Thursday, 27 August 2009

But what about laboratories?

One of the reasons that teachers find home education so threatening is that it proves their services are not really as vital to society as they would have us believe. The great myth which they encourage society to embrace is that learning and education can only take place effectively within huge buildings full of specialised equipment and staffed by highly trained professionals. This is quite untrue.

I have been prompted to write this by my daughter's latest IGCSE results, which were A* in Physics and Chemistry. When friends of mine, mostly teachers and social workers, learned that I was planning to continue her education past primary age and to teach her to IGCSE level, there was a great shaking of heads and sucking in of breath in shocked amazement. Almost to a man, and woman, they said when the subject of teaching science came up, " But what about laboratories?" . The idea being that nobody could possibly study science unless they had a very large, expensively resourced room in which to do so. Well, my daughter has now acquired Biology, Physics and Chemistry IGCSEs, all at A*. What happened?

What happened was that we discovered, as others have done before us, that like every other academic subject, science can be tackled on the kitchen table just as efficiently as in a laboratory. Indeed, it can be tackled far better in this way. In a typical school science lesson a carefully conducted experiment might call for the addition of citric acid to another substance in order to observe the reaction. In the kitchen, this can be extended to the addition of ethanoic acid (vinegar), ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and then any other acids which might be in the cupboard. There is not a single part of the GCSE syllabus which cannot be pursued in the kitchen at least as well as in the most up to date and modern school science department.

I have given science as an example, but the same is true of any other subject, from Music to Acting, History to Food Technology. There is not a single academic subject which cannot be more effectively tackled at home than it can in the best school. Teachers are anxious in the extreme that this dangerous knowledge does not become generally known! The reason is obvious. The key to academic success lies not in the spending of ever increasing sums of money on electronic whiteboards and other expensive gadgets. Instead, it lies in quiet, methodical one-to-one instruction, the type of tuition which home education is uniquely well placed to provide for a child. No wonder that most teachers seem to be implacably opposed to home education on principle; it strikes at the root of their identity as uniquely invaluable educators of the nation's young people.


  1. Lovely to hear your daughter did so well in her exams, please pass on my congratulations! I'm glad to hear it's still so easy to take science exams, I had a similar experience myself just after leaving school 28 years ago. Timetable clashes at school meant I couldn't take all of the science subjects I needed for the career I was interested in so I took Chemistry 'O' level via correspondence whilst working. It's very satisfying when you achieve something like this on your own, especially when you gain As. Your post takes me back.

  2. Peter has just recevied a letter from David Cameron M.P in which he says The Shadow Education Team have raised a number of concerns about the latest consultation,most notably that The department for Children.Schools,and Families tried to imply that home education was being used as a cover for child abuse.We find this offensive to those parents who often have to make a very difficult decision about withdrawing their child from school.
    We belive it is essential that every child in this country recives a frist-class education and one that is suitable to their needs.To achieve that.parentss should have the right to choose the education systen that best serves their child and home schooling should be included in this choice.Parents who make this choice should be etitled to the same presumption of innocence and competence that school going children's parents,recieve unless evidence dictates otherwise.
    The shadow Eduction team find it incredible that he government held yet another consultation on the issue of home education this is now the fourth consulation in as many years.
    No where does it mention in his letter does it state that M.Grove M.P wants more legal power over hom education.This letter from Mr Cameron M.P is a statemnet from the whole of the Shadow Education team including Mr M.Grove M.P.

    What do you think of that Simon is Mr David Cameron M.P wrong then?

  3. Congratulations to your daughter.
    I agree all subjects can be tackled at home very easy if not better due to the one to one setting. Science I think is more fun as you have the occasional mishap, which becomes fun without the health and safety aspect of it all. My children love this as it encourages learning as well through trial and error.

  4. Yes sharon, O levels were a great deal easier to take like that than GCSEs. I think that is probably why FE colleges don't offer them very much, except as resits.

  5. You are right about mishaps, Amy. How my wife laughed the day that Simone and I made suphuric acid and managed to spill it all over the kitchen table. A lot of the time in schools now, they won't even do experiments, preferring to rely upon DVDs. This really takes the fun out of chemistry.

  6. Easier because of the lack of coursework, do you mean?

  7. Yes, all the colleges needed to do was give the lectures and then arrange the examinations. We found it relatively easy to find a place to sit the exam for IGCSE, precisely because it is like an O level. Getting coursework authenticated though or conducting controled assignments would have been almost impossible. This is fo course why IGCSEs are so popular with home educators.

  8. We did IGCSE for all three sciences and it solved the whole lab thing - although my husband who has just retired from teacher education says that his department (which admittedly was then only primary science ed) threw out all chemicals other than sugar a few years ago, because fear of accidents (and thus litigation) had removed all more interesting experiments from the classroom. So I don't think home ed children are being much deprived relative to their school counterparts anyway.

  9. we are home edding primary age, and initially thought we might have to school for secondary science, but having started to move forward into chemistyry experiments, you can now see how it is poo at home