Sunday, 15 November 2009

What do home educators understand by "The National Curriculum"?

I ask this question because I have increasingly noticed "The National Curriculum" being used as shorthand for everything that many home educators disagree with. It almost seems to be used as though the very phrase "National Curriculum" was interchangeble with "Structured Education" or "Conventional Schooling". I have also observed when listening to some home educating parents and reading what they write, that many of them do not apparently have any clear idea of what the National Curriculum actually is and why so many people, the present writer included, view it somewhat unfavourably.

My thoughts turned to this subject a few days ago when I read a post denouncing me and and all my works. Most of it was nothing to the purpose, but it did say the following;

" as far as he is concerned, if you don't follow the NationalCurriculum, then you are abusing your child by not providing them with aproper education."

This is a perfect example of the way that many parents on HE lists talk about the National Curriculum. Regular readers will be aware that I regard this horrible creation as monstrously bloated and hideously over-prescriptive. Not only did I not follow it myself, I seriously doubt whether any home educating parent has ever done so. Let me explain.

When my daughter was twelve, I felt that it was time to think about which IGCSEs she would be taking. We agreed on English, Mathematics and Science and I suggested History as well. She herself was keen to study religion, so we added that. As she took the three separate sciences rather than double award General Science and since she was also taking English Language and English Literature as separate subjects; this gave her a total of eight IGCSEs to study for over the next three years. I think I can safely assure everyone that studying for eight subjects in this way kept us very busy and although there was room for other things, it still took a good chunk of our time. Let us now suppose that we had been following the National Curriculum for Key Stage 3.

Well, English, Mathematics, Science, History and Religion are certainly there. So far, so good. However, that is only the beginning. As I said, those subjects alone kept us fully occupied. Now let's see what else we have to fit in to comply with the National Curriculum. Geography and a modern language. Hmmm that's pushing it a bit, but OK. We probably could just have managed this as well. Design and Technology, Information and Communication Technology and Personal, Social and Health Education. Now it's getting silly! How on earth could we fit all this in as well? But wait, there's more. Art and Design, Citizenship, Music, Physical Education and Sex and relationship Education as well. As I said above, not only did we think it absolutely grotesque to try and cram all these subjects in, but I doubt if anybody could. Yet these are all compulsory under the National Curriculum. Any child aged between 11 and 14 must study all this. No wonder the academic results are plummeting in schools. They are too busy fooling around with a lot of nonsense about sex and relationships, as though that is any concern at all of the state!

Not only are the subjects themselves specified, but every minute detail is also laid down. Every pupil learns the same things at the same time in the same way in every maintained school. Horrible! And to think that I am supposed to be a fan of this. When I spoke to Graham Badman, I asked him about this because I knew that the rumour was floating around that home educators would have to follow the National Curriculum. He seemed genuinely astounded at the very idea. As he pointed out, it was bad enough making sure that schools do so, without trying to supervise eighty thousand parents as well. I have since come to the conclusion that those who were worrying about this did not really mean that they were afraid of being expected to stick to the National Curriculum. What they really thought was that they would be told to teach properly and adhere to certain subjects, for example making sure that their child was taught mathematics and English. No bad thing, you might say, but an awfully long way from being obliged to follow the National Curriculum.


  1. "They are too busy fooling around with a lot of nonsense about sex and relationships, as though that is any concern at all of the state!"

    I think you have said that the state has a legitimate interest in our children's education because they will have to bear the costs of failure (benefits if they are unable to work because of poor literacy and numeracy, for example). The state believe they have an interest in sex and relationships education for the same reason (teenage pregnancies, etc), I'm surprised you see this differently.

  2. Graham Badman might have been astounded at the thought of home educators having to follow the national curriculum, but this doesn't seem to astonish some local authority officers or other people working in the education sector. It's not Graham Badman who is going to be assessing the educational provision of home educators.

  3. Yes. Quite, Suzy.

    Once registration and regular monitoring are in place, is is a very short hop to using the NC as a yardstick by which educational provision is assessed.

    It is completely understandable that LA's, once given the power to assess and renew HE'ers registration, would use failure to follow the curriculum the state has set out as necessary for children as a reason to refuse renewal of the right to HE.

    After the legislation is passed, all it would take would be new DCSF guidelines to be drawn up. If that doesn't happen within 2 years of the new law, I'll eat my hat.

    Mrs Anon

  4. Well, I may be wrong here. I simply cannot home educating parents being required to teach Citizenship, Design and Technology, PSHE, modern languages and so on. Does anybody really believe that if a parent is not teaching French or German, this will be grounds for not allowing the registration as a home educator? I just can't see it.

    If the state's attempts to curtail premarital sex and illegitimate babies had shown any signs of success, Anonymous, then they would indeed be justified on trying to impose their teaching methods on home educated children. It is plain that they are not able to control or even limit these things. That is why I believe that families are better left to the job. The evidence does suggest that factors other than what is taught at school are important in sexual morality. It is quite a different case with literacy. Perhaps I went to far in suggesting that it was not the proper business of the state; they are just not very good at it!

  5. The only mention anywhere in the Badman Report of the possibility of registration as a home educator being refused, is in connection with safeguarding. I really think it is stretching it a bit to imagine that any local authority will try and stop a parent teaching their own child because their provision for Sex and Relationship education or Design and Technology is inadequate!

  6. If the state had any evidence that home education is failing, Simon, then they would indeed be justified on trying to impose their ideas on home educated children.

  7. The introduction of age-related targets and material to be covered may be included in the review of suitable education in the New Year.

    Fiona Nicholson, Education Otherwise

  8. Simon, how come you didn't include an IGCSE in a modern foreign language in your daughter's subject list? Just interested.

  9. I meant to Allie, it's just that Simone had an interest in French, then Russian, followed by Greek and Latin. Because she kept chopping and changing, the result was she never focused upon one for long enough to take an IGCSE. In retrospect, I should have decided for her and made her stick at one. maybe that was my experiment in autonomy!

  10. I used to speak fluent French and Spanish. I haven't used it since university. I have personally found it to be largely a waste of time and something that you can learn as an adult anyway.

    My mother learnt English in 3 months when she arrived here 40 years ago and nobody gets ANYTHING past her. My best friend learnt Japanese in a year, married a Japanese lady and works in Japan.

    Yeah, yeah, the accent is better when you start young, but you have to start before they even are school age to get that advantage.

    It's a waste of time doing it unless the child really wants to, so I would say you did the right thing Simon.