First things first – I was a teacher and then a Head teacher for over 10 years. I loved what I was doing, felt passionately about making a difference for all children, but towards the end felt that I just couldn’t do enough. There wasn’t enough time in the day to make sure that every child had a chance to fulfil their potential. I wondered if this was just because I was burnt out. Education tends to be quite circular and things I’d been dealing with in my first year went out of fashion and had come back in by the time I was in my 10th year.
Then my children came home, and my daughter went to school. It was at this point that I realised it wasn’t that I was disenchanted, it was the realisation that the school system really doesn’t work for some children. It works pretty well for those children in the middle and the top of the class, and it can work really well for those children with severe needs who go to special schools where the staff are trained and understand the needs of the children. It’s the children who don’t have needs which are severe enough for special schools that struggle. My daughter is one of those!
She has been in school for 2 years, and in all that time she has learnt very little. When she came home she was at the beginning in Year 1. She didn’t know any of her sounds, couldn’t read any words except her name, couldn’t form letters consistently, couldn’t count consistently beyond 10, didn’t know any names of shapes and couldn’t form a complete sentence. Her previous school had pegged her as having Special Educational Needs and I could absolutely see why!
So she began Year 1 as well below her peers. I decided that, without wanting to exhaust her, we would concentrate on reading and speaking at home. I had a good relationship with the teacher so assumed she would get the help she needed. So we worked hard and by the end of the year she was able to recognise most of her sounds, managed to pass the phonics test (to the surprise of her teacher) and could form sentences that at least made sense. But something just wasn’t making sense in my head. My daughter would regularly cry if I asked her to do something and would say ‘why aren’t you helping me?’. She wasn’t picking up any maths skills, and couldn’t remember anything she had learnt at all! I felt school was stressing her out, so made the decision to homeschool.
We have now been homeschooling for 8 weeks. I made the decision initially as I didn’t want my little 6 year old to always feel like she was at the bottom of the class. I thought that her needs were too great for her to be in school, and I wanted to try to make some amends for her sad start in life and help her to find enjoyment in learning. We discussed that really we could only afford to do it for a year before I had to go back to work, so I wanted to at least give her some chance at learning the basic skills – so that’s where we started.
This was when the revelation happened. It turns out that my daughter doesn’t really have any special needs. She’s actually got a lot of smarts! She did start her Reception year behind the other children, but quickly learnt that if she said she couldn’t do it, then a teacher would do it for her! She managed to coast through Reception doing this, and no one questioned it. She became classed as having ‘SEN’ and this filtered into her new school. Once again she started the school behind her peers, and the teacher just assumed that was where she was. Don’t get me wrong, they did put interventions into place but they were sporadic and not run by a qualified teacher, so didn’t actually make a huge deal of difference. She once again coasted through the year, getting the TA to do all her work for her and switching off when the teaching part of the lesson happened. It just didn’t work for her.
Since being home with me for 8 weeks, and working properly at home for 2, she has read 10 new stories, is beginning to read chapter books, can count to 40, can read some quite complicated words (recently ‘helicopter’ and ‘crocodile’) knows her 2D shapes and can use mathematical vocabulary. She also knows more incidental things that she didn’t learn before she came to us such as what a fridge does, how to load a dishwasher, how to make banana muffins and how to read measuring scales.
I am loving our homeschool journey. We are doing it for very different reasons to some other homeschoolers as we intend for Little Miss to return to full time education for Year 3, but I am enjoying the opportunity to fill in the gaps for her, to help her learn to engage with the world and to give her confidence in her own ability. The biggest thing that has cemented in my mind is that the education system just doesn’t work for some children. If I had left her in full time education I know that she would have slipped further and further behind, spending more time ‘velcroed’ to an adult in the class and never learning for herself. I have the chance to give her a better start than she’s had, and I’m determined to make the most of it!
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