Sunday, 3 July 2011

Academic success for the home educated child

As is well known, I am a great believer in the efficacy of home education. That is why I did not send my daughter to school for a single day. I found the whole process enormous fun, but also very hard work. In all the cases which I have personally encountered, home educated children have succeeded academically only with the input of a huge amount of teaching and encouragement from their parents. It is alleged though, that all this effort may be quite unnecessary. Some parents apparently restrict their role to that of facilitator. The child learns to read without much work on the part of the parents, then goes on to ask to study at the Open University and ends up at a real university; the whole enterprise driven by the child’s desire to learn. In this scenario, the parent only helps when specifically requested and hardly does any teaching at all and that only when the child asks to be taught. It is an enticing vision and could in theory save much trouble and anxiety on the part of home educating parents!

Something which I have observed about both home educating parents known to me and also to the parents of children at school known to me, is that the more that they are involved with their child’s education, the better the child does academically. Another thing that I have noticed is that the harder they have worked, the more that they are prone to deny that they have put any particular effort into the business of their child’s education. I have seen teenagers do marvellously well at sixth form and go on to a Russell Group university and heard the parents express surprise and tell all their friends that they do not understand how the kid managed it. From their accounts, you would think that the child was lazy and that the parents themselves had never bothered overmuch with involving themselves in the matter and yet, here it is; the child is off to the London School of Economics. All this with no hard work on the part of either parent or child. Of course it is all nonsense. These parents have conveniently forgotten the tutors that they paid for every week, the summer schools they arranged, the arguments with the child in which they forbade the kid to go out at weekends and made him stay in and revise instead, the music lessons, the attending church for ten years to get the child into the right school, the appeals when the place was turned down, the letters to teachers; all the paraphernalia of the parent who wants her child to get on.

Why do parents airbrush all this from their family history? There are two reasons. First, nobody likes a pushy parent and it looks a bit sad when a mother is so desperately anxious for her child to succeed. Secondly, the less effort put in by both parents and child, the cleverer the kid appears to be. Nobody went to any trouble and hey, he got to the LSE anyway. Must be a genius!

If the children that end up at good universities are those whose parents put in the most effort, the ones who fail academically often have parents who do not involve themselves in the education and just let the kid get on with it. Most schools see this a lot. Is this the case with home education as well as school? It is hard to say. I know that quite a few home educating parents start off with the idea that Jimmy will organise his own studying and that left to his own devices he will learn not only to read but also pick up calculus and eventually beg his parents to let him study physics with the OU. I have no idea how often this actually happens, but there are certainly quite a few parents who realise in dismay that at the age of fourteen, their son can barely write his own name and has no intention of doing anything much other than cruising the net all day. Some of these parents regret their chosen educational approach and wish that they had organised the child’s education more methodically. I have no idea what the proportions are between these two groups. That is to say, I do not know how many go on to shine academically after being given charge of their own learning and how many just slump in front of a television of computer screen. Judging by my experiences with schooled children, the prognosis for home educated children whose parents push them is likely to be better than those who give them unlimited choice, but it could well be argued that home education and school are so radically different as to make such comparisons meaningless.


  1. The child learns to read without much work on the part of the parents, then goes on to ask to study at the Open University and ends up at a real university; the whole enterprise driven by the child’s desire to learn.
    Simon, this sounds very like a targeted poke at me. I have never said that it was not hard work on my part (robotics, anyone?). In particular, I have worked extremelyhard to overcome certain negative propensities and difficulties my children have experienced, which to me seemed more important than doing a project on the Romans. What I usually say is that I facilitated the education, I did not have a grand plan of specific things that they must learn and I did not teach specific subjects.

    When my DC were small, I read to them a lot of the time and much of what I read was way above their ability to decode printed text. For example, at 5, K received a set of the seven Narnia books. I read them to both DC, so even the then 3yo was very knowledgeable on the content and it was adding to his "cultural capital". I did it because it was enjoyable for all of us and because I was convinced that it would help them to move to being readers. It was not a reading lesson. We did not do writing lessons but we wrote for social and other practical purposes, such as letters to grandparents or notes for robotics competitions.

    When we were doing other activities, I was aware of the possibilities of introducing formal academic concepts. This meant that I was careful to use the proper names for things, such as mathematical words (e.g. one-to-one correspondence, multiply, weigh, scale) in cookery.

    I supported them when they wanted to do something, paid for clubs and classes as required, actively joined in the learning process and suggested things that we might do based on their own interests and other opportunities in our own lives (robotics, Russian, Japanese, German, chemistry, drama).

    Basically, I modelled how to learn things and encouraged them to join in. They always had the choice not to. K went through a phase at 12-13 of not wanting to do anything. My response was to point out that I would not be supporting her as an adult and that there are many minimum wage jobs for unskilled people but that I did not think she would find them satisfying. I did not immediately apply a remedy but left it up to her (although I was not necessarily happy with some of the choices). For me, this is all part of autonomous education as it works in our family. I am not prescriptive about anyone else's experience.

    Throughout the last 19 years, I have also been the family breadwinner. I mention it only because I think that is an important part of our home education journey - my DC know that I worked parttime so that I could home educate and spend the time with them. They have also seen what work involves because I've always worked from home. I think these are good things but I do not think that other people should have to reproduce them. There are all sorts of things I would have done differently if I had had different (or fewer) constraints.

    Autonomous education (IMHO) does not involve no work by the parent - although it can often look like that from the outside. And the children often think that the parent is doing nothing...

  2. 'Simon, this sounds very like a targeted poke at me.'

    Nothing of the sort. I am never reluctant to name people. There are a number of cases of this sort of thing which I had in mind; for example Alex Dowty. He went to a Steiner place until the age of eight, where they also do not believe in teraching to read until fairly late.

  3. OK, I accept your assertion that you did not have me in mind.

    I don't know whether or not the Dowtys feel that they worked at the boys' education. I've never heard Ian talk (or seen him post) about anything other than the law. Perhaps I need to check out FREd.

  4. Thank you Shena, you saved me from writing a long post saying much the same. All the autonomously educating parents I know work very hard! It's certainly not the easy option Simon seems to think.

    Depending on the child's interests it's quite likely to be more difficult than a parent-led approach that follows traditional subjects. At least with those subjects the books are all lined up in the book shop and library and museum and other activities aimed as schools are often ideal or adaptable. The parent can select a curriculum from easily available material and not worry about more obscure material because they are in charge. It can be much more difficult to find material and activities when few of your child's interests fall with the NC or traditional subjects.

  5. So Shena, you don't use anything like TEACH or ACE or have anything to do with CEE?

  6. 'you don't use anything like TEACH or ACE or have anything to do with CEE?'

    With the Christian background of the family, I was wondering the same thing!


  7. Why were either of you wondering that? Nowhere have you ever seen anything posted by me that would indicate I used any sort of curriculum (simply because I never did). Most Christian home educators', IME, do not use TEACH.

    I live in the same phone STD-code area as CEE (but then, so do ~200K other people). The fact that this morning I posted a notice about a TEACH-sponsored session this month at a local church is merely a coincidence - I was handed a flyer yesterday and thought I'd let other people know.

    I'd also be interested to know what Simon means by "the Christian background of the family". Again, I've never made a secret of the fact that I am a Christian and I have been involved in churches and church leadership since before I had DC. Like EHE and AE, it is not something I feel the need to thrust down people's throats.

  8. 'I'd also be interested to know what Simon means by "the Christian background of the family'.

    My, somebody's touchy today! I simply meant that just as in our family you have for many years been involved with a church; in your case the United Reform. Often people in this position take particular care with the spiritual and moral training of their children, I know I did. You seem to be saying that you did not use ACE, which is popular with many Christian home educators. I do not find this a shocking or offensive question and others have asked me the same thing without my being either surprised at the question or put out that anybody should think that out family had a Christian background.


  9. Considering that you claim to know next to nothing about CEE, you know more than I did.
    So, I did a search on CEE etc and came up with a report about the Ezzo family, They're yet another example of Christian fundementalists, bona fide Christians have expressed their genuine concerns about the CEE organisation. As did the NSPCC, their concerns are centred on child cruelty.

  10. "My, somebody's touchy today!"

    Reading the anonymous comment that followed yours, maybe Shena has good reason to be touchy if she's encountered this type of attitude before!

  11. Did I claim to know next to nothing about CEE? I said that I never used ACE/TEACH, which is not quite the same thing. I know people (EHEers and others) who have sent their children to Maranatha School (the HQ of CEE) and I have been on the sidelines of email discussions about ACE over the last 10 years or so. I spent an hour or so talking to the CEE director once (we met in a context not related to education), I know people who have worked for CEE and several parents and teachers from CEE joined in a discussion I organised with our local MP during the Badman saga. I therefore feel that I do know something about CEE.

    I would not be inclined to set "Christian fundamentalists" against "bona fide Christians" - if you have a definition of these categories, I'd be happy to consider them.

    Simon wrote:
    I simply meant that just as in our family you have for many years been involved with a church; in your case the United Reform.

    No, I have been involved with a congregation of the United Reformed Church for almost five years. Before that (if anyone cares), I attended two separate Baptist Churches for 11 and 6 years, respectively.

    Often people in this position

    Is that the missionary position? :)

    take particular care with the spiritual and moral training of their children

    Yes, I did and it was one of several factors in my choosing to home educate (although my primary reason was educational).

    You seem to be saying that you did not use ACE

    I did not (why am I being asked that today? - I've not exactly been backward in contributing info about how our EHE worked).

    which is popular with many Christian home educators.

    Is it? In the UK? My impression is that the majority of Christian UK EHEers are much like the majority of 'other' UK EHEers. They tend to mix and match the resources they use. There are some people who use ACE but a recent discussion on Deut6v7 had at least as many detractors as supporters. My subjective feeling is that it has been less acceptable to talk about AE (than about curricula) on at least one Christian EHE list. By no means do all Christian EHEers who use a curriculum use ACE - there are other curricula.

    Finally, Simon, my problem was with your use of the specific phrase "the Christian background of the family". Analysing my reaction, it is because Christians are what we are - it is not "background". Following Jesus permeates every part of our being and doing. It informs how we live our lives and every decision we take. In contrast, we do have a "Scottish background" because I am Scottish but have not lived there since I graduated. It is part of who I am but I am not living and breathing it. I hope that clarifies my earlier reaction.

  12. Well Shena, on UK Home Ed you say....
    'I was given a leaflet about this event today, Iknow no more than this and cannot find anything specific on the web.'
    'I thought some people here may be interested in attending.'

  13. The concerns about Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo/CEE.

  14. I think you got the wrong end of the wrong stick, Mum meant that she knew nothing more about the event, not TEACH or ACE or CEE or any other acronym you want to use.

    Also, before you leap into another wrong conclusion with both feet, I was there when she was handed the leaflet. It came from our minister, who had received it purely because he is the minister of a local church, not from CEE's director.

    Kat Deuchars

  15. Anonymous said: "They're yet another example of Christian fundamentalists, bona fide Christians have expressed their genuine concerns about the CEE organisation."

    Does that mean we're only bona fide Christians if we express 'genuine concerns about the CEE organisation'? And what are 'genuine concerns'? The same ones you hold?
    If that is what you mean, then that would make you a fundamentalist; a fundamentalist what I'm not entirely sure.

    "As did the NSPCC, their concerns are centred on child cruelty."

    Firstly, I would have thought anyone would have been able to tell that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children would centre on child cruelty concerns.
    Secondly, considering the NSPCC's previous record with regards to home education, I wouldn't have thought they were an authority to which you wanted to appeal.

    Btw, It would be really useful if some of these 'Anonymous' posts were signed, otherwise it looks like it all comes from one person.

  16. There is so much wrong in this post that it makes me want to cry with frustration.

    Simon said: "I simply meant that, just as in our family, you have for many years been involved with a church; in your case the United Reform."

    This just gibberish, it's the United Reformed Church. As in, it's some of those churches that reformed away from Elizabeth's Anglican Church of England uniting back into one organisation.

    "Often people in this position take particular care with the spiritual and moral training of their children"

    What position exactly? Being part of a church? Are you seriously suggesting that every Christian parent feels the need to 'take particular care' in training their children?
    Btw, I am not a dog, I do not feel the need to be trained, especially not in 'spirituality' which ought to be an individual's independent choice.

    "I know I did."

    It saddens me to think that you did not feel the witness of your own life would be sufficient for your children. What does that mean for all those others that your life touches?

    "You seem to be saying that you did not use ACE, which is popular with many Christian home educators."

    I'm confused by the word 'seem', I thought she stated it very clearly.
    Also, we are not 'Christian home educators'. We are 'home educators' and we are 'Christians' and, at least to me, neither is dependent on the other.

    "I do not find this a shocking or offensive question and others have asked me the same thing"

    Well, firstly, Mum's always been very clear that the closest we come to a curriculum is the OU, while I believe that you actually used one to home-educate.
    Secondly, as other people have already dragged up examples of families who use ACE and beat their children, I would definitely not want to be linked in anyone's mind with such atrocities; even if we did use the material.

    "put out that anybody should think that out family had a Christian background."

    I'm confused as to why you used the phrase 'put out'. Surely, if you are Christian, you would actively want people to be able to tell from your conduct and discourse that you are Christian.
    Also, what does 'Christian background' actually mean? It does suggest that it is over and done with and I don't think any religion can be like that as, even if you are no longer practicing or agree with those religious beliefs, they will always have an impact of your interpretation of life.

  17. Sorry if I'm blunt and derisive but, unlike my mother, I have not had the time to mellow, gain wisdom or learn patience.

  18. Okay....we have established that Shena doesn't use TEACH - nor do I, although I did once go to one of their "info" days....I also live in the same postcode as our local Macdonalds but don't go there either!

    As to the original topic - parental involvement in education; for me, home educating my daughter was extremely hard work, no doubt about it. However I do think that there can be differences between children, and since you comment on schooled children too, my experiences with my own illustrate that. My eldest, who went to school flew through GCSES and A levels without really any parental involvement; this is partly because he really is self motivated and also because at the time we were fostering 4 small children - he had to get on with it. Roll forward to now, and my youngest schooled daughter has just completed her GCSEs with a huge amount of direct involvement from me- in fact it seems as if I have put as much effort in as when my HE daughter did her own GCSEs. We have waded through revision notes, past papers, practised French speaking and music listening... the list is endless. Yet I expect that the final grades will be pretty identical to her brother's - different child, different needs/expectations. Since this dd is intending to do maths/science A levels I suppose the next 2 years will follow the same pattern; again unlike her brother she is already discussing/researching uni options and wanting to be taken to look at places- whereas my eldest merely told us where he intended to go, went to all interviews by himself on the train and never asked our advice at all. With my son I would definitly be in the group who could honestly say "he did it all himself"
    The same applies to home educated young people; some learn in a much more independent way than others; that isn't "good" or "bad" - just different. I am sure that home education is always more work for the parents than school education, but there are big variation is the amount of parental involvement n both categories- I don't think you can generalise based on your own experience with your daughter.

  19. Here's another link to the CEE and the Ezzo's, this one shows the concern expressed by Christian groups, The Evangelical Alliance and Rachel Hodgkin(children's rights lawyer).

  20. Tell me Kat, I've taken notice of your snorts of derision.
    Would you wish to see the NSPCC closed down?

  21. Both the articles ( and were written in 1999. Are they still relevant today? Do the Ezzo's still have links to CEE ltd? I am interested in further concerns about CEE that I clearly have not come to hear about.

  22. "Tell me Kat, I've taken notice of your snorts of derision."

    I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at here but I sense I'm on the edge of a minefield, so let me apologise if I actually offended you; it was unintentional. I freely admit that I can go a bit OTT, especially when something's got my back up.

    "Would you wish to see the NSPCC closed down?"

    I wasn't trying to suggest that there is anything actually wrong with the NSPCC, so long as they stick to their own area of expertise.
    I've had no experience of them with regards to child cruelty but their track record with home ed is not one I would want to appeal to for my argument.

  23. I think you'll find that child cruelty is the NSPCC's area of expertise.
    Home Ed doesn't have a squeaky clean track record.

  24. C, it looks as if CEE still promotes the Ezzo's books about parenting. Apparently they have been known to be quite insistent that attendees at their conferences/seminars make a purchase..
    There has been universal condemnation of the Ezzo's and their 'parenting' books.

  25. Thanks Anonymous.
    I confess this is a side of CEE I am not aware of. I have been using some parts of their curriculum for over a year now and have managed to dip in and out without encountering anything dodgy. Hopefully it can remain that way, but its good to be informed.

  26. Anonymous said...
    it looks as if CEE still promotes the Ezzo's books about parenting.

    Do you have a link to that? I've just searched their site and can find nothing.

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