Friday, 5 March 2010
How can parents teach A level Chemistry?
At the second meeting of the All party Parliamentary Group on Home Education, which was held on Tuesday, Baroness Deech distinguished herself by asking some particularly foolish questions. Being herself a former teacher, she really should have known better! Her basic point was that parents could not be expected to teach their children sciences and languages, because they might not know about these subjects themselves.
Those whose friends are in the main teachers will be more than a little staggered at Baroness Deech's remarks. She seems to be under the impression that science teachers know all about science and simply transfer the knowledge in their heads to their pupils. This is not how it works at all. Catch a science teacher at a party and ask him to give you the balanced equation for photosynthesis and he may very well be stuck for the answer! And yet the children whom he teaches will need to know this for GCSE. How will they learn it, if he himself apparently does not remember it? The answer is of course that teachers do not need to be super brain-boxes whose heads are crammed with all the facts which their pupils will need to learn. If the topic next week is photosynthesis, all that is necessary is to prepare the lesson and swot up on the thing yourself a day or two before. After all, the teacher is not going to be tested; he will have all the relevant materials in front of him. Why should he stuff his head full of all this stuff when he can just consult a book?
Parents can teach any subject in precisely the same way if they wish to do so. Baroness Deech specifically asked about A level Chemistry as though this were a knockdown argument against home education. It is not. I know somebody who has taught her child A level chemistry. I am no chemist, but I managed to get my daughter through the International GCSE at A* in this subject. It is not particularly easy to do this, but for somebody to suggest that it cannot be done is very irritating.
In any case, the question is largely irrelevant. As we know perfectly well, many parents would not even attempt to teach their children chemistry unless they were asked to do so. It is true that very few children probably take GCSEs or A levels in chemistry from home, but this is not because the idea is at all impractical; it is due to the ideology of parents. Many home educators subscribe to a theory of education which would prevent them from saying to their child, "Come on Johnny, sit down. we're going to do an hours chemistry." Baroness Deech might have done a little better to concentrate on this aspect of home education. She did at least notice that many of the lists and Blogs are apparently populated by illiterate maniacs, which is heartening!
I must say a few words about Rumer Lacey, the Essex elective home education advisor. She was at this meeting, although strangely reluctant to give her name. Everybody who meets Rumer has the impression that she is a very nice person. It is not generally known that she taught her own child at home. The problem that I have seen with Essex is that although all the people who work in the elective home education department are seemingly dead keen on home education and think it a great idea, their submissions to the DCSF do not always reflect this. When the 2007 guidelines were drawn up, Essex were even then pressing for it to be a criminal offence to teach a child at home without notifying the local authority.