The above quotation comes from the Director of the Catholic Education Foundation, but is not of course an exclusively Catholic view of home education. Among many teachers and other education professionals, I would say that it is the standard model. How can a parent hope to teach every subject, from physics to history, mathematics to chemistry, English literature to music? The fact is of course that many parents do exactly that. We certainly managed it here without any great problems. Today I want to look a little at the whole business of secondary home education. I am not going to discuss whether a parent should teach in this way. I am aware that many parents think it wrong to decide in advance what their children should learn and so this piece will be irrelevant to them.
As I dare say readers know, my own daughter passed eight IGCSEs at A*. She also passed Grade 5 classical guitar and Grade 6 acting with LAMDA. I alone taught her these things. Now three possibilities occur to one here. The first is that my daughter is some kind of brainbox who can achieve wonderful things purely because she is so clever. The second possibility is that I am a Renaissance Man; a fantastically knowledgeable polymath with an amazing flair for teaching. The third possibility is that anybody can teach their teenage child to a very high academic level and that all it really takes is a lot of research and an enormous amount of hard work on the part of both parent and child. I will not leave readers in suspense any long; the third explanation is the correct one.
Teachers, like garage mechanics, plumbers, builders and the members of practically every other trade, wish to make it appear that what they are doing is very difficult and can only be undertaken by highly trained professionals. Obviously they have to do this. Where would mechanics be if we all started learning about engines and fixing our own cars? A lot of what teachers do is related purely to schools. The supervision and control of thirty children, the administrative paperwork, all the up-to-date jargon, the National Curriculum; none of this has the least relevance to a parent teaching one or two children at home. For this, all that is needed is to download the subject specification and find out what knowledge and skills are needed to pass that particular GCSE. If the topic is history, you don't actually need to be an historian, or indeed have any prior knowledge of any of the historical periods that the child will need to know about. When my daughter was choosing her options for history, she wanted to do Imperial Russia 1855-1917. My heart sank; this was not a time or place about which I knew much. However, a few books from the library and charity shops and hey presto; we were on our way. It was the same with other subjects. Even teaching the guitar requires no previous knowledge of the instrument. I literally cannot play one note on the guitar, but it did not prove a handicap in teaching the thing.
Many parents underestimate their own abilities. They have been subtly brainwashed over the decade by the notion that professionals know best. Teachers often manage to convey the idea that they know all about the subject that they are teaching, but this is seldom the case. If they are teaching about the First World War, then before each lesson, they swot up on what they will be telling the kids, make photo-copies, track down a useful video; all the stuff that any reasonably intelligent parent could do.
What is needed to teach a child at secondary level is the realisation that this will be a full time job. The key to academic success, as measured by GCSEs and A levels, is a lot of time spent studying. Unles your child is some sort of genius, then the more hard work undertaken, the better the results. The parent must study even harder than the child. In order to get the ideas across, the parent must read all about them before the lesson and thoroughly absorb what it is wished to teach the child . You don't need to know this stuff beforehand and you can forget it later, but during the lessons themselves, you must be prepared for any questions and if you can't answer at once, you need to be able to point out the book which does contain the information.
The standard government benchmark of a 'good' education is five GCSEs including mathematics and English at Grade C or above. This is such a pathetically low expectation that one is gripped by despair. That half the children in this country fail even to attain this hideously low standard is an indictment of the educational system in this country. I cannot imagine why 99% of parents continue to be satisfied with this dreadful situation. The remedy is really in their own hands.