Monday, 21 January 2013

Good and bad advice

I have been musing today on the disadvantages for home educated children, particularly the older ones, whose parents refuse to have any dealings with their local authority. I have been prompted to do this by my recent exchanges in the comments on this blog with a person who believes that a teenager who takes no examinations and learns about nothing but housework will be in a better position to gain employment than a graduate of Oxford University. Now before we go any further, I am quite prepared to believe that the person expressing these views is a muddle-headed crank, but there is a little more to the case than that. Let us see what was said and why this has a bearing on home education in general.

After discussing the case of a woman, Joy Baker, who refused to enter her children for any examinations and felt that girls should only learn about cooking and childcare, the comment was made that:

I'll warrant then that Joy's girls would have had to learn cookery, nutrition, household management, child care and basic account keeping - all valuable life skills and skills that would have enabled them to earn a living since these are services people pay for. On the other hand Simon Webb managed to equip his daughter to take a degree in the "non-subject" of philosophy. On balance I know which education seems to have been the most suitable.

He or she then went on to say:

A philosophy graduate may be lucky enough to find a reasonably well paid job. I doubt they will ever actually produce anything and most likely they will forever be a burden on the public purse - I suspect there are not too many openings for philosophy graduates in the private sector.

Now it is plain that here is a person who believes that a child raised at home without taking any examinations, or even studying conventional academic subjects, will be better placed in the job market than an Oxford graduate. This is an utterly bizarre notion and the evidence is wholly against it.

There are several problems with this point of view, which is not a particularly uncommon one to see expressed by some home educating parents. First, it is false. All the evidence is that university graduates in general earn far more over their lifetime than those who do not attend university. There is an added ‘premium’ for universities in the Russell Group. Graduates from these places are viewed with particular favour by potential employers. The subject of the degree is not all that important. Few of those who study history go on to become historians, just as few of those who study philosophy become philosophers! It is the degree itself and the nature of the university from which it was obtained that count highly.

The idea that there could be any advantage in not studying academic subjects or having GCSEs or A levels, is also a strange one. There is a direct and strong correlation between the possession of five GCSEs and employment prospects, to say nothing of life chances in general. The same person who felt that a childhood spent learning domestic drudgery was a better education than one spent at university said;

A person who can make their own clothes, grow, cook and preserve their own food, account for and manage money will have a skillset that is not only saleable but will ensure they can ever after provide for their needs without falling back on the public purse.

This may be true if you are living in the Middle Ages, but for city dwellers in a 21st Century, industrial society, it is something of a fantasy.

Where do visits from the local authority come into this? If a parent were to be in contact with her local authority and having visits from an adviser, she would be far less likely to believe foolish and dangerous nonsense of this sort. At the very least, she would have access to somebody who could explain to her that a girl learning about nothing but cooking and taking care of babies, one who studied no academic subjects nor took any examinations, would not really be receiving a better education than one who went on to university. Nor would she really be in a better situation for getting a job. Although, as I said, the person commenting here was clearly a little strange, this attitude about education is by no means unknown among British home educators.

I suppose that I should at this point remind readers that I am not saying that any child who does not take A levels and go to university is a failure. One of my daughters left school at sixteen and started work at once. The other went to university. Both are successful in their own fields. It would have been sad though if neither had realised the opportunities available to her, if one had wanted to go to college say, and then found that this required GCSEs which she hadn't taken because nobody told her that she would need them.  Fortunately, both girls  had access to careers advice through school and college and were able to weigh up their future options. The home educated teenager who has no contact with either school or the local authority might not have access to impartial advice about further or higher education. It is possible that her parents too will tell her, ‘Don’t worry dear, learning about cookery and childcare at home and not taking any examinations is a much more suitable education for you than trying to get a place at Oxford.’ You couldn’t, as they say, make it up!


  1. you do not need to have GCSE to go to college.

  2. 'you do not need to have GCSE to go to college'

    For some courses, this is true. Getting onto A level courses without GCSEs is extremely difficult these days. This has implications for those wishing to attend university, which is where advice and guidance from local authorities can be helpful.

    1. Some colleges allow the student to show in an interview if he/she may be suitable for A levels such as physics or Maths or English. Peter did and was allowed to do A level Physics and has just scored last week 81% in practice paper for physics. he had no formal exams but surprised the interviewer with depth of understanding of this subject. Colleges will look at the student what he or she knows any other factors as well

    2. "Peter did and was allowed to do A level Physics and has just scored last week 81% in practice paper for physics."

      So glad to hear that Peter is doing so well and hope it continues. Glad to hear that there are some sensible colleges out there. My children had no trouble getting into college without GCSEs, but they have all opted for BTEC courses rather than A Levels. Luckily the university (top quarter in the league tables for their subject) one went to also ignored their lack of GCSEs too!

  3. 'Colleges will look at the student what he or she knows any other factors as well '

    No. *Some* colleges will. You were lucky.

    1. You speak to the teachers on the open night of a college and explain your child situation what he/she been studying any other factors showing your child level of understanding. The student can also speak in an interview with the college manger of services about what he. She thinks they should be studying and why.
      The student can also speak to the tutor about a subject he/she may want to study and why they should at start of college I think your allowed to change courses for that term to.Peter had meeting with his tutor and senior tutor who fully support him over the courses he taking including the A level physics.
      Teachers at Peter College look to see if a child on the wrong course if the child bright or struggling teachers want to get students on the right course.
      Its no good to a college a student doing the wrong course waste of everybody time. I have found Peter college to be very helpful and im sure other colleges are to try it you got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    2. Or, in our area, in any of the 5 colleges within an hour's driving distance, you go to the college, speak to the teachers and they say, 'Not on your nelly without GCSE's, dear.'

    3. Peter- I am glad that Peter Junior is doing well at college - it is a good place and my own daughter is doing well there. However I should point out that I know from first hand knowledge that the very same college hasn't been so obliging about the no GCSEs situation - when a close home educating friend had a HE daughter who wanted to study there for popular A level courses - they made it absolutely clear that they wouldn't consider her without 5 GCSES. As she was only studying for 4 this caused a last minute crisis - a late entry and a crash course in another subject. Of course she went there and did brilliantly- A*A*A - perhaps your Peter's flexibility is benefiting from this girls success!

      Noy always so easy though!

    4. No it was done at the interview when we meet the college tutor and confirmed with her Peter achievements in various aspects of his life she was amazed.
      I am afraid your friends daughter had nothing to do with it as when I first went to college they said that you cant do a levels but we then approached the college services manger and his tutor peter did this as well like a dog with a bone until he gets some of what he wanted which was to do A level physic something he always been interested in from a young age he would read those gcse books on it from about 9 something which was filmed in that programme but never shown
      Peter now mentors a student at the college as well
      Physics is going fine
      We also told the college about the way Peter been treated by Hampshire LEA and the lies it had told about me and Peter something the tutor promised me would not happen at the college his tutor is fab very supportive.

      some on her sound rather upset that Peter studying A levels you upset to Webb?

  4. 'If a parent were to be in contact with her local authority and having visits from an adviser, she would be far less likely to believe foolish and dangerous nonsense of this sort.'

    Possibly, but then you'd have to weigh that up against the dangerous nonsense likely to be spouted by LA officers. Two egs from our area:

    1. 'It's not possible for parents to teach to GCSE level. They don't have the specialist knowledge.'
    2. 'It's impossible for HE kids to sit exams. They are only available to schoolchildren.'

    Utter rubbish. Thankfully, the families involved had access to the truth from within the HE community. They soon stopped allowing visits when they realised the LA employees were prejudiced ignoramuses.

    1. I agree fully with that Hampshire LEA officer have said this to me and to a county councillor he was amazed when I showed him that you can teach GCSE knowledge from home.
      your right A LOT OF LEA employees are prejudiced ignoramuses and old Webb wants you to allow them to come into your house and judge you and your child