Alex* joined school in reception but after two years was taken out to be home educated. The negative effects and memories have stayed with him a long time. Alex’s education is now self-directed, and he learns through activities and topics he is interested in.
*(Alex’s name has been changed).
Alex’s mother Julie on why they decided to educate him at home
“We ended up removing him at the end of Year 1 as he changed from a very bright inquisitive lad to a permanently exhausted zombie-like child. He really shut down and lost interest in everything. It was years before he started telling us anything about school. Six years on he still has PTSD type symptoms from his time at school.
Having tried other more school-like approaches, we now ‘Unschool’. Since moving away from structured school-like methods at home, my son has been learning naturally through his interests and is once again enjoying his childhood. His love of the natural world has been rekindled and he collects things for his ‘museum’ whenever he can. This year he grew mushrooms, built and studied a nature pond in the garden and watched caterpillars cocoon and emerge as butterflies. He’s been enjoying swimming and camping with friends, has studied science fiction films, made comedy films, drawn comic strips and illustrated stories. He loves talking politics with his dad – and there’s plenty to talk about this year! He immerses himself in building worlds in computer games and is looking forward to making his own games. He enjoys spending time with his brother and friends of all ages both online and out and about.
It is of great concern to us that the proposed legislation changes may force us into structured, school like learning again which will most certainly hinder his progress again.
12-year-old Alex shares his memories of school, his struggles with the expectations placed on him, and shares his thoughts on his current education
What do you remember about school?
What happened in my day was; get up in the morning kind of happy, play a little bit and then go to school be bored and kept in from playtime and interaction with my friends for seven hours. Then when I came home I would be too tired to do anything I wanted to do so I would just flop on the couch and turn on the tv and then have to do homework.
I used to love learning and then after I started school it got squeezed out of me because they weren’t giving me the option to learn about things I was interested like science, nature and dinosaurs. Instead they forced me to learn maths which I HATE now, and writing.
I loved fossils and things you would find in a museum, I made a little museum at home. I wanted to bring it to show and tell but I knew people would laugh at it so it made me not show my collection.
I loved drawing animals, dinosaurs and other things and at school they gave me a book I could draw in. They only let me use it very occasionally and they only let me take home two pieces – because I wanted to take home more of my drawings I stopped drawing at school.
After a school trip they told us to draw something we had seen but I was thinking about something else at the time. My brain only received the instructions ‘draw’ so I drew some creatures that used to live in the ice age. I showed the teacher and they said that I hadn’t been listening. I didn’t know what to do with the picture. I cried and scrunched up my drawing and threw it in the bin.
At school once they had just made me learn a little bit of hand writing and then two days later they tried to make me learn joined up writing which they had told me nothing about and I had no idea what it even was.
When I did badly in a test I got kept in from the playground which was the only time I got to talk to my friends and get exercise. In lessons I had to sit in a room with my friends but I wasn’t able to talk to them.
When I was being tested on maths or writing or grammar or a subject like that, I didn’t want to try hard because then people would expect more from me in tests and then I would be shamed more than if I didn’t try hard. So I didn’t try hard and failed on purpose a lot. The only reward I got once was a medal that you got to borrow and then it was given to someone else the next day so basically they said ‘here’s a reward for doing well now give it back’.
Sometimes in the school lunch area they would ask if I wanted gravy and I would instinctively put my hand up without thinking and then I would say sorry I didn’t mean to put my hand up, can I not have gravy and then they would say that I put my hand up so I had to have it and dump it ALL over my plate and then I didn’t want to eat any of my food and I’d be doing maths hungry.
In my class there was a person who would sharpen his pencil as much as he could and stab me in the butt. I would try to get away and he would chase me around the table with the pencil, I would cry sometimes and no matter how much I told the teacher he was stabbing me with the pencil they would just say “sit down”.
Once I was playing in the playground and I realised no one was around, they must have gone in after break and I didn’t realise. I ran into the class room and I got told off for the mistake of them not realising I wasn’t in the class room.
When I was at home I never talked about school so no one knew how bad it was. My mum asked my teachers if I was ok a couple times and they said I was fine.
How did you feel when you were told you could learn at home if you preferred?
I was just talking about how stupid it was that I was being moved to Year 2 which was much harder than Year 1 – it didn’t just go up in little steps or a slope it just went up like a wall that you couldn’t jump over – when I was asked if I would like to not go to school. I thought [my parents] were joking, when they told me they weren’t I said yes immediately and felt VERY happy.
How is learning at home better for you?
I don’t get forced into doing maths or told to do something I have that I have never even heard of. I won’t get punished for mistakes and don’t have to sit in a hot class room all day working on a sheet of paper that I know I will fail at and get kept in from the only time I get exercise. I choose what I want to learn so I can follow my interests and I don’t learn by being told to focus on a subject, I learn by doing.
How would you feel if we had to follow the same curriculum at the same pace as schools?
Terrible! I really don’t want to be forced to do maths or English or reading again in the school way or any way. I much prefer to just to learn it naturally.
I use maths every day, for example, when I’m working out how many crops I’ll need for my plot or how long I’ll have to wait if I would like to buy something or working out how long a journey takes. I learn maths the same way I learned to write and read – by doing it when I need it.
Do you miss anything about school?