The National Curriculum is an almost mythical object of detestation to many home educating parents. It symbolises all that they hate about formal education and schools. Anybody who suggests that home educators should plan a little and be more structured in their approach is routinely accused of trying to 'impose' the National Curriculum'. (For some strange reason, such people are always apparently trying to do this 'by the back door') During Graham Badman's review of elective home education in England, the rumour was rife on the Internet lists that he was going to recommend that home educating parents be forced to follow the National Curriculum. This is the ultimate nightmare in some strands of British home education.
Now I have to say straight away that I did not pay any attention at all to the National Curriculum when I was teaching my daughter. I was of course vaguely aware of the ages at which this curriculum says that children should be acquiring certain skills and learning various things, but I found it wholly irrelevant in a domestic setting. From the age of five onwards, the National Curriculum requires that children are taught English, mathematics, science, ICT and history. This seems to be to be just about reasonable. However, one must also make sure that they are learning geography, art and design and religious education as well, to say nothing of music, citizenship, physical education, design and technology and personal, social and health education. Call me a raving autonomous educator if you will, but this seems a little excessive for five and six year-olds! I do not like either the way that these subjects are typically taught. In history for instance, there is no clear and coherent narrative which will allow a child to understand the context of what he is learning. One term he is doing a project on the Aztecs, then the Tudors and then jumping straight to the Victorians. This is an awful approach and one which I would not have dreamt of following with my own child.
Actually, I have never heard of a home educating parent who did follow the National Curriculum. I simply cannot imagine this being done at home and I would be keen to hear if anybody has ever heard of such a parent. The advice is certainly given by both local authorities and the Department for Education that home educators might wish to be aware of the National Curriculum and be guided by it. This is another matter entirely and not bad advice at all. It wouldn't do anybody any harm at least to know what school pupils of a similar age to your own son or daughter were doing. If nothing else, this would be helpful if one decided to send a child back to school; it would ensure that the child had not fallen too far behind his contemporaries. The idea that some wicked future government could ever try and force home educating parents to follow the National Curriculum, a fear regularly expressed on some forums and blogs, is too grotesque for words. I actually asked Graham Badman about this supposed scheme on his part directly and he seemed to be utterly bemused by the thought. As he pointed out, it is hard enough to make sure that every maintained school in the country adheres to this curriculum; quite how one would ensure that scores of thousands of parents did so is mind boggling.
I quite like the way the National Curriculum is brandished about by home educators as being synonymous with structured teaching. I have myself been accused by some of the loopier people of this type as being a slave to this curriculum, a suggestion which has provided a good deal of innocent amusement in the Webb household, where my views on this bloated and unwieldy instrument are pretty generally known. It is, I suppose, helpful for these parents to have something like this which sums up all that they dislike about education so neatly. I doubt though that their dislike of the National Curriculum is anything like as strong as mine.