December 19th 2012
We’ve been thinking about the girls’ education a lot lately. About the practicalities, how and what we would like them to learn, but mostly the legalities of home education. I’ve always been sure of our rights at parents to educate our children as we see fit, but Julian was less sure of the legalities. So recently I investigated the laws and guidelines pertaining to home education in Devon, where we currently live. And I was surprised by some of what I discovered.
Despite the fact that children seem to attend school at a younger and younger age in this country, and there is societal pressure on parents to send children to nursery school from the age of three or less, and to primary school in the year they turn five, the legal requirement is that children are educated from the January after they turn five. So, for Lily, that won’t be until January 2015, three months before her sixth birthday. This is much more closely aligned with education in many European countries, in theory if not in practice.
In the UK, children over the age of three are entitled to 15 hours free nursery school per week. So a few weeks ago, we started to send Lily to the nursery over the road. She currently attends for nine hours per week, 9-12 Tuesday to Thursday. We thought she’d enjoy the company of other children and the variety and stimulus provided by this sort of environment. She loves it. But almost from the start, the nursery school manager has been pushing the urgency of getting her enrolled in the local primary school for September 2013. It’s nobody’s business but our own that (a) we don’t expect to still be living in the area in September and (b) we don’t intend to send Lily to any primary school, so we’ve been dodging the question. I suppose it was this that spurred us on to check our rights as home educators. How many other parents are aware that their children’s formal education doesn’t have to begin until the January after they are five, rather than the September after they turn four?
Another interesting thing we found out is that home educators are entitled to the provision of flexible education. So you can send your child to school for as many or as few hours per week as you wish. So long as your child is being educated (and the form or content of that education is entirely up to you) on those days when he/she is not in school. I’m not convinced of the practicalities of dipping in and out of school when children are young, but I can certainly see it’s benefits during teenage years, when children might wish to study a language, or a science, or participate in a team sport – things that are more difficult (but not impossible) when you don’t have access to institutional language and science labs, or the organised sports structure.
What I always knew, but what Julian has only recently realised is that, in the UK, we are entitled to educate our children as we see fit. We don’t have to stick to a curriculum, a time-table, an exam schedule. None of that. We are free to equip our children as we see fit with the tools and skills to love learning, to learn what they want, to explore what fascinates them, and to learn new things together, as a family.
And that’s both an exciting and a daunting prospect!