State schools have long been used as a political football by successive politicians – a lot of whom, it can’t be ignored, were themselves educated privately.
The last ten or so years have seen austerity measures used as a reason (some may use the word, ‘excuse’) for starving schools of cash. Funding has reached breaking point and last year some 4,000 head teachers wrote to parents explaining just how short of money their schools were.
The real losers in all of this, however, are those students who have a Special Education Need (SEN) such as dyslexia or autism. At this point it’s fair to declare, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that I have an interest here as I am the mother of a SEN child. My son was diagnosed with autism when he was five.
Properly supporting SEN students requires schools to spend a significant amount of money.
While SEN students do attract £6,000 a year funding each (the ‘notional SEN budget’), the school must meet an additional £6,000 themselves from their own funds. This is, clearly, money which most schools simply do not have. So, to put it another way, SEN students cost schools money at at time when most are barely keeping their heads above water. This has led to some, reluctantly, refusing to take any more SEN children as they simply cannot afford them.
For those students who do have a school place, a lack of appropriate support at school can lead to a generally negative experience all around. School is hard enough anyway, and some SEN students find it impossible to cope with the routine, rules, expectations, and exam pressure the general state school system puts them under.
I am very lucky that my son’s school has been great with him, and he loves going to school. Sadly, I am well aware that I am in a minority.
On CHP training days, some of the stories which I hear from parents leave me both heartbroken that any child should have such a negative school experience, and furious that more isn’t being done to fix this. It’s just so short-sighted.
Yes, it is expensive to provide resources to mainstream schools to support SEN students. But how much does it cost long term if this doesn’t happen?
A child who drops out of mainstream school usually ends up costing a lot more than one who is given the correct support to stay? £800m, according to a newspaper article from a few years ago.
A feeling of being failed by the state system has led to an interest in homeschooling in the UK.
In Gloucestershire, 40 SEN students were removed from the state system to be homeschooled.
The BBC has reported a 40% increase generally in parents removing their children from mainstream education between 2015 – 2018, a large majority of which were SEN students who simply could not cope within the state sector.
I completely understand and empathise with parents who choose to go down the homeschooling route. (I am also incredibly impressed by some who take it even further and look to world schooling as an education alternative. If you’re interested in this, by the way, do take a look at next month’s Everywhere magazine which is devoting a full issue to the topic.)
Is homeschooling a viable choice for most parents? Well, yes and no. The time involved is the most obvious barrier. If you need to work full-time then you’re probably going to find it challenging to research, prepare, and deliver a school curriculum on a day to day basis.
But that aside, you may find yourself asking what a school can offer your child that you as a parent cannot? Particularly if your children are very young. Not every country insists on children starting full-time school when they are five. Seven and eight years old is the norm in Finland which has one of the best education systems in the world. With this in mind, if your child is struggling and still at the KS1 stage, perhaps they just need a bit of time away from the demands of a busy, noisy classroom. Similarly, if your child is very shy or has a particular SEN, is throwing them in with a mixed group of 25 other children for six hours a day helping or actually hindering them?
As is apparent, there are many many considerations in regard to homeschooling which I’m not going to go into here. What interests me is that so many parents – take another look at those figures I quoted above – are purposely deciding that this is the way forward.
Is this a positive choice in that they feel it would be best for their child, or is it just a result of what seems to be a cash-starved and failing system?
Homeschooling is, at the moment, an option only to those parents who have the time and resources to devote to it. So what about the children whose parents can’t afford to leave work and teach at home? Or those parents who simply do not feel they are unable to do this for whatever reason? The West London Free School is an example of a school formed by parents and with a very specific vision and philosophy which set it apart slightly from most mainstream state schools. To date, while there have been a few teething troubles, it seems to be successful and generally achieving what it set out to. With this in mind, are parent-led schools the obvious model for the future of state funded education?
What do you think? Do you homeschool or is this something you are interested in? Or do you think parent-led founded and led schools are the way forward?