24-year-old Jaz graduated with a first-class degree in Fashion Visual Merchandising and Branding from London College of Fashion. She is dyslexic, although because of the personalised nature of the education she had at home this was not discovered until university, when for the first time ever it became a problem. She was flexi-schooled at a private Montessori school until aged nine when, at her request, she was home educated full time. She now plans to study for a Psychology GCSE and learn Italian, and hopefully start a family with her husband.
“On my days off with mum we’d have wonderful days together, we went on trips to all sorts of places. We studied the Tudors for months, maybe even years, as I just couldn’t get enough. I have particularly fond memories of days at Sulgrave Manor, The Globe, all the Shakespeare things in Stratford upon Avon. We often adventured alone but there was a lovely community around us too, we’d spend Thursdays at a home-ed group my mum started.
I spent a lot of time outside, I remember many times sat in muddy puddles in the garden making mud pies – at an age when I’d have probably been deemed ‘too old’ by many. I loved playing dollies and mothering my little siblings. I had a wild imagination for make-believe games. And all this was okay, and perfectly acceptable. A stark contrast to my niece, she’ll start secondary school this autumn and is currently getting rid of all her dolls and teddies for the sole purpose that she’s worried she’ll be bullied for still having them at 11.
One day, when I was nine, we’d spent one of my home days with some friends from school that were now home educated full time. As we drove away that evening I asked my mum if we could be like Marcel and Nikoli – home schooled all the time, she said that she’d talk to daddy about school. Mum wasn’t working at the time, my little brother, Zak, was 3 so logistically I could be out of school. That evening my dad was building his kit car in the garage and my mum went up to chat to him. My understanding is that my dad pointed out that my education would be mainly my mum’s responsibility as my dad works full time so if she felt she could take that on then he’d support us. So, that evening chat in the garage after an optimistic question from a nine-year-old changed all our lives, my three brothers included, forever.”
Choosing to get qualifications
“Over the next seven years we worked on lots of different things, including my GCSEs. I never thought of it as an option not to take them. I wanted to be a paramedic and knew that to get on the training course I would have to take them. Around the age of 13 I felt it was silly to ‘just learn’ things and I wanted my learning to be directed towards the qualifications. Together, mum and I felt that 10 exams in one sitting would be too much for me, and there was no reason for us to do it that way. I started to study for two subjects to take the following year (2008). The first two I chose were Human Physiology & Health and Business Studies. I studied these at home with distance learning courses.
Next, I wanted to achieve more sciences and I’d always had a love for art and drama so these were on my hit list too. Drama had to be done in a group so mum put a call out to other home educators, hired a hall and a tutor and we got started. The same was done for art. Mum is a science person and as she was going to be teaching me biology and chemistry it made sense for others to join us, so we actually studied at my old school! This might have been one of the best years of my life. We had a great time, I formed friendships which got me through the challenges of exams. We did all sorts of crazy drama games and wacky science experiments. We sat backwards on our chairs, shared multicoloured pens to take notes. We lay across the floor in the classes, listening to the information. We did it our way. That summer I took the drama, biology and chemistry exams. Starting in November I took my art exam and English language. Summer after was math, physics and English literature. I’d saved my least favourites until last. I wanted the experience of taking exams and some positive experiences behind me to motivate me through these. I chose to take the foundation papers of maths and physics so that I didn’t have to wrap my head around some of the more complicated subjects. My dad would have liked to have seen me take the higher papers, but I said anything that needed more than a C in either subject wasn’t for me. Having less to learn meant it took the pressure off. Yes, I was capable of taking the higher papers but I didn’t have to; and I really appreciate my parents giving me that freedom to make my own decision.“
Dreams of dancing
“My main interest was dancing, and I did that a lot. By my teens I was in classes most evenings of the week. I was so lucky that my parents supported me in this and enabled me to pursue my passion. This lead to my studies at college.
Whilst taking my GCSEs I decided I wanted to follow my dreams of performing on stage, a slight change from paramedic! I applied for the local Further Education college and got offered a place on the spot, at my audition, for their Performing Arts course – level 3 diploma. I started in September 2010, aged 16. I enjoyed my time there, doing what I loved every day of the week. Sadly, an injury aged 18 made it impossible for me to follow dance as my career path but college was still very much worth it. If nothing else I met my husband, Luke, and one of my closest friends, Anna, there. The structure was very different to anything any of us had done before, so we were all on an even playing field. I left the course with the highest grade – triple distinction star, D*D*D* – and with the award ‘Student of the Year’.
I took two years out after college, initially recovering from my injury and then deciding which path to take now that performing wouldn’t be an option. I worked at a wonderful children’s bookshop ‘Barefoot Books’. I loved my time there, I worked with some gorgeous people. I was with them from the age of 18-21. Initially a couple of days a week and then building up to full time, I worked a day in the publishing office helping anyone that needed an extra pair of hands and four days on the shop floor. I was unofficially number two to the manager, given all the tasks that she needed doing. I was involved in making decisions for the shop, staff training, we discussed plans for upcoming events, she ran things by me as a sounding board. Just before I left Izzie (my manager) went away for three weeks, at 20 years old I was given the responsibility of running the shop, important events and the team.”
A first-class degree from London College of Fashion
“I decided to go to university and study Visual Merchandising. I’d been doing the shop displays at Barefoot and felt it was an interesting job which involved judgement and creativity. The course I chose was ‘Fashion Visual Merchandising and Branding’ at London College of Fashion. I submitted an online portfolio and attended an interview. During my interview it came up that I was home-educated. I wonder if this caused some concern for my tutors. I was one of the last students to gain a place. People tend to fear the unknown and I think I’m safe to say that they hadn’t had a home-educated student before. However, in my time there they came to see what I was about. I was nominated by the course leader as student of the year in my first year. I was often praised for my hard work and dedication. I was one of the only students with a 100% attendance rate. In fact, my course leader once sent me home as I was too sick to be in class. My dissertation supervisor told me to stop working so hard in the last term, everyone else he was trying to get more out of and for me he said to ease off, enjoy the Easter break. That was a strange conversation.
I didn’t find university easy. I attribute this now to the fact that whilst they would say “we’re not going to tell you what to do, you have to learn for yourself. We’ll guide and direct you but you’re grown-ups now” they would in fact, at times spoon feed us. I’d never had this. It made me question my ability to make my own decisions, I found myself looking for reassurance on things that, really, I knew. I felt reserved in getting on with my work as I was waiting to be told exactly how to do it. I became fixated on grades and success, getting things right and being perfect. I’m not afraid to admit I suffered terribly with anxiety and depression during university. I struggled with the structure of set, formal lessons where information was dryly offered in text on a PowerPoint and delivered by the teacher speaking. It was a far cry from my days of learning science by making a digestive tract across a whole class room with each student taking a role – some crushing the food as the teeth, others adding saliva, then the bolus of food being contracted down the oesophagus etc. This is the point at which, in second year, we learnt I was dyslexic.
I did well in all my GCSEs (A* in English Language, B in Literature), nothing was highlighted at college, I’d functioned for years in a full-time work environment where one of my tasks was reading twice a day to children. However, from my testing it became clear that my levels of reading, writing, memory and spelling were average, bang on the middle line. But my IQ test results of reasoning, comprehension, understanding and spatial awareness were between 97-99%. It was this disparity which lead to my diagnosis. I was capable of more than average.
In my first assessment session the tutor asked me how I didn’t know I struggled until now. I explained my education to him. I explained that it was created to suit my style, my preferences. There were no deadlines that my reading/writing abilities had to match what I was capable of. I took my GCSEs a couple at a time so there wasn’t an issue of remembering everything. I’d gone into a creative subject at college. During my whole life I’d avoided being ‘disabled’ by creating a life that aligned both halves of my abilities. He said some very wonderful things about me, my mum and my education. I believe you have seen this email. I did get help throughout university, my tutors were endlessly supportive and I had extra support from specialist mentors. Again, I found ways to adapt my environment to a learning style that I could get the most from.”
Family and community
“My family have always been and always will be a big part of my life. My parents bought a house with my grandparents when I was three, so all I’ve ever known is an extended family. I have three brothers, we’re all quite spread apart; Zak is 6 years younger than me, Blaize is 10.5 years younger and Ozzy was born a couple of weeks before I was 16. The first question most people ask is if we have the same parents! We do. Our mum and dad are still together and give me inspiration every day for my own marriage. I had a lovely childhood, I’ve felt so lucky. I don’t actually feel like my childhood has ended though! I still go on all the family holidays, we did Disneyworld in Florida a couple of years ago. I go on all the fun days out that I can make too. Whenever I’m home I’m one of the children and I get taken care of!
The boys and I are perfectly normal siblings, we’ve had ups and downs along our paths. Times we’ve agreed and times we haven’t. We haven’t always seen eye to eye but we’re best friends too. Zak has been my closest sibling growing up, we’d play with plastic dinosaurs for hours and get dressed up to play make believe or re-enact what we’d learnt about history. We spent forever playing cave men; drawing pictures with chalk on the garden walls, eating meat and berries, wearing fake fur outfits we’d made! We played Tudors too, of course, and Medieval times where we divided the garden up and rotated our imaginary animals with our imaginary crops. We got the plague and all sorts! By the time Blaize and Ozzy were old enough to play I was growing up and I wasn’t so involved, but now we’re all a bit older we have great fun together. We often spend the evening playing board games, I never laugh so much than when I’m in their company.
We have wonderful parents. I know everyone thinks they have the best parents in the world, but we actually do! They are wildly supportive, protective, caring and loving. They will both do anything for any of us, day or night. They take on different roles. Dad supports us financially, working full time in his own business as an estate agent. But he’s always there for us, whatever we need. He’s great at anything creative or business minded. Mum has been at home since she stopped worked to have Zak and then I came out of school. She’s guided all our education. She’s helped make my every suggestion or wish possible; from coming out of school to doing my drama GCSE. Her ‘thing’ is science but she has a love for history too. And both of them have ensured that our basic maths and English were strong. We’re good friends. I could tell them anything and they’d never judge, they’ve got my back.
Our home is in Oxfordshire, in the country. There are sheep in the field out the back of the house and country parks walk the dogs in at the end of the road. We have a lovely house with room for all our generations. You will always find something happening there. Whether it’s Ozzy waking at 6.30am, he never rests. He will have made volcanos out of vinegar and bicarb, planted a garden of wild flowers, asked to go swimming and painted pictures by the time anyone else is awake. Blaize spends a lot of his time with his horse at the stables up the road from our house. When he’s home you’ll hear mum cooking dinner and asking him questions to prep him for his upcoming British Horse Society tests. Zak will be up late into the night; researching, analysing and writing. He’s an author, hoping to publish his first book soon. There are few hours of the day that no activity is happening at home. That’s one of the many reasons I love spending time there.
There’s always been a big community living around us of home educated people. My mum has always been at the forefront of bringing it together, whether that be for our Thursday group or GCSE studies. One of the many things I love about the social side of being home-educated is that I had/have friends of many ages. It’s not a case of sticking with people in the same year as me. Growing up my group of friends spanned about 3 or 4 years either side of my age. It didn’t bother us, we didn’t notice. If we got on and had similar interests that’s what mattered, and it created stronger, more grounded relationships. I interacted with adults from a young age, mum’s friends/other home educating mums. I didn’t see them as anything other than my friends too. I spent a lot of time with my siblings and friends’ siblings, so I’ve always felt comfortable with younger people as well. I think it’s a blessing in life and the working world to be able to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds.
My plans for future life, far in the future! Is a family of our own. Luke and I got married this January and we’ve always talked of wanting children down the line. Whilst I’d like an interesting job that’s meaningful and fitting to me, I’m not a career girl. I’m a family girl.”