15-year-old Lola, is High Functioning Aspergers with Severe Dyscalculia. She left school this year.
Is home education your choice or did your parents make that decision?
My parents did present it to me as an option, but yes, it was my decision, after thinking about it for a long while. I was so unhappy at school. In the end, I just couldn’t bear the thought of another day. It felt like a heavy weight lifted from my chest once I made the decision.
Why did you/they decide on home education?
School was taking its toll on me both physically and emotionally I think, my anxiety was through the roof 24/7 and I got nose bleeds quite often. I wasn’t happy either. I dreaded every day. I never received the support I needed. They made me feel different and stupid. I worried so much about paying attention, I used to sweat and shake. Sometimes I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears and would faint. I was so scared of letting teachers down, breaking rules or missing instructions. I missed so much information panicking about missing information!
What age did you begin home education?
I started this year, so 15.
How would you describe home education?
It’s a whole lot easier, I feel a lot more relaxed. It can be a lot of fun too, when we go on trips to an old stately home or to a museum. It’s definitely lowered my anxiety and I feel a lot more focused. I feel more positive about myself. I am much more able to concentrate and I’m really proud of what I have achieved in such a short space of time. I haven’t had a nose bleed since the day I left school. My hands are no longer clammy. I’m not in a constant state of panic so learning is so much easier. We have a blackboard of activities to guide our days, weeks and months. I start the day reading the news and then start working on one of the activities I enjoy. We always have a monthly trip, which are great. Last week we went to the UK’s only 3D Planetarium and Brunel’s new Museum at the SS Great Britain.
Did you ever attend mainstream school? If so how did you find it?
If I had to choose a word to describe it, I would probably pick ‘hell’. Hopefully that word alone speaks volumes about how I found it. Though, imagine hell was an ocean, and you’re just minding your own business, floating on the surface. When suddenly hands are dragging you under, you don’t have time to hold your breath. You’re inhaling mouthfuls of salty water, choking. The hands belong to ‘mer-people’ – they want you to join them, but you aren’t made for their environment. You can’t breathe. They don’t realise that before it’s too late. The ‘mer-people’ are the teachers, people who made it seem like school was my only choice. If you haven’t guessed. school is the ocean; the mouthfuls of water is the curriculum that choked me – information I don’t feel will help me when it comes to the ‘real world’. That’s how I feel about school. It drowned me.
Do you like having the freedom to choose what you learn, or do you prefer to learn things your parents or the government think are important?
I enjoy having freedom to do what I want, I get to focus on my strengths and I’ve improved at what I do since I left school. I love art and creative writing but in school, they insisted that I learned at the same time as everyone else. They didn’t care about individual talent, everyone had to complete the same work at the same time. I found that very frustrating. In Art, we were still using paper and pencils when the modern world is moving towards digital art. I draw on an iPad Pro at home with a professional graphics app, which is not allowed in school. Now I attend an illustration class with a professional animator and he challenges me through one-to-one tuition. My artwork has improved so much!
I also love writing too and have started a few books. I hope to self-publish a book one day. In school, the GCSE curriculum did not contain any creative writing. It was all about describing text from poems, Dickens or Shakespeare. All I wanted to do was write stories! Since leaving school, my imagination is free to run wild! I think it is sad that school does not encourage future authors.
What is your family life like?
I’d say it’s pretty good. It’s healthy. We laugh a lot. Talk about everything. We respect and encourage each other. I trust my family. They make me feel safe and loved. Even my little brother isn’t that bad! We travelled Europe for a year and lived in Central America for six months. I guess it taught me there’s a lot more to be seen, and that the world is huge, and life is short. I’m not really sure what happened, except when I returned to school, my view point had changed, and school wasn’t what I thought it was.
What do your parents do (either before or during home education)?
My mum works from home, sometimes my dad does too. My mum reviews cases of people who have died from abuse. My dad helps business people grow their business.
Do you have siblings? Are they home educated? If not, why not?
I have a little brother who isn’t home schooled, because unlike me, school is definitely a healthy environment for him. He’s more sociable and extroverted.
Do you live in the countryside or city?
I live in the countryside.
Is there much of a home education community near to you or do you need to travel?
There is not a lot for teenagers, but my Mum has found a few home educating families and we meet up regularly. We all travel to meet up at the zoo or a National Trust house. I have met two girls like me. They are also very anxious and have left school because they were not happy. We have to travel quite far for my illustration and writing classes.
What do you like doing? What are your interests? What activities do you do?
I love drawing, writing, politics, listening to music, reading and social media. I really enjoyed travelling around Europe with my family in our campervan.
What are your aspirations? How do you think you would like to earn a living? Do you want to work for yourself or someone else?
I really want to be an illustrator or animator, perhaps even illustrate my own book, so maybe an author too? I can’t go to college because I am not taking any GCSEs, so I think I will have to work for myself. It’s not fair that I can’t study at University, but I won’t let it stop me. I just have to work harder than everyone else. I doubt anyone will employ me without exams though. I’m also too shy to work with lots of other people. An interview would scare me half to death!
Do you feel like the government treat you fairly and help you achieve the same as someone without a learning disability?
No, they make me feel like I am a problem for them. Like they wish I would just disappear.
Do you have any opinion on the proposals being discussed about home education? (i.e. forced to sign a register, inspections in the family home, assessed against a school curriculum, interviewed without your parents present, forced to meet a standard of maths and English, forced back to school if your home education is not deemed good enough)
Yes, I think it’s really stupid! I wish they would leave me alone and mind their own business. They have enough problems with schools. Sort that out first! I feel sad that they want to come and judge me now when they had 9 years to listen to me and help me. If they forced me back to school now I wouldn’t want to go on living any more. What would be the point of living like that? But I don’t want to talk to them either. I’m angry about how they made me feel. I’m moving forward now and getting better. I don’t want to speak to someone in my home. I don’t want to be judged anymore. What makes them think they know what they are doing anyway? I’m proof that they don’t!
How do you feel about media coverage of home education?
I get fed up when people say we are not socialised. My favourite quote in response to this is ‘forced association is not socialisation’. I hated the people in my school. The kids were really annoying, loud, rude and spiteful. I wouldn’t want to socialise with those kind of people if I had a choice. The teachers were just as bad. I didn’t gain anything from them. They cared more about the shoes I was wearing than whether I was happy and healthy. I read in the news that we are supposed to be at risk of abuse just because we are educated at home, but I was practically invisible in school. The teachers never noticed me (until my mum spoke to the school, then they seemed to try to help). They never asked whether I felt safe at home or at school. If I did live in an abusive home, they would never know. Teachers are the most un-observant people I know – they’re always stressed!