Monday, 13 September 2010

Eton is better than home education

I have been thinking about what somebody said here yesterday, which was to the effect that home education is inferior to an education at a private school. The writer expressed the opinion that if he had the money he would gladly send his son to an independent school in preference to educating him at home and specified Eton as his first choice.

Now I have to say at once that I do not agree with the proposition that home education is somehow a poor cousin in the wider world of education. I cannot imagine that my daughter would have done any better at Eton or Roedean than she did at home. In a sense though, this is irrelevant. The fact is that people educate their children at home for reasons that are a good deal more complicated than merely providing a better education for them. This is because most parents have far more wide-reaching ambitions for their children than that should simply be 'educated' efficiently. I am confident in asserting this, because time and again every survey of home educators in this country has come up with many more motives for home education other than that of education alone.

What sort of ambitions do parents have for their children apart from their acquiring a sound knowledge of physics, chemistry, history and so on? I think that we all hope that their children become kind and compassionate. Very few of us would like our children to grow up into greedy, selfish and cruel individuals. For many people, this aspect of childhood development, moral and ethical development, is of greater importance than any academic work. They feel that teaching their children to be decent human beings is something which they can best accomplish at home. I felt precisely the same and if I had to choose between having a kind and good natured child and having one who was very clever but sly and spiteful, then I would choose kindness over brains every time. Fortunately, I have not found intelligence and a compassionate nature to be incompatible with each other, which is a great mercy! Often, parents who are very concerned about this sort of thing worry that spending all day with a bunch of other kids is not likely to be very helpful in the cultivation of a sensitive and thoughtful disposition. Watching groups of teenagers in public these days often puts one in mind of Lord of the Flies.

In fact I have a strong suspicion that very few parents embark upon home education solely for the educational benefits. These benefits may reveal themselves as the education at home progresses, but they are not usually the initial reason why the parents decided upon home education. I also have a suspicion that if most of the parents here were offered the chance to enroll their children at an expensive independent school, perhaps some old relative offered to pay for the child's education, most would refuse without hesitation. I know that I would have done. The truth is that although I know very well that my daughter received an education at least as effective as she would have done at an independent school, there was far more going on with the whole home education business than just learning and examinations. Even had I been persuaded that she would be able to learn as much at a school, I would still have been very reluctant to send her there. As a matter of interest, would any readers send their children to a good independent school if they were given the finance for it? In my case, this is neither idle speculation nor sour grapes. Just down the road in Woodford there are two very good independent schools; Forest and Bancroft's. Both offer scholarships and a couple of my daughter's friends got in like that. I suppose that had I wished, I could have worked on Simone and persuaded her to sit the examination and perhaps take up a place at one of these schools. I briefly toyed with the idea, but it was never a serious consideration.

The change in lifestyle caused by not sending a child to school is so radical that I do not believe anybody except another home educating parent can really appreciate what is involved. While it is quite true that the educational benefits are or can be dramatic, even in the most fanatically structured home, actual teaching takes up only a small part of the time. After all, the kid is likely to be awake for fifteen hours or so each day and you really can't work systematically for more than two or three hours of that time. Home education must therefore be motivated by a good deal more than the desire simply to spend a few hours a day teaching your child.

Home educators in general love their children's company and want to spend a lot of time with them. They wish to be the main influence on their children's development and are especially concerned with what used to be called character building. Whether they are devout Christians or atheist humanists, home educating parents are very keen to transmit their own values and beliefs to their children. They ask their children questions about what they see in the world and watch on the news and then in turn tell their children what they themselves think about things. One might be confident that an independent school would teach chemistry efficiently; I doubt one could expect that the teachers there would take as much interest in cultivating the moral characters of the children in their care!

While it is probably true that maintained schools are inferior educationally to many independent schools, this is for most home educators wholly irrelevant. they do not want their children at school, they want them at home. This is why I would be surprised to see any great enthusiasm among home educators for setting up one of Michael Gove's famous free schools. Perhaps another expression needs to be coined for home education, a phrase which emphasises that education means far more than merely academic work.


  1. Education, for me, means the whole child: head, hands and heart.

    I'm sure that some independent schools try very hard to cultivate moral character etc and give opportunities for developing the whole child. But Eton College (or Slough Grammar as the boys like to call it)? Not so much.

    Though I'm sure it would suit children who have been told that 'crushing the life out of your opponent' is the ultimate aim of life.

    Mrs Anon

  2. Well, I am in the position that I have had children in independent schools and home educated.

    I (like 99% of the population) sent my children off to school at the usual age without any great thought. It was only when one daughter faced huge issues fitting into the mould that even considered HE. By that time, eldest son had gained a scholarship to a big independent school, where he spent 7 years and it is difficult to have any regrets about that because he was extremely happy, the teaching was excellent, he did brilliantly without too much effort and had opportunities to take part in plenty of music.

    After him, the majority of my children (75%) in fact, remained in schools. I still have a 17 year old in a special school, which is the best place for him; the adult:child ratio there is much better than at home! -and it provides the only respite we get at all from the daily chore of coping with a disabled child. So no regrets there...

    Our third son also went to an independent school from 11 , but I know he could have done better at home. He did "okay" at GCSE and struggled through A levels...and he is a thoroughly "nice" boy who works in publishing for a Christian book school didn't do him any obvious harm from the moral point of view either (Catholic school, although we certainly aren't Catholic)- but he would have benefitted from more 1:1 tuition a home. We did consider it, but it was at the the time we were very comitted to fostering (and had 10 children in the house and 2 being HEed) so just couldn't cope with the thought. I do have regrets there - nothing at all wrong with the school; but we could have done better.

    I could go on at length about the various experiences of my children and independent education but am off out..... but the most important thing to me is that I would NEVER have considered HEing my children (or continued to do so) if I wasn't convinced that what I was offering was superior to anything either state or independent could offer for my child. That is what is so sad about the poster in questions issues; we should be providing the BEST education possible (both acadmically and morally) - if this turns out to be inferior to what they could have learnt at a local school we only have ourselves to blame. There is no point blaming the LA for not funding Eton!

  3. By coincidence, I was talking just yesterday with someone who has a child at a top private school and another who is home educated. That parent explained to me that the different paths suited her different children.

    Like many home educators, I don't separate education from a full life and I can't imagine that there is a private school in the land (with, perhaps, the exception of Summerhill) which would allow my children as free a hand in their lives as they have at present. Another of the advantages of home education (for us) is that our children get to meet many of the weird and wonderful people of this town. I can't see Roedean letting my teenage daughter out at lunchtime so she can go and eat vegan food with Anarchists down at the Libertarian Social Centre.

  4. Julie says-if I wasn't convinced that what I was offering was superior to anything either state or independent could offer for my child

    but what if you knew private education at Enton was far superior to the home education you could give?

  5. Julia says-if this turns out to be inferior to what they could have learnt at a local school we only have ourselves to blame. There is no point blaming the LA for not funding Eton!

    no what if the home education was better than the state school but that private education would be even better for that child? so you can blame the LA as they refuse to help fund it! but knowing full well this would help that child!

  6. Rather like Julie when our son was born we didn't give a great deal of thought o his education because we assumed he would just go to school. By the time he was 3 certain things caused us to start reconsidering this. I won't go into detail here apart from to say that at the moment he is being assessed for asperger syndrome and so far they are unsure if he has aspergers or is simply very bright and therefore other areas of his development (ie social skills) are a little delayed. By the time he was 3 we had agreed that the best way of educating him was something that would need to be constantly re assessed. We thought we would give the local state school a chance and they were great, borrowing reading and maths books from the juniors and trying to accommodate his needs. Unfortunately our son cannot cope with crowds or noise making any state school a bit of a nightmare. After 6 weeks we deregistered him and started home ed. But the constant re assessment of his education is ongoing. Right now being at home is without a doubt the best thing for him. Will that continue to be the case? I don't know ask me again in 5 years. I do think it's very unlikely he will return to a state school but we have a lovely very small private school locally that in the future may be a good place for him, they also allow flexi schooling so that may be something we consider. We will also look at on line schools like inter high and brite school as he gets older and he is only 5 right now so who knows what changes will take place in him, home education, state education and private education or our finances before he gets to 16.

  7. Nice post Simon. And no - if I had the money I would not have sent my children to private school, unless of course they wanted to go!

  8. Enton would have been just right for our child! but the LA wont help pay towards it!

  9. Teacher Julie says-That is what is so sad about the poster in questions issues; we should be providing the BEST education possible (both acadmically and morally)

    its not sad to point out that Enton would be just the right place for our child. you need money to provide the best education possible for private tutors etc

  10. So consistent is the use of the name 'Enton', that I am beginning to suspect that it is more than a mere typographic error. Perhaps it is a bit like those modern universities which set themselves up in the hope that people will muddle them up with the real thing; Oxford Brookes, Bath Spa and so on. Maybe there really is an independent school calling itself Enton and they are touting for business so that parents will confuse them with Eton?.

  11. OMG i failed the spelling test!

  12. Not even if they coughed up for the most expensive school in the land.

    I'm not giving up a bilingual education now, so Italian schools of any flavour are out of the question.

    I'm really not that impressed with the entitlement complexes/snobby attitudes that so many of the "elite" expat students have, so an international school is a non starter even if I could face the comute.

    Over my dead body would I send him to boarding school. I'm sure not all of them are as horrible as the one I went to, but I'd be in hell with him in another country for the bulk of the year, worrying that all the nasties I remember are his reality.

    Son of Thor left mainstream ed with a very so so report, at the end of year obligatory testing he got lode, excellent and optimum as grades, so I think I must be doing OK. If it looks like I'm not doing so well then I'll be looking at online schools as a fulltime option sooner rather than later.

    Today was our first day back (he is very fussy about getting holidays that are the same as his mates) and it was lovely to get back in the saddle. Not sure it was a good idea to team it up with my first day officaly back at work tho'. Am cream crackered and work doesn't even start until 5pm.

  13. 'I'd be in hell with him in another country for the bulk of the year, worrying that all the nasties I remember are his reality.'

    Would you say Sarah, that it was your own school experiences which predisposed you towards home education? I ask because this seems to be the case with a lot of people in the home education world, including well known names like Paula Rothermel.

  14. "Would you say Sarah, that it was your own school experiences which predisposed you towards home education?"

    In the sense that I have a phobia about boarding schools and don't think that private schools are all they are made out to be....yeah.

    But I think it was more teaching in Italian state schools myself (combined with what my son was relating as his expereince within the system) that pushed me over the edge with mainstream ed as far as he was concerned.

    Perhaps the biggest thing that has coloured my view of HE, as a good fit for us, has been doing it. I didn't expect many of the positive non-academic outcomes, they are sort of "bonus points" on top of the improved quality of education.

  15. And there is a classic response Sarah!......starting EHE for one reason (sometimes negative) and developing a shed load of good positive reasons over the course of a year or three.....

    Initial reasons rarely remain the main reasons to EHE in my experience....

  16. 'Initial reasons rarely remain the main reasons to EHE in my experience.... '

    Others have remarked upon this and I have to agree. In my own case the initial reasons were partly religious and partly educational. Over the years though, many other benefits emerged, some of which I could not possibly have guessed at until I actuially began home educating.