Arwen is one of a large number of ex-teachers who decided to home educate their child. She taught for 18 years and found seeing what was happening to the school system very difficult. Even more difficult was seeing the way her daughter was treated in school, and what it did to her. Her daughter is now ten and they have home educated for four and a half years. They follow a mostly self-directed learning style of home education
“Schools are failing their pupils and their staff. The system is increasingly run by business managers, not actual teachers, who bully staff who end up bullying children in order to keep their jobs. Academies are not accountable to anyone except the head of the academy chain. Children are not treated as people but as colour-coded data. I saw GCSE pupils on anti-depressants, self-harming, smoking dope, because they have to sit 11 exams all at once.
My school was an enforced academy in special measures. I was the NUT rep and as such I was party to the many cases where staff were subjected to unreasonable demands from the Senior Leadership Team. All those staff members had been bullied or managed out by the time I left, with several on long term sick leave for depression. They have all been replaced by young, cheap, and eager to please NQTs. One senior teacher who had publicly disagreed with the head was escorted from the site in the middle of teaching a lesson, for maximum humiliation. When I left I was not replaced, and Drama was no longer taught at all. Drama, Music and Art time had already been halved, and many lessons were being taught by non-subject specialists. I was paid for a three-day-week but working 50 hours a week to stay on top of the workload.
I was anticipating there might be problems for my daughter when she started school, she’d always suffered from separation anxiety and had what her Early Years qualified child-minder and the Ed Psych called a ‘spiky profile’. She could read with the reading age of an average eight-year-old and could write sentences by the time she started school. The first day was traumatic for K and it never got any better. She didn’t know how to exist in an environment full of noise, nuances and random rules. She was in trouble for reasons she didn’t understand. Other children took her things and the staff didn’t think it was a problem. She was given awful one-sentence per page phonetics books, when she was reading Roald Dahl at home.
I was in the headteacher’s office pretty much weekly about something or other, and I just found the whole school system ridiculous. They were teaching stuff she could already do, so she was bored, and worse still was being taught things that were inaccurate. There was no individuality. The rules made no sense. Very young children were expected to go from breakfast to lunch with only one piece of fruit allowed for a snack at playtime, and lunchtime was 20 minutes long, which isn’t enough time to eat. She came home emotionally exhausted and starving, with her lunch bag still full. She sobbed herself to sleep every night and begged us not to send her back.
I do not want my daughter in a system which – for all there are excellent and sensitive teachers within it – ultimately teaches by rote, spoon-feeds the ‘right’ answers, and punishes those who don’t work in that way. I don’t want her to have her creativity and inquisitiveness stunted or told that what she’s doing is wrong just because it doesn’t fit with the new government directives this week. I don’t want her in a system that hasn’t moved on since 1950.
And even more than that, I really don’t want her in a place where the headteacher thinks it’s Ok for a kid to be dumped at school in their pyjamas because they’re so frightened of school they won’t get dressed. True story. I don’t want her to be somewhere where the playground staff can see her walking round and round sobbing, alone, like a caged animal, and don’t intervene. I saw this happen to her as I passed after one of my many headteacher meetings. I don’t want to be pacified with ‘She’s fine as soon as you leave,’ when it’s obvious that all she’s learning is to internalise her fear, where it’s considered normal for kids to come home and have a meltdown because they’re so stressed.
I arrived at my work one day in February and discovered OFSTED were in that day, and then Lee called me to tell me K was not at school because she had thrown herself downstairs so she didn’t have to go. I turned around and went home. The next day we deregistered her and juggled the childcare between my PT timetable, Lee’s shifts, and a favour from his parents once a week. We were planning to start up a business and move to the Lake District, which after 18 months, eventually happened, and neither K nor I have been back to school.
K learned to swim in a lake. She can identify a myriad of trees, bugs, birds, and native wildlife and has memorised the biographical details of 200 significant women. She has written a 6,000 word novel. She makes stop-motion films, and she can converse with anyone of any age. She knows that the answer to most questions starts with ‘It depends…’
She wouldn’t have been able to do any of these things if she’d been constrained by the current school system.”