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Why ‘deschooling’ is a valid part of education

Katherine Norman, a volunteer with Education Otherwise, writes on the misunderstanding around what it means to ‘deschool’. Trustees at Education Otherwise have approved her article.

Local authorities have objected to the idea that a child would spend some time ‘deschooling’ and pointed to it as evidence that education is not taking place. This is a misunderstanding. School and education are not the same. De-schooling means not doing school. It does not mean not getting an education.

One of the problems with school is that the individual needs of the child cannot be addressed which can leave children damaged. This isn’t news. The way in which mental health issues are a barrier to learning is well known. A cross party select committee into the role of school in children’s mental health and wellbeing criticised the apparent trade-off between achievement and well-being as a false dichotomy. Wellbeing increased children’s ability to learn.  The Association of Directors of Public Health stating that: “Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school wellbeing have higher levels of academic achievement on average”.

Home education addresses the whole needs of the child, deschooling operates as described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We need to ensure that children’s most fundamental needs are first met before we can move on to the higher needs. Basic needs include sleep, eating, feeling safe. Next feeling secure – emotional security, health and wellbeing. Following on is social belonging and working on relationships. Once these needs are met we develop on to the need to feel respect for oneself and be respected and valued, and then on to the needs to meet a person’s full potential. All of this comes under personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, often neglected at school because of the academic pressures.  Being happy helps learning.

Deschooling means a number of things:

A period of recovery
Learning about oneself and working through any issues to meet our basic needs. When the local authority is providing an education on health grounds the guidance makes it clear that the child’s needs come first. In this case the term ‘reintegration’ is used. So deschooling can be viewed as a period of reintegration into education (though the resulting education may also look very different to school). Children withdrawn from school, as opposed to home educated from the beginning, have often gone through traumatic experiences, sometimes enduring for many years, which prompted their parents to withdraw them. They have often been put off learning to such an extent that they have lost interest in anything that even looks like studying.

A period of settling in
Getting used to a new routine, the change in relationships etc. A period of assessing the child’s wellbeing and education e.g. finding out about their abilities, aptitudes, and special needs.

A period of learning about life
Focusing on the areas of life that get tend to get overlooked when at school, learning about life. When using school parent’s delegate PART of their child’s education to school. They remain fully responsible for a good chunk of it – social skills, life skills and so on.

A period of learning about learning
Letting go of the school-based ideas of what an education is. Schools use a very narrow range of educational approaches, this is dictated by the need to meet government requirements for schools for a large number of children at once. Once a child is not in school the family is able to use a full range of educational approaches to best suit their child’s individual needs. Many home educators seldom if ever teach as such, instead they facilitate learning and use lots of play, conversation, and everyday living.



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