Groeneveld”:


Brazilian children

Brazilian Homeschool Couple May be Jailed if Their Children Fail Harsh Government Tests

Despite Deception by Authorities, Brazilian Family is Optimistic

By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

MINAS GERAIS, Brazil, August 22, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – After receiving four days of intense testing by government authorities in a showdown over the future of homeschooling in Brazil, David and Jonatas Nunes are optimistic, despite the fact that the tests were changed on them only one week before, allowing little time for adequate study.

Although the Nunes family was initially told that the tests the children would be given were to be on mathematics, geography, science, and history, they were told only a week in advance that they would also be tested on Portuguese, English, arts, and physical education, including questions about the history of handball, basketball, soccer, and other sports.

The change put enormous pressure on two children who were already studying in a stressful situation.

“They’re two adolescents of 14 and 15 years of age who are studying for a test that could determine if their parents are going to be imprisoned or not,” said Cleber Nunes to the television network Globo. “It’s a huge burden for them.”

As LifeSiteNews reported previously, the Nunes children passed law school entrance exams at the ages of 13 and 14. Despite this success, Brazilian authorities decided to prosecute the family for “intellectual abandonment” because they were schooling the children at home rather than in a government-approved institution. If the Nunes lose the case, they could forfeit custody of their children, pay a steep fine, and even spend time in jail.

The Brazilian media, including the nation’s major television networks, are following the case closely, and the public is supportive of the Nunes’ struggle. Reports posted on network websites have received hundreds of comments, mostly indignant at the treatment being received by the Nunes family.

“I think it’s unjust to apply special criteria to them,” said one reader, who added that “it would be more fair if the tests were done with other students who study in public schools.” Another said that the public school system is “shameful”.

“I asked the Portuguese teacher, in front of the cameras, if she could take the same tests the kids were going to take,” Nunes told LifeSiteNews. The woman told him she couldn’t.

“Then, her boss said that every teacher has to know the subject they teach,” said Nunes. “Isn’t it ironic?”

According to Nunes, the tests ask questions that few high school students, or even adults, could answer, on topics as diverse as Japanese theater, choral theory, and the works of Claude Monet. The tests were created by a committee of 16 public school teachers, specifically for the Nunes trial.

However, the Nunes family remains optimistic that the children answered a majority of the questions correctly, despite the seemingly impossible conditions under which they were administered.

In any case, Cleber Nunes is aware that the story of his children’s success has already reached the Brazilian public. “We already won,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Brazilian home ed

Previous LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Homeschooling Showdown in Brazil: Children to be Tested by Court in Battle Over Educational Rights of Parents

Brazilian Government Prosecutes Homeschooling Family, Threatens to Remove Children

Source: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/aug/08082207.html

Let's Talk About Sex book

Parents Urged to Talk about Sex

Research from Populus (Everyday Conversations Every Day) suggests that the best way to tackle sex education is, as the title suggests, dropping it into everyday conversation, from the age of 11.

Children, the report says, mostly know that what their friends tell them is probably wrong. It goes on to say that 75% of them want their parents to talk to them about sex.

The writers also suggest that the traditional, formal, one-off chat about sex does not work. Instead, informal discussion initiated as the opportunity arises, within a context of TV or magazines, is much more effective.

The UK has the worst record for both teenage pregnancy rates and sexual health in Europe and the problem is rapidly worsening.

Following a related report from the NSPCC, which found that a significant number of people under 16 were calling their helpline because they felt under pressure to have sex, Jim Knight has announced a review on how the subject is dealt with in schools. Currently schools only have to teach the biological aspects of sex.

To go along with this campaign, Brook (the advisory service) has produced a full-colour magazine-style book aimed at young people aged 14+, called Making Sex Safe. It costs £2.25, with discounts for multiple purchases, and is available from their website (www.brook.org.uk/content/M8_1_sexrelationships.asp) or by post from Brook Publications, PO Box 1239, Coventry, CV2 2WT. Include the title ‘Making Sex Safe’ and the product code A51.

single parents

Single Parents’ Forced Employment Campaign

Research for Home based education 1 suggests that as many as 16% of home educators are single parents. So the latest government plans to force single parents into paid employment may have a serious impact on home education, affecting as many as 8,000 children. Numerous home educators (not only single parents) have embarked on a campaign to stop this.

Home education organisations have contacted government departments and home educators have campaigned with letters, emails and postcards. This is intended either to get the government to rethink its policy wholesale or to get recognition that home educating parents are a particular category that needs to be specifically exempted.

No progress has been made on this front. Ministers are reluctant to create such a category and the children’s commissioner has written back to one parent saying that he has better things to do.

The changes are part of a larger package of reforms that will see those with a registered disability also being forced into work(as has now been officially introduced this past week). Ministers are probably feeling confident that home educators will not gain the general public’s sympathy and are probably concerned that some single parents might pull their children out of school to avoid forced employment.

However, the current financial climate is likely to make it all a moot point as the number of jobs available to single parents is probably going to remain small for some time to come. There are also concerns about the availability of child-care places. The new framework for under-5s education has been so unpopular that many child-care options, particularly individual child-care workers, have dropped out of the business altogether. In some parts of the UK this has left an already stretched sector practically in a state of crisis; particularly in larger cities and the south east where for many the cost of child care remains unfeasibly high.

In preparation for the new government measures, some home educators are considering setting up home businesses that will be compatible with continued home education.

Whatever the outcome, and regardless of how it’s implemented, for some parents and children these reforms will have serious and dreadful consequences. In the UK there are a small number of children who are home educated because of serious and complex problems; LEAs often claim to be able to provide for these children, but the reality is that they cannot do so adequately. The LEAs’ inability to cope is often why these children were home educated at the outset and sometimes the cause of the breakup of the parental relationship.

Staff in employment centres, untrained on these issues and possibly wary and cynical of attempts to avoid work, might pass the significance of parents’ pleas for exemptions. Some parents will inevitably be forced into unsuitable arrangements and the consequences for their children will be dire.

LA’s only recourse for ‘school refusal’ is to force children to attend, a strategy that has proved unworkable for many home-educating families. Parents will have to choose between losing a significant part of their income or allowing their child to be bullied and harangued into returning to a place they consider unsafe. Sadly, if children are forced to return to school against their will, I think we can expect to see some instances of suicide; desperate children might see no other options open to them.

A significant rise in truancy prosecutions is also likely. If more single parents are forced to work full-time and their children truant, how can they be expected to comply with the school’s demands to ensure their children’s attendance?

Even the parents of disabled or sick children will not have an automatic exemption from the measure. Government employment advisors have apparently been told to be sensitive to circumstances, but without specialist training those sensitivities will largely depend on personal prejudice. One cannot expect people working in the field of employment to understand the ramifications of dozens of disabilities, psychological disorders, phobias and fears; or the vagaries of the education system and how it relates to children.

In practice the number of families who find themselves in real difficulty is likely to be low, but the severity of those difficulties is probably going to be extreme; in some cases perhaps even fatal.

Virtual college poster

Virtual Schools – Popular Among Teachers

Teachers in the US have realised that by working for virtual schools they do not have to come up against actual (that is non-virtual) children and appear to find this preferable to teaching in real schools.

In e-schools like Virtual Virginia, a virtual school run by Virginia state education department that enrols ‘home educated’ pupils around the state as well as elsewhere in the US and abroad, a full-time teacher can earn $40,000 per annum with benefits. Teachers are fast realising that all they have to do for their $40,000 is to teach. They do not have to provide cafeteria duties or manage disciplinary issues or attend endless management meetings. Most of all, they don’t have to physically interact with pupils. In the US’s culture of growing school violence this is a deal clincher for some teachers; it means that teachers feel safe and secure, working from home at their computer desk where pupils may not even know their real name, let alone address, etc.

The pupils are made up of various sorts with various needs. Some are attending ‘real’ schools but want to study subjects unavailable to them locally, while others are home-educated children. Others still live abroad and want to study an American curriculum or in the English language. Foreign and out-of-state pupils pay through the nose for these courses, but many US students can recoup the costs from their state education authorities.

Competition for staff posts are stiff with hundreds of applicants for each opening, which are few as once teachers start working for e-schools they rarely want to leave…


4mations – a Channel 4 Initiative(UK)

Channel 4 has a new initiative intended to encourage young people to develop animations.

Young people create and upload animations to the Channel 4 website and will then be paid a small amount for each time their animation is viewed.

The initiative is still in the planning stage, but Channel 4 is asking for those interested to register with the site so they can be informed about progress with the project. Www.4mations.tv

“My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.”

Margaret Mead 1901 – 1978

(Anthropologist and early promoter in the west of breast-feeding on demand)

“No School Like Home”

Jessica Shepherd

The Guardian, Tuesday August 19 2008

Brookes family

Home Education, long dismissed as a hippy option, can be ‘astonishingly efficient’, says a new study, Jessica Shepherd meets the children who don’t go to school.

Ian Fisher, like three-quarters of a million other 16-year-olds, is waiting to get his GCSE results in two days’ time. But, education-wise, that is where the similarity between him and the vast majority of his peers ends, because Ian has never set foot in a school.

In a lifetime of home education, the only formal lessons he has experienced were evening classes at his local college in Reading to help him prepare for the English and physics GCSEs he sat this summer. He studied for a maths GCSE last year and was awarded an A.

Learning at home, when he feels like it and without the restrictions of a curriculum, is “much more efficient” than studying at college, purple-haired Ian says confidently. “The main difference between my informal education at home and my formal education at college has been that at home I can focus on what I want to learn, when I want to learn it.”

Ian’s mother, Jill, took her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, out of school at the age of five in 1992. She decided her child just wasn’t ready for a day that finished at 3.30pm, and saw that she was losing the ability to occupy herself.

Fisher gave up her job as an archaeologist and opted to educate her three children at home. The family lived on the salary of her husband, Peter, a university professor.

Elizabeth has just graduated with a fine arts degree, and Ian’s other sister, Katherine, is about to start her second year of an environmental science degree. Katherine and Elizabeth were awarded As for most of their GCSEs and A-levels.

When they were young, Jill read to her children and took them to museums and to play with others their age. They amused themselves, to a large extent. “There were never any lessons at home, or anything structured for more than a couple of weeks,” she says.

The Brookes parents, from Gloucestershire, have also home-educated their three children: Joe, 18, Freya, 16, and Lindsey, 13. Joe is about to study for a diploma in interactive games design at college and Freya starts her A-levels at college in September. Their parents, Fiona and Peter, earn enough as foster parents to stay at home to educate them.

“The school system is so geared to competition,” says Fiona. “It produces robots.” Her decision to home-educate was met with a mixed reaction from her family, many of whom are teachers.

“Days go by in the same way that they would in the summer holidays for other children,” she says. “One of my children might be outdoors with the chickens, another may be looking after the pets, and the third may be on the computer.”

Surprisingly, the exact number of children learning at home is unknown. Local authorities are not required to find out. But experts say as many as 50,000 children are learning at home in the UK – a figure that has trebled since 1999.

The methods employed by parents vary enormously. Some imitate schools to such an extent that they ring a bell in the morning; others allow their children to do exactly as they please all the time. Many have kept their sons and daughters out of school because they believe formal education starts too early in this country, and that it is restrictive, with a misplaced emphasis on testing. Some worry their children may be bullied.

Critics of home education dismiss it as a hippy option that disadvantages children socially and educationally for the rest of their lives. So a book just published by academics at the Institute of Education, University of London, is highly controversial. It argues that home education is a viable alternative to school up to the age of 14.

Alan Thomas, a visiting fellow in the institute’s department of psychology and human development, and Harriet Pattison, a research associate, conclude that informal learning at home is an “astonishingly efficient way to learn”, as good if not better than school for many children.

“The ease, naturalness and immense intellectual potential of informal learning up to the age of middle secondary school means they can learn certainly as much if not more,” they say in How Children Learn at Home.

Thomas and Pattison interviewed and observed 26 families who home-educated, between them, more than 70 children. Some had been out of school for a couple of years, others had never been inside a school. Most were British, but a handful were Irish, Australian and Canadian.

The authors discovered that these children absorbed information mainly by “doing nothing, observing, having conversations, exploring, and through self-directed learning”. They liken the “chaotic nature” of informal learning to the process that leads to scientific breakthroughs, the early stages of crafting a novel, coming up with a solution to a technical problem, or the act of composing music.

“Its products are often intangible, its processes obscure, its progress piecemeal,” they say. “There are false starts, unrelated bits and pieces picked up, interests followed and discarded, sometimes to be taken up again, sometimes not… Yet the chaotic nature of the informal curriculum does not appear to be a barrier to children organising it into a coherent body of knowledge.”

Thomas and Pattison acknowledge that critics will say home-educated children are likely to pick up information peppered with misunderstandings or inaccuracies, and parents may unwittingly pass on their own misconceptions. “Yet the lack of information quality-control does not appear to lead to muddled, confused children,” they say.

“In some ways, it may be an advantage because, rather than presenting knowledge in neat packages, the informal curriculum forces learners to become actively engaged with their information – to work with it, move it around, juggle ideas and resolve contradictions… It is not a static thing contained in a series of educational folders. It is alive and dynamic.”


This comes across in their interviews with families, who say learning occurs in the “simple hurly-burly of everyday life”. One mother said: “I provide materials, resources, help with research, discuss what they are reading and what I am reading, watch documentaries with them, have stimulating conversations, listen a lot and answer questions.”

Most teachers and parents would balk at one parent’s remarks that all her son did until he was 12 was “watch Star Wars and play on the trampoline” and that he “didn’t even know when his birthday was”. Another said: “Sometimes days go by without anything special happening.”

But Thomas and Pattison marvel at the way one girl learned maths by “helping with the cooking and shopping, and collecting supermarket-trolley money”.

“She came to appreciate the value of material goods, but she did not see it like that,” they say. “She saw only the concrete activity. If she did sometimes count money or do sums in her head, it was her decision, sparked by her emerging understanding, or simple curiosity about numbers.

“The point is that maths, certainly most of what is acquired at the primary level, can be learned as an integral part of everyday concrete activities. In school, maths has to be divorced from the dynamic realities of everyday life.”

Home education is just an extension of good parenting, Thomas and Pattison argue. “School itself necessarily curtails such parental contribution.” Why, they ask, do we as a society assume that formal learning needs to take over beyond the age of five? “There is no developmental or educational logic behind the radical change in pedagogy from informal to formal when children start school,” they say.

Contrary to expectations, the home-educated children had no difficulty entering formal education, the authors found. The informal curriculum is “as good a preparation as any” for college, university or academic correspondence courses, they say. “The young people had the personal skills to make the transition with apparent ease.”

Caution urged

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, urges caution. Informal learning is an adjunct, not a replacement for a formal curriculum, he warns. There’s a case for starting formal education later in this country, he acknowledges, but the curriculum is still essential.

“Living our lives is a deeply mysterious business,” he says. “The curriculum opens up a number of ways we can understand it: history, science, art, maths. It’s very important that we give all young people the opportunity to engage with all subjects, whether they immediately occur to them or their parents or not. Schools have developed ways of condensing canons of literature, for example, and introducing it in sequence to children.”

And not all learning is pleasurable; some of it is painful and repetitive. Unless children are in a social situation that makes them stay at it, they will lose out. “It’s very important that parents have the option to home-educate their children, but I wouldn’t advise it,” he says.

Anyway, if home education is that good, why is Ian Fisher hoping to go to college to do A-levels? The only reason, he says, is that he needs qualifications to have a career and that, at his age, the only way to be taught by experts, is to go to college.

That will always be the conundrum for home education.

· How Children Learn at Home by Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison is published by Continuum at £16.99

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/19/schools.education

Home education: a class apart

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 12/04/2008

They are sparky, enthusiastic and imaginative, yet have never seen the inside of a school. David Robson meets the ‘home-eds’

How many A* GCSEs would Chung Chung Stockman achieve if she were receiving a conventional education? Twelve? Fifteen?

Chung Chung is 10, going on 11, going on 18, one of those sweetly precocious children who make your heart dance with their wide-eyed curiosity about the world.

“I’ve got a theory,” she tells me, “but I don’t think you’ll understand it.” Cue a fascinating, breathless discourse on the nature of education.

She’s right: I don’t understand her theory. It’s too idiosyncratic. But I know a clever cookie when I see one.

Hua Hua, her eight-year-old brother, is no slouch either. My eye strays to the bookshelves of the converted warehouse in Rotherhithe where they live, opposite a film studio. Good grief, Hua Hua isn’t reading Proust, is he?

The extraordinary thing about the Stockman siblings, who were adopted from an orphanage in China, is that they have never been near a school and never will, if their parents, film-makers Annabel and Olivier Stockman, have anything to do with it.

Chung Chung and Hua Hua are what is known as “home-eds”, raised entirely outside the school system. Their parents did consider local primary schools, but were unimpressed: the children emerging from the schools seemed alarmingly regimented, drilled to act and behave in a certain way rather than try to discover themselves as individuals.

Home-eds are in such a small minority that most people, myself included, have only the sketchiest notion of what it entails. Does mum have to mug up on algebra? Does dad give PE lessons? Do snoops from the local council come knocking on the door?

The answer, in a nutshell, is none of the above. The education Chung Chung and Hua Hua are receiving is gloriously eclectic. Latin and Greek, sewing and weaving, cycling and swimming, singing, visits to museums, galleries, theatres…It is a free-range, middle-class, bohemian upbringing, although Annabel Stockman, who superintends it, is adamant that it is no soft option, either for her or the children.

“It is bloody hard work. You have to talk to your children the whole time, field their questions and hold their interest. The important thing is to encourage them to think for themselves and see connections between, say, things they have seen in museums and things they may have read in history books.”

She and her fellow home-educators are a close-knit community: they pool resources, teach together and co-operate in a hundred ways. Thursday morning in Rotherhithe is “study club”, when Chung Chung and Hua Hua are joined by other home-eds in front of an educational film, in this case a BBC2 documentary about oceans, which they then discuss.

The “class” consists of eight children ranging in age from five to 12. It is not easy for Tina, one of the parents, and a former teacher, to craft the discussion in such a way that all the children feel equally involved. But interest levels are high and behaviour is flawless.

Just a nice, normal group of kids, you would say, except that they are not normal, not in the influences that are being brought to bear on them. Do they know more or less about the world than their contemporaries? Or do they just know different things?

“Who is David Cameron?” I ask. None of them knows. “Andrew Flintoff?” Incomprehension. “What job has Fabio Capello just been given?” One boy sticks up his hand. “How about Jamie Oliver?” Eight hands this time. And I thought I was looking at the Einsteins of the future.

After a scamper around a local playground, then a soup-and-sandwiches lunch, Chung Chung and Hua Hua are driven to Southwark for a pottery class.

It costs £9 per child, a reminder that home education does not come cheap. But there is no doubting the quality of the tuition or the enthusiasm of the children, as they sit at their wheels, sloshing and kneading.

“Who’s the most famous potter in the world?” I ask. No reply. “Harry Potter!” Hua Hua looks blank. Chung Chung frowns and says, “Isn’t he someone in a story?” Annabel glares at me as if I have uttered a four-letter word.

Will the adult world be flexible enough to accommodate Chung Chung, Hua Hua and their home-ed friends? One would dearly like to think so.

Although they are bubbly, friendly and well-behaved, it is their individuality that is most striking, an independence of outlook that throws down the gauntlet to classloads of battery-reared schoolchildren.


  • *Recognise that home education is a huge commitment of both time and effort. You don’t need to be super-educated or have teaching qualifications, but you will need to accept responsibility for keeping your children intellectually stimulated and culturally curious.
  • *Be flexible. Recognise that children have individual needs.
  • *Don’t try to replicate the school curriculum, subject for subject.
  • *Encourage your children to think for themselves and develop inquiring minds.
  • *Be prepared for scepticism from others. There are some common misconceptions about home-educated children, that they have been bullied at school, for example. Have the courage of your convictions that you are doing the best for your child.
  • *

  • *Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know all the answers. Teaching children to discover things for themselves is an intrinsic part of the process.
  • *Get to know your local librarian. He/she could become your best friend.

  • Famous people who have been educated wholly or largely at home include the astronomer Patrick Moore, the singers Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield, Beatrix Potter and Noel Coward.
  • The websites of the Home Education Advisory Service (www.heas.org.uk) and Education Otherwise www.education-otherwise.org) are the best starting-points for parents interested in acquainting themselves with the rudiments of home education.
  • No official register is kept, but estimates of the number of home-educated children in Britain range from 7,000 to 50,000.

  • Source:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/main.jhtml?xml=/education/2008/04/12/fhomeds112.xml
  • FT Weekend Magazine: A Class Apart

    It’s 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning. Throughout Britain, school bells are ringing and corridors are pressed with shrieking teenagers on their way from geography to double science. Excuses are being formulated for late homework; gossip is being shared. But elsewhere, an alternative vision of contemporary British education can be seen. Across kitchen tables and on suburban sofas, in museums and parks, a growing tribe of home-schooled children is learning without whiteboards, timetables or uniforms.

    Cover picture

    At a rugby club in Bromley, London commuter-belt country, nine home-educating parents are giving their charges a day’s “socialisation”. Amid a wall of high-pitched noise, some kindergarten-age children are mixing paints and playing with glitter. Two 11-year-olds are idly flicking a table-football machine, and two boys – friends 30 seconds ago – are fighting over whose turn it is to play with a toy castle.

    Alex, a pale, undersized seven-year-old with dyspraxia and autism, has upset Sam (below left), 10, who has Asperger’s syndrome – which means he too can find it hard to read social signals. “It’s not fair. Go away, go away,” shouts Sam. Sam’s father runs over to rule, Solomon-like, on their contested claims. Just as the dispute is resolved, one girl breathlessly reports that she has seen another child climbing on the roof.

    Elsewhere I speak to a self-possessed 10-year-old girl whose mother has taken her out of school because she felt she was too advanced for the work. She reels off reading lists of children’s classics: “I’m reading the Just Williams. I’ll read them all in two days. I finished The Hobbit. I’m now on book five of The Chronicles of Narnia.” Though she’s precocious, she speaks unselfconsciously. As we’re approaching Easter, I ask her if she takes school holidays. “We don’t really need to. We learn wherever we go. Say we went to the south of France – we’d learn stuff about France on holiday.”

    Home schooling has been on an upward trend in Britain over the past 10 years. Since there is no legal duty on parents to inform local education authorities that they are home schooling their children, the government has no idea how many children are in this position. Only if a child starts school and is then withdrawn is there an official record. But this misses out the thousands of children who never start school in the first place.

    Mike Fortune-Wood, a pro-home-education researcher, estimates that about 50,000 children are presently being schooled at home – but says that number is growing fast: “The rise I got was 17 per cent annually. If you kept on at this rate, the figures start to get quite scary for schools by around 2020.” Still, Britain is decades behind the US, where an estimated 1.2 million children are home educated, largely for religious reasons.

    Unlike in Germany, where home schooling is banned, there has never been a legal obligation for British parents to send their children to school. The only demand is that every child receives an “efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude … either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”.

    But within this definition parents have generous latitude. They don’t have to follow the national curriculum, enter their children for exams, observe school hours, give formal lessons, or mark work. Local authority inspectors can ask annually for written information on how a child is being educated, but they have no right to meet the child or visit the home. Should a local authority decide a child is not receiving a “suitable” education it does have powers to send him or her back to school. In practice, though, courts rarely rule in the authority’s favour.

    Sam’s mother, Ann Newstead, is a spokesperson for the Education Otherwise support group for the Kent area. She withdrew her son from school in July 2005 because he was being badly bullied: “The differences between him and his classmates got more obvious. At school he couldn’t have a meltdown like that. You can’t start shouting and screaming in class.” Ann and her husband Roarke (right) gave Sam’s elder brother Josh, 12, a choice about whether to stay in school or leave. Initially he opted to stay: “He said, ‘I’ve got friends at school, we’re doing a really interesting project at the moment’. He carried on for one day. That night I went into his room. He was really tearful and said: ‘I don’t want to go back tomorrow’.” Sam’s younger brother, Will, six, is also educated at home.

    Do the children have any regrets? “We live opposite school and they hear the kids playing. I think they miss that. But they don’t remember that it’s the every-single-day aspect of it that did their head in.” Children on the verge of adolescence, however, can be stifled by a home education. “Because they’re closer to us, letting them out of your sight can be a bit harder,” says Newstead. “If [my son] was going on a school bus every day, he would be totally independent. Now he’s not.”

    . . .

    In the US, 75 per cent of home-schooling families are practising Christians – and a third of that number cite religion as their main reason for choosing home education. In secular Britain, only 8 per cent home-educate for reasons of faith. But it’s a contributory factor for many others who feel state schools have become too permissive.

    Modupe has come to Britain from west Africa after completing a masters degree at an Ivy League university. She’s teaching her son, Theo (left), at home, with a curriculum partly based on the teachings of the 19th-century home-education pioneer Charlotte Mason. Mason warned of the dangers of insulting children’s intelligence by giving them “twaddle” to read, and Theo’s reading list is furnished with such doughty classics as The Pilgrim’s Progress and H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story (a volume of high Edwardian patriotism that has long since disappeared from British classrooms but is still taught in traditional African schools). “The modern stuff doesn’t make you think,” says Modupe. “It almost seems to be for entertainment. It’s important for Theo to be aware of the history of this country.”

    Theo was attending a private school in the south of England. His teacher – who seemed to be unmarried – fell pregnant. As a Christian, Modupe felt awkward having to answer a child’s questions about why an unmarried woman would be having a baby. There were worrying hints of racism at the school, too: Modupe’s son was the only boy in class not invited to a classmate’s birthday party for three years in a row.

    She also felt she was fighting low expectations from some staff. One teacher said: “It’s really good that you are keeping [your son] busy so he doesn’t get into trouble.” “He hadn’t even spoken to my son,” says Modupe, “but he was really negative towards him.” A sociable boy, Theo was initially upset at being removed from school: “At first he complained that I had ruined his life. But the socialisation they get from school is not the kind of socialisation we want.”

    Ronald Meighan, a former professor of education at Nottingham University, has been part of the home-education movement from the days when it was a besieged minority. In 1977 he knew of only 20 home-schooling families in Britain. “Home education started as an alternative lifestyle for people living in smallholdings,” he says. “People who believed in a better and more self-sufficient society also believed in a more self-sufficient form of education. At the first meetings of Education Otherwise, I was the only one wearing a suit. But the message got round to doctors and solicitors and teachers that this could work for us. The Sound of Music – which shows a home-education family in operation – gave it a shot in the arm.”

    Still, it was a risky lifestyle choice. Before the early 1980s, parents who home-educated their children stood a good chance of seeing them taken into care. In the 1960s and 1970s, a generation of home-education martyrs fought the government in the courts – greatly restricting the powers of local education authorities. Now, official attitudes vary. Some local authorities provide teaching materials online for home-educators and allow them to take extra books out of the library. Others, though, have inspectors who are still deeply sceptical about the value of home education.

    Meighan is a proselytiser for “purposive conversation” – the belief that in-depth discussion is the most effective way to teach children. He believes formal schooling is actively harmful: it removes children from the comfortable home environment in which their natural curiosity thrives and they learn best.

    According to a survey of 297 home-schooling families by Mike Fortune-Wood, 62 per cent never use a timetable, the same percentage never consult the national curriculum, and 50 per cent disagree with the statement that a child should be able to read by the age of eight. Fortune-Wood, who home-educated four children, says: “I know of children who’ve started to pick up books at nine or 10, and there are no indications that they do any worse than others. One of our children didn’t read until he was nine or 10 – and he’s just completed an MA in creative writing.”

    . . .

    A week later I join a home schooling trip to an educational farm amid the lush countryside of the south downs. On a windswept hill, to the bleating of Pygmy goats, I meet Janice, a former policewoman turned homeopath who educates her 11-year-old son Jesse at home. Jesse is a gifted footballer – and for most of the trip he is a hurtling streak on the horizon. “I’ve never been to school but it doesn’t sound very good,” he tells me during a two-minute hiatus before tackling the adventure playground. “This boy at a school that I know had his head flushed down the toilet.”

    Janice home-educates because, “Like most boys, Jesse has an enormous amount of testosterone. And the school system does not really allow for that. Jesse does not absorb information if you go over 20 minutes. He needs to run around the garden and be manic for a minute and then come back.” Jesse is following the “Unschooling” philosophy: “We’re not following the national curriculum. His writing is coming along really well, but it is at his pace. He wouldn’t be at the age level that the schools are at. He might be in a specialist reading class because we did not start reading with him until he was seven-and-a-half.”

    Jesse is a “practical learner” so he learns “experientially” – going on outings, visiting museums, taking photos and creating scrapbooks. He has daily morning sessions of maths and English and a weekly session with a private tutor. But it’s Jesse’s gentle self-assuredness that his mother sees as the main achievement of home schooling: “He’s so confident. He gave a talk about football training to a group of parents. He spoke with such authority. When he’s training he always involves the younger kids.”

    So why have the numbers of the home-educated grown so quickly over the past five years? In the UK, home-educating religious and ethnic minorities – Muslims, Romany travellers, Presbyterians, pagans – have grown in number, but they have not been the recruiting sergeant for home education they are in the US. Bigger factors have been the increasing number of children diagnosed with special needs, parents fleeing the British state sector’s testing and targets, the ready availability of teaching materials on the internet and the doubling of private school fees in a decade.

    But a survey of 34 local authorities showed that by far the most significant factor was bullying: 44 per cent of parents cite it as the reason they withdrew their children from school. In this less deferential age, parents are less willing to trust teachers – and when faced with a problem such as bullying, they sort it out themselves.

    In spite of its somewhat anarchic origins, home-schooling is more than anything a product of consumer power. Take the Norton family. They live on a suburban close near Rochester, where Rob works from home for British Telecom and is a squadron quartermaster sergeant in the Territorial Army, while Karen works evening shifts at the local retail park. The couple deregistered their 11-year-old son, Andrew, from the school roll last Easter after an unhappy move from junior school to a comprehensive with 2,000 students. It was, says Rob, “educational factory farming”. There was “lots of disruption, lots of behavioural problems. The place is just too big. We logged everything that happened over two terms on two sheets of A4. We are looking at assault, stealing and criminal damage.”

    Andrew, a serious-minded boy, gives a litany of complaints – from scrawls of “boffin” across his exercise book to a lesson in which one pupil hit another over the head with a chair. “We hated taking him to school,” says Karen. “He didn’t want to cry but you could see him welling up. I was concerned that I was going to see a child that wanted to start self-harming.” The teachers “tried their hardest” to sort out the issues. But in the end, according to Rob, “they didn’t get the support they needed. They’ve got the crest, they’ve got the uniform, they’ve got the procedures, but they haven’t got the willingness at a higher level to deal with the problems.”

    After ruling out private school on the grounds of cost, they signed Andrew up to InterHigh – an internet-based school that runs virtual classes each weekday morning in real time. Teachers scattered across Britain speak to pupils at home via a Skype-type headset and microphone. Inside his bedroom – all Star Wars posters, Lego space stations and Airfix models of helicopters – Andrew shows me how he files his homework by e-mail and his teachers upload their class notes to a central database. There is no disruption – any pupil who misbehaves in cyberspace is logged out by the teacher.

    For a few hours in the afternoon, Andrew does his homework on his own and bounces on a trampoline in the garden in lieu of PE lessons. Rob’s meticulous accounting gives a taste of the new home-educating consumer: “We worked out that the cost in petrol of taking Andrew to school – up and down the gears – is about £1,000 a year. It costs £2,000 for the internet course. So we’ve knocked half the cost off already.”

    The Nortons are home educating not because of any sweeping alternative vision of education. Theirs is a pragmatic decision, based on a belief that state education is lagging behind expectations: “We as a family are so happy,” says Karen. “Andrew has opened up his world a lot more.”

    The most common fear is that the home-educated miss out socially. American studies have yet to prove this: observations of home-schooled children at play show they have fewer problems with social interaction than state-educated children – and are involved in a wider variety of activities outside the home. It is true that home-educated children seem well-balanced and thoughtful. But isn’t there a contradiction between an educational philosophy that stresses a child’s independence and the fact that they remain much more cloistered and dependent on their parents?

    Home education can produce the ultimate “helicopter parents” – constantly hovering over their children, protecting them from the failures that might be thought essential rites of passage. And oughtn’t we be concerned that so many parents, particularly those under pressure with children with special needs, are finding state education so poor they take the drastic step – and make the financial sacrifice – of keeping their child at home?

    More fundamentally, the growth of home education is a challenge to the age-old concept of universal education. It is bizarre that while the state insists on a detailed, legally enforced national curriculum for every pupil at school – whether at Eton College or an inner-city comprehensive – those schooled at home are able to opt out of these obligations entirely. The teachers’ union Voice – which represents 34,000 educational professionals – is campaigning for greater inspection rights for local authorities.

    As general secretary, Philip Parkin, says: “It is absolutely unbelievable that we don’t know how many home-educated children there are and we don’t know who is educating them. Society has got to get a grip on this.”

    Source:  http://robblackhurst.com/2008/homeed/

    “Attending School on the Web”

    Virtual classrooms have pros, cons – and the trend has some harsh critics

    by Rhonda Bodfield

    Arizona Daily Star

    Published 1st September, 2008

    High school math teacher Dan Tucker no longer has to worry about whether this student’s midriff is showing or that one can have bathroom privileges. And now, with his only commute being the one along the Internet’s information superhighway, he has been known on occasion to work in his pajamas from his rural Catalina home.

    Meanwhile, while other students are groggily getting ready for morning classes, high school senior Angie Ronquillo is off to work. Her school day, which largely takes place in the bedroom of her Rio Rico home, won’t start until after most other students already are home.

    The two are big boosters of the brave new world of virtual education, touted as a way to fix some long-standing education bugaboos and allow students to design their own educational experiences. Not a morning glory? Log on later. Want to take a class not offered in your district? No problem. Bored with the pace set in a traditional class? Work at your own speed. Don’t like the food processor that can be the high school social scene? OK.

    No longer merely for the high school student who needs to make up the occasional credit, distance learning is catching on, increasingly offered to primary school students and giving resources to parents who might consider home schooling but are panic-stricken at the idea of teaching trigonometry.

    Arizona has been operating schools without walls for a decade now, with almost 27,500 students last year attending programs approved in seven districts and seven charter schools.

    The biggest action is in the charter schools — the largest, Primavera Technical Learning Center, reported 8,000 students last year. Tucker and Ronquillo’s school, Arizona Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc., has 4,600 students in the state this year, with about 2,000 of them in Tucson.

    Four years into it, the Tucson Unified School District program has about 600 students signed up for online learning.

    Stuart Baker, TUSD’s principal of distance learning, said students likely will experience some form of online learning in postsecondary education, so early exposure is helpful.

    “Virtual education is the wave of the future. It’s exploding everywhere, and it’s being looked to as a real way to deliver education quickly and efficiently to kids all over the world,” he said. “I don’t know what form it will take ultimately, but it’s not going away.”

    Seventeen-year-old Ronquillo sees no downside to the choice she made in her sophomore year to go wholly online. It allows her to work full time, and while she initially was wary of computers, she now considers herself solidly technologically literate.

    With a full class load that includes two Advanced Placement courses, she finds the work more challenging than that in conventional classrooms.

    Her mother agrees.

    “It takes a lot of discipline to succeed in these classes,” said 33-year-old Veronica Ronquillo, whose 9-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter also attend Arizona Virtual Academy. “All through school, at parent-teacher meetings, her teachers would always say she was one of their best students and always at the top of the class,” she recalled.

    Some parents might think that was encouraging. Veronica Ronquillo had another take.

    “I thought it was too easy for her, and she really wasn’t being challenged,” the mother said.

    OK, but what about missing out on the prom or football games, or interacting with other kids? The school hosts occasional get-togethers, and Angie Ronquillo said she has a full social life. Last year she was the editor for both the newspaper and the creative-writing club. She now leads the school Bible club and mentors younger students.

    “Before I started the program, I didn’t really understand online friendships,” she said. “It seems odd to have friends and never see them, but I’ve learned in this program you can have meaningful relationships without ever actually speaking.”

    Ironically, she said, she feels she has more one-on-one time with her teachers. And she’s exposed to a more diverse group of students than she would if she went to her neighborhood school — online classmates hail from as far away as Flagstaff and Yuma.

    But even as their popularity grows, online programs are raising questions among some observers who are looking for greater accountability and are squeamish about sinking tax dollars into for-profit ventures.

    A recent auditor general report shows there is indeed room for improvement on the accountability front.

    Auditors found that in 2006, the state overpaid by about $6.4 million because of funding errors, partly because schools were receiving full payment even when students split their time with conventional bricks-and-mortar classes. Auditors also found the schools as a whole were inconsistent in reporting expenditures, making it difficult to compare costs and evaluate cost-effectiveness.

    And, they noted, the effect on student achievement was similarly inconclusive, with a sample of high school students getting 48 percent fewer instruction hours than what is required.

    David Safier, a Tucson blogger and a retired teacher, is critical of K12, which reported on its latest quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has more than 42,000 students in 17 states. The latest prospectus showed more than 10 percent of revenues — reported at $141 million in fiscal year 2007 — came from the Arizona operations.

    Safier broke the news on his blog that K12 had outsourced grading to India, a practice the provider has discontinued.

    The story came to light after some parents noticed mixed-up pronouns on graded papers. Safier accuses the company of breaching the trust of parents and students. He said he isn’t convinced that the Indian workers, who weren’t subject to fingerprinting, didn’t have access to student data, although a K12 spokeswoman said the data were scrubbed of identifying details.

    Safier also has concerns about quality, fretting that some online providers, using what he dubs “lesson plans in a can,” are flirting with replacing teachers altogether.

    “There’s this ideal out there that if you can teacher-proof education, you’ve reached nirvana,” he said. “If you aren’t paying the costs of bricks and mortar and attendance clerks and counselors, that reduces a huge cost in running a school. You can’t convince me that the costs are equal.”

    State auditors side with Safier on the cost question. On average, with lower costs for transportation and food and with a smaller special-education population, online charter schools spent $6,140 per pupil, while a conventional-school pupil cost $6,700, according to the report. Arizona Virtual Academy reported per-pupil expenditures of $5,792.

    Mary Gifford, a K12 regional vice president, said the outsourcing began in fall 2006 and was designed to help teachers meet workload demands. Gifford, who said teachers still had the final word on grading, said few teachers actually used the service, but it was available because the school commits to returning graded essays within three days. That’s a really fast pace, she said, especially given that English teachers generally have a class load of about 180 students. Online students need more timely feedback, she said, because teachers can’t walk around a classroom and see who’s getting it and who isn’t.

    This year the company is using two highly qualified Arizona English teachers who work part time reviewing essay drafts. And the school now will standardize communication so parents will be universally informed if someone other than the teacher reviews class work.

    John Wright, the president of the Arizona Education Association, has reservations. While he sees value in online course work, he applauds states such as North Carolina and Kansas for setting up strict controls on how and what the schools teach.

    “Where you get into trouble is that in Arizona, the philosophy on regulation is very libertarian, and it’s more about letting the market meet the need and create innovation. But what you get are for-profit shops setting up that are much more interested in the bottom line,” Wright said.

    But Tucker, 37, who spent seven years teaching at a charter school and is now in his second year as a virtual instructor, said the concerns are unfounded. Teachers always will play pivotal roles, he said, although the instruction definitely looks different. At a session Monday morning, very few students showed up for his online lesson, where he was able to manipulate a triangle to show different angles, sharing what was happening on his screen with the class members. They could hear him, but he couldn’t hear them back, so they typed smiley faces when they got the concept.

    Most of them work through the modules and listen to the class recordings on their own time, so he spends the bulk of his time working one-on-one with students. And because the course work is somewhat scripted, he saves time on lesson plans and can focus more on instruction, he said.

    There are some trade-offs. There’s no more venting with peers in the teachers lounge, and the benefits aren’t comparable to those of the public system. But he can eat a warm cookie that his daughter baked while he’s answering students’ questions. And he doesn’t have to do the part-time acting and the stand-up comedy that it often takes to hold the attention of 35 students for an hour.

    “I don’t think online will ever replace traditional school, but the fact is, you get out of high school what you put into it,” he said. “And that’s true whether you’re working in a virtual environment or not.”

    Source: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/related/255452

    Welsh schools

    WALES,UK “Row over Teenage Learning Changes”

    Plans to make a flexible learning programme for 14-19-year-olds compulsory in all schools in Wales have been criticised by teaching unions.

    Learning Pathways, enabling pupils to take a wider range of courses at different schools and colleges, has so far run on a voluntary basis.

    Now the assembly government wants to make it compulsory for all schools to offer the scheme from next September.

    Unions said not all schools would cope, but ministers said the plan was ready.

    Unions have drawn comparisons with the troubled roll-out of the Foundation Phase, the play-based early learning scheme for three-seven-year-olds, which is being introduced more gradually than originally planned after funding worries.

    Individual needs

    Learning Pathways is the assembly government’s flagship teaching policy for secondary schools, which aims to provide each pupil with a unique education, supporting their individual needs.

    It means pupils can choose to study a far wider range of subjects than is available at their own school or college, mixing both academic and vocational studies.

    Through neighbouring institutions working together, students and teachers can move between different campuses to access different courses.

    Deputy Education Minister John Griffiths has defended the decision to bring in legislation to make Learning Pathways compulsory, saying that £32.5m has been ring-fenced every year for it.

    The timescale is unrealistic and we need to ask if legislation is necessary at this stage

    Iwan Guy, NAHT

    He said local area officers will also be made available to facilitate co-operation and he added that, due to the concerns of unions, there will be a three-phase roll-out, beginning next September.

    But unions fear there has been insufficient research into the scheme and warned not all areas have the infrastructure in place yet to support it.

    Iwan Guy, acting director of the head teachers’ union NAHT Cymru, said the roll-out could “mimic the debacle we saw when the Foundation Phase came in”.

    He said they felt another three-to-five years of research and preparation was needed before legislation was brought in.

    “The timescale is unrealistic and we need to ask if legislation is necessary at this stage,” he said.

    “Learning Pathways has been offered on a voluntary basis by some schools in England and Wales for quite a few years and for many it is working very well.

    “But legislation makes it a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation. And in this case one size doesn’t fit all.

    ‘Building partnerships’

    “What about Welsh education schools? Would pupils be able to go to their neighbouring schools, which are likely to be teaching them in the English language? Their parents send them to Welsh schools to learn in the language of Welsh.

    “And then you have areas like Builth Wells where pupils would spend a lot longer travelling to other schools and colleges – that’s time when they could be being taught.

    “We support more choice but we need to look at what is working well and how we can make it work in all areas.”

    He added that teachers’ hours would also have to be looked at, while administration issues, such as providing adequate transport between schools and colleges, needed to be addressed.

    But Mr Griffiths insisted the scheme was ready to be rolled out.

    “We have been working towards this new system, this new way of doing things – of opening up choice – for an awfully long time,” he said.

    “When I first became an assembly member in 1999 it was on the agenda then and had been progressed for some years.

    “Since then a lot of work has taken place right across Wales at local level in terms of building partnerships and expanding choice, so we have already done some of the work.”

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/wales_politics/7647185.stm

    “Failing Teachers Too Hard to Sack”

    Ofsted’s Christine Gilbert said weak teachers are difficult to sack.

    Weak teachers can put children off learning and are too difficult to sack, the chief inspector of schools has warned.

    Christine Gilbert, the head of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), claimed pupils were being let down by inadequate teachers.

    She said teaching rated as “satisfactory” was not good enough, especially in deprived areas.

    Her comments come ahead of the new academic year as children across the country prepare to return to school.

    In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Gilbert called for schools to be able to fire underperforming staff more easily and criticised a “revolving door syndrome” which lets weak teachers move from school to school.

    “As I go round the country heads tell me how difficult it is to get rid of weak teachers,” she said.

    “They say they start the procedure and they might be 18 months down the line and the teacher will move… we need to be thinking of ways of preventing that. That isn’t Ofsted’s role but I sympathise with head teachers about that.”

    Last Updated sun 31st August, 2008

    Source: http://news.aol.co.uk/failing-teachers-too-hard-to-sack/article/20080831043740716538948

    child internet safety

    “New Internet Watchdog Unleashed”

    Last modified 29 September 2008

    Fresh efforts are being made to ensure the internet does not pose a threat to young people.

    The UK Council for Child Internet Safety has been set up to help police websites.

    It is made up of more than 100 experts from the IT industry, charities and the Government.

    The council will report directly to the Prime Minister and be tasked with tackling issues like online bullying and violent video games.

    Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said: “Today’s launch is a significant achievement and I thank all members of the Council for their support and commitment.

    “We want to help children and young people to make the most of what all digital and interactive technologies can offer.

    “By putting in place the right support for children, young people and parents we can reduce much of the anxiety that exists around the internet.

    “UKCISS will enable everyone from parents to industry, Government, education, and children’s welfare organisations to play their part in keeping children safe online.”

    Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “We are determined to do all we can to ensure that the internet environment is safe for children to use.

    “Earlier this year, the Home Office published the first ever social networking guidance developed with industry, charities and law enforcement.

    “The new UK Council builds on this by bringing together over one hundred organisations all committed to keeping children safe online. By working in partnership we can intensify our efforts to protect young people.”

    Source: http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/new+internet+watchdog+unleashed/2479882

    school exclusions

    “Schools Excluding More Children”

    Schools are excluding more children permanently for bad behaviour because of difficulties in arranging support for them, head teachers say.

    The Association of School and College Leaders says rules to help vulnerable children stay in school are backfiring.

    Pupils on temporary exclusions are the responsibility of head teachers after they have had five days out of school.

    But the ASCL says a few days is not long enough to organise the mental health support such youngsters need.

    We are well aware of the detrimental effects of permanent exclusion

    Brian Lightman
    ASCL president

    The teaching union’s survey of 50 schools found it took 80% of head teachers more than a month to access mental health support for children and teenagers.

    About four out of 10 schools said it took more than three months.

    ASCL president Brian Lightman told his union’s conference in Brighton: “Earnest efforts to address the immense challenge of providing for the education of our most vulnerable young people are being undermined by the difficulty of accessing appropriate support services.

    “This has begun to force schools to resort to permanent exclusions instead of longer fixed-term exclusions which might have enabled them to help these students.

    He said five days was not long enough to organise referrals to mental health services or restorative justice sessions.

    He added: “We are well aware of the detrimental effects of permanent exclusion and are trying hard to implement approaches which avoid the need to exclude.

    “However we feel that the government’s policy is backfiring and the pressure of stretched resources is getting worse as the year progresses.”

    Wander the streets

    Under the rules brought in last September, parents of excluded children are responsible for the first five days and local authorities from day 15.

    But schools are responsible for these pupils for the period in between.

    This was introduced to ensure a child is not left to wander the streets during their exclusion and that their education continues.

    A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said he was not aware of any rise in the number of permanent exclusions.

    “Permanent exclusion should always be a last resort – and in the case of children with special educational needs, who are sometimes the most vulnerable pupils, they should only be excluded in the most exceptional circumstances.”

    He added that the department was, however, aware that schools sometimes had difficulty accessing relevant services.

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7283125.stm

    Italian protests

    “Italian Streets Hit By Protests”

    30th October, 2008

    Tens of thousands of teachers, students and parents have marched through Italian cities in protest at reforms they fear will “destroy” schools.

    Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s multi-billion-euro education cuts were voted into law on Wednesday.

    It has been reported that up to 130,000 teachers’ jobs could be cut.

    Organisers claimed that up to one million people marched in the capital, and that nine out of 10 schools across the country were closed.

    There was no official confirmation of that estimate.

    “I have worked for 25 years but I am here today to defend my younger colleges. I think the others have the right to dream a future,” Rossella Angelini, a teacher who had travelled to join the protest in Rome, told the Reuters news agency.

    Marches also took place in Milan, Turin, Venice, Naples and other cities. In some places, the protests have been going on, on a smaller scale, for weeks.

    Mr Berlusconi has reacted to the protests by saying: “I regret that young people have been manipulated by the left.”

    Referendum attempt

    The plans include changes to primary school education, including a return to one all-purpose class teacher, who will remain with the same class for five years.

    They will also reinstate a 10-point system for grading pupils’ conduct, aimed at curbing bullying.

    Riot police on guard during student demonstrations, Rome, 30/10/08

    Riot police were on guard after scuffles had broken out on Wednesday

    Universities also face budget cuts.

    Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the measures “will bring seriousness and merit back to schools”.

    But Domenico Pantaleo of the General Confederation of Labour union said: “These are not reforms, these are just budgetary cuts. The government is destroying public schools and replacing them with a private system.”

    The opposition is trying to raise enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum on the reforms.

    After the government decree became law on Wednesday, with 162 senators voting in favour and 134 against, some scuffles broke out in Rome.

    At the Piazza Navona, a popular tourist spot, several people were lightly injured in a clash between left- and right-wing students.

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7700434.stm

    Italy, computers

    “Italy pupils ditch books for PCs”:


    Pupils at a school in Italy are replacing all their text books with computers for a year – in what is being described as a unique experiment.

    More than 60 children – aged between eight and 10 – at Turin’s Don Milani school will be using mini laptops with the full curriculum.

    Their access to the internet will be controlled by special software.

    The experiment, which is backed by parents, aims to test how a computer alone can improve the learning process.

    Cheaper alternative

    Until Wednesday, the Don Milani di Rivoli elementary school was like any other in Italy.

    Children turned up, got out their books and pens and began the process of learning.

    But now, 60 fifth grade pupils and a number of third graders will start using computers only.

    The mini laptops, which run Windows software, weigh less than a kilogram, can be dropped from a height of one-and-a-half metres and are waterproof.

    Instead of spending the equivalent of $700 (£400) a year on books, the laptops, built by the Italian company Olidata, cost less than $400 (£228).

    “Disabled pupils ‘need safe areas”:

    British School, Birmingham

    Pupils with learning disabilities would like safe areas in school to counter their vulnerability between lessons and at break times, a report has said.

    Often problems could be avoided if the young people were consulted – boosting their skills and self-confidence.

    The report – What about us? – comes from Cambridge University’s education faculty and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

    Researchers worked with nine different institutions around the UK.

    They found that involving young people in such a study could enhance their social and emotional well-being and status among other students, and develop the sort of skills they needed to lead productive adult lives.


    Official policy is to encourage the teaching of children with special educational needs alongside their peers in mainstream schools.

    “The overall message from students was that the inclusion policy is a good one, but that it needs to be translated and put into practice more effectively,” said Cambridge University lecturer in special and inclusive education, Richard Byers.

    “Schools are very busy places and are naturally concerned about challenging and developing all their students.

    “In most of the successful schools and colleges we worked with, however, it was clear that it was entirely possible to drive towards excellence and include young people with learning difficulties at the same time.”

    These young people wanted the chance to influence the day-to-day running of their places of learning through bodies such as student councils.

    But it was “noticeable” that they were not included and sometimes did not even know their school had such a council.


    Consulting them meant simple issues were easily resolved. The report mentions a wheelchair ramp that was too steep and sinks in an art room that were too high.

    It said a lot of the young people involved in the study felt that the extra curricular parts of the day could be particularly stressful and wanted “safe places” to go to.

    “They felt that if they could go into a library, a social area or somewhere that was actively staffed and developed for them, things would be better.”

    In the lessons, consistency and continuity were “vital”.

    “In one college, most staff working with students with learning difficulties were part-time, paid by the hour, and did not know where they would be teaching from one year to the next.

    “This had a negative impact on student experiences.”

    Jill Davies of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities said the students provided a very effective check on policy implementation and quality.

    “Involving them in this way is good for schools, colleges and policy-makers – as well as being good for the young people themselves.”

    newspaper articles

    “Election Issues: Education”:


    “Report card on boys troubling”:


    “Teaching kids about money”:


    “Primary schools need more cash”:


    “History should be like a detective hunt, says author Carol Baxter”:


    “Gifted poor pupils ‘need advice”:


    “Talent pool for university access”:


    “Many violent pupils not expelled”:


    “Advice to help employment chances”:


    Sex Ed “Nine-month review bears fruit”:


    “Relationship lessons from age 5”:


    “Sex education should begin at 4”:


    “The truth about sex education”:


    yellow pages

    Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities

    Long-time disability advocates Pete and Pam Wright have launched a new information referral service on their website. It’s called Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities. Bookmark it today – it’s a universe of information at your fingertips. It includes listings for psychologists, educational consultants, therapists, tutors, coaches, health care providers, advocates, attorneys, support groups – and more – for every state in the US. Find useful state agencies, too, like your Parent Training & Information Centers.

    Valuable articles help you become a more effective advocate, build your team, learn about the law, and find advocacy training.

    Listings are free for professionals and providers.


    resources - pastel chalk

    “SEN Teacher” – free special needs teaching resources


    “SEN Worksheets”


    “Schofield and Sims” – Buy educational workbooks, dictionaries, posters, reading books, homework books, school books, textbooks and more for teachers, parents or retailers for schools, home education or trade online at Schofield and Sims – helping children to learn.


    “CGP Books” – The UK’s most popular educational books

    CGP will garnt you 10% discount off total cost on orders of £20 – £40 and 20% off orders over £40. Delivery is free on orders over £20. Upon entering the site through the schools section and stating that you are a Home Educator in the box for additional information, you will be granted the much cheaper school prices.


    “Lett’s Educational” – Accessible revision guides at every level.


    Free Handwriting Practice Sheets

    Postively Autism, described on their website as “ … celebrating the sunny side of the spectrum”, offers an assortment of free resources, including discrete trial training data sheets, fine motor and pre-writing activities, visual structured learning activities, and one of their latest additions, handwriting practice sheets. These come in an assortment of line sizes and can be easily downloaded. Simply click on free resources.


    artist's window

    Sites for Teachers – Literally hundreds of educational websites rated by popularity.


    The Ever Popular “Do2Learn” – Educational Resources for Special Needs


    My Free Calendar Maker – Print your own free calendar


    Vertex 42 – Free Printable Blank Calendar


    Plain calendar Grid Printable Calendar



    Mathematics Enrichment – maths problems, games and articles


    “Project Happy Child” – Linking Children All Across the World

    Contains a multitude of free printable resources up to GCSE level


    “A to Z Teacher Stuff” – free online lesson plans, lesson plan ideas and activities, thematic units, printables, themes, teaching tips, articles, and educational resources.


    “Kids Like me” – Leading Educational Online Store, Specialising in Multicultural and Inclusive Learning Resources for EYFS, KS1 and KS2”


    a little 'light' reading

    Books for free

    A relatively new website has appeared which offers over 20, 000 titles to download for free. This not only includes a number of classics, but also some more recent titles as well as foreign language books.

    What makes this particularly interesting is that unlike many similar sites it offers many of the books in over 25 formats: not just for PCs and Macs, but for other mobile storage and playback devices, with some books available even in audio formats. While there are a number of other webistes offering similar services, this one appears to be the most versatile so far and is clearly a ground breaker for the future.

    When e-books finally come into their own, in perhaps the next 5 or 10 years, sites like these will become extremely important hubs from which one can access vast amounts of data in convenient formats for free. In the mean time they are still important and useful sources of classic works of literature from around the world.


    magnets and iron filings

    Tips from the Home Front

    AA Digest


    One of the most challenging aspects of homeschooling a child with ASD is momentum: how to get kids focused and KEEP their learning moving at a steady pace. We’ve discovered a few tricks within our little homeschooling crew that might work for you too. Come to think of it, even regular education teachers might find these handy …

    • A familiar start to the “school day”. For us, that means prayer, pledges, and lots of singing – the same songs every day, with a new one added each week or month. There is an abundance of body movement, as well, which helps rid us of the “wiggles” and prepare our minds to be “alert”.

    • A clear schedule for the day, where desirable activities are interwoven among the more “undesirable” ones. This is priceless, especially when your ASD child drops his head in a clear expression of “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Being able to concretely point out, “This, THEN that” is a surprisingly effective motivator when used consistently.

    • Jump tracks for a while when their attention wanes. Grab a white board and find a way to make the lesson more visual, or incorporate music and movement.

    • Hidden surprises (a.k.a. The “bribe”). My kids know that from time to time I have tiny candies (organic and chemical free, of course!) hidden in my pocket. They never know when it will happen, but as I catch one of them doing exactly as I want, out comes a surprise. You can bet the other two kids take notice and straighten up!

    • Allow for “do-overs”. When things start falling apart, STOP – review the expectations, try to laugh a bit, and declare a “do-over.” Then PRAISE LIKE CRAZY the tiniest of successes as they try to get back on track.

    If some aspect of homeschooling is a constant challenge, keep looking for better solutions. That jackpot might be just another token away!

    ~Michelle McConnell, homeschooling mom of three kids

    Balance beam

    Homeschooling NewsBites

    AA Digest

    Tips from the Home Front:

    Outside-Inside Learning

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my son Luke, it’s that his thinking is all about associations. If he can connect information to a visual picture, music, or best of all – an experience he’s had – it’s there forever and fairly easy to recall. But if there’s no association … there’s no learning. You might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher: “wah wah wah wah …WAH wah”.

    The warm sunshine of spring provides the perfect opportunity to leave the desk behind, get outside, and BUILD those associations – the framework for learning! Experiences, sights and smells, literally getting their hands dirty, all create that foundation of “concrete knowledge” so crucial for our kids.

    One of Luke’s science lessons was about decay, and because of our outdoor adventures he already had a “file” in his brain to which he could relate. There are plenty of rotten logs in the patch of woods behind our home. Luke’s picked at them, kicked them – it’s one of his favourite things to do. So while he may not have the language to explain decay perfectly yet, he does have prior knowledge in his mind that a tree, over time, can turn into something not at all like wood! He’s EXPERIENCED it.

    Don’t think of outdoor breaks as wasted time or simply a chance to burn off some energy. Think of them as an integral part of your homeschool day! And enjoy!

    ~Michelle McConnell, homeschooling mom of three kids

    budding pianist

    Subscriptions to Home Education – The Journal of Home Education in the UK & Beyond

    The Journal is published 3 times a year. We intend the journal to become the highest quality source of news and information available on the subject. A publication that can be kept and referred back to for years to come. It is possible to subscribe either by post or online at:


    Cost – including postage:

    UK £11.99 for 3 issues

    £4.50 for 1 issue

    The rest of the world £14.99 for 3 issues

    £6.00 each

    autumn walk

    Support Listings

    For a comprehensive listing of online support see:


    Home Education UK
    England and Wales support and legal info mailing lists


    England, Wales & N. Ireland



    Education Otherwise
    Support charity covering all of the UK

    PO Box 325, Kings Lynn, PE343XW
    ph. 0845 478 6345

    Support charity for Scotland
    Schoolhouse association,
    PO Box 18044 Glenrothes, Fife, KY 9AD
    ph 01307 463120 (24/7 support line)

    Learning Unlimited
    A support network for continental Europe

    Free Range Education

    Choice in Education
    Alternative education newsletter

    PO Box 20284, London, NW1 3AA
    ph. 0208 969 8935

    Islamic Home Schooling Advisory Network
    PO Box 30671, London, E1 OTG

    Personalised Education Now
    Promotes learner-managed learning

    113 Arundel Drive, Bramcote,
    Nottingham, NG9 3FQ
    ph/Fax: 0115 925 7261

    BLOGS with content relevant to home educators:



    Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA)

    Enquire (SEN Helpline)

    Disability Rights Commission
    Promoting the rights of disabled persons

    Disability Law Service
    ph. 020 77919800

    Family Law Association
    help finding lawyers
    0207 797 7837

    Arch Ed
    Action on the Rights of the child

    Bullying Online



    Kids Health Foundation


    The Brook Charity (sexual health advice)


    ph. 0800 0185 023 (9-5)

    ph. 020 7950 7700 (24hr)

    Drugscope Info & help on drug abuse


    32-36 Loman Street

    London SE1 0EE

    ph. 0207928 1211


    ph 0800 1111

    ph 0808 800 2222

    marbles macro

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