(About Tom)




Home School, our way.

Home Education in the UK 2003-2018 was/is a rare administration free zone. If you never start school you don't have to register, there are no regulations or requirements beyond the need to provide an appropriate education. There is also very little research into methods and outcomes. The lack of research is disconcerting for would be home educators, and when the government tries to impose order upon the anarchy, their attempts are consequently ignorant. This ignorant legislation inevitably outrages and unites the entire home ed community, which is an incredible achievement because it includes religious fundamentalists, autonomous educationalists (anarchists), school refugees with special needs or bad behaviour, and the royal family. Till now regulation attempts have been thwarted because people united are quite hard to defeat.

Every family educates in a different way, depending on the child's nature, parental preference/ability, family resources and the nature of the local community. What follows is a description of our home education path in the hope it sheds a bit of light on the possible, maybe it'll be useful to people for cherry picking ideas. 

Our house was a home school from 2003-18 with 2 boys. Our younger son started at art college in September 2018, the older one has aready finished.

We started home school because our older son hated Year 1 at primary school. I couldn't argue with any of his reasons for not wanting to go. He didn't like wearing a uniform, he didn't like having to sit still for long periods of time, he didn't like the way teachers talked to him, he couldn't take a toy with him, he didn't like the gold stars they kept trying to stick on him, and he didn't like being forced to call what he knew was orange 'red', or turquoise 'green'. Forcing children to call any colour vaguely red, red, and then move on, is actually enforcing visual laziness - teaching children not to look. So we decided to home school, and began trying to work out what was an 'appropriate'  education.

Once you start thinking, it's obvious that school is no longer fit for purpose. It was invented at the beginning of the industrial revolution for the creation of an industrial society. In this post industrial era schools are preparing kids for jobs and a society that no longer exists, while destroying initiative and creativity which will be key to life in the emerging new social order. The questions for parents are, can they do a worse job at educating their children than schools, and can they make time? My partner and I both work part time, so we had time, and believed we couldn't do worse.

At first we tried teaching curriculumy type information, but it felt uncomfortable so we gradually gave it up. Instead we just looked at what the kids wanted to do and enabled it to happen. When they showed an interest in rock climbing I learnt how to belay, if they wanted to do animation I worked out the camera, computer and software systems, learnt how to use them, did a quick demo and left them to get on with it. If they looked lost we'd look at what they had done and then help them imagine what they might like to do next, or brainstorm something completely different.

I liked the idea of them experiencing different learning routes - trial and error, searching the internet, watching documentaries on TV, watching demonstrations, going to clubs/workshops to experience group learning. It became what is loosely called 'autonomous learning'. Autonomous learning claims that a child learns quicker and better if they are interested in something, than if they don't like it or the way it is taught. They learn to find out what they want and how to get it, they get used to doing what they want.

From about the age of 7 or so I showed them how to use Photoshop and animation programs, I felt it was important they learnt to think of a computer as a tool rather than a recreational platform. If they started playing video games I assumed that was a sign reality was boring them and put a bit of extra effort into helping them think of things they'd like to do. One advantage of home school is that you know when your child is safe to use tools and can introduce them when they are ready. We could allow them unrestricted use of the internet, give them bodging tools, scapels, welders, 'grown up' paint and cartridge paper from a far younger age than schools can. Whenever they wanted to use a new tool or material they could - after we showed them how to use it safely. This is good because getting satisfying results out of 'kids' materials is really hard. Even a professional illustrater is going to have a hard time painting a picture with redicolor paint on printer paper using a cheap brush, it is almost impossible.  

When aged around 13, they appeared to have learnt everything from me they were interested in so I began to feel a bit helpless. Kids clubs were too basic and they were only reluctantly accepted into adult workshops if I was there to mind them. But a few (expensive) adult workshops in things like green woodwork or ceramics went a long way. They discovered that a lot of experts and graduates put films online explaining the hows and whys of making stuff. By the time they were 14 I was asking them to help me with my work in their areas of interest. They picked up things like virtual 3D modelling, games design, virtual reality world making, and after effects, effortlessly online when they were 13+. So everything kind of worked out OK in that learning progressed well beyond our ability to teach.

They both wanted to go to a local art college at 16 to do a 6th form level 3 diplomas. These courses normally ask for 4 GCSEs, but after interview they said 'don't worry, you'll just need to get your GCSEs in Maths and English Language retake classes while here in order to get your diploma'. I've heard this from other people as well, home schooled kids have a good reputation at many colleges and universities, so they try and clear the exam hurdles out of the way if the interview goes well. If you never took a GCSE, you never failed it!

Our older son did weekly online maths sessions for a year, we asked the recently graduated mathematician to do any maths that interested him and our son. I think they did computer algorithymy stuff. The result was that he enjoyed maths and when he did do GCSE at college he A'd it first time. He did struggle with the English GCSE but eventually passed it. His writing seems fine now.

Our younger son wanted to take his English and Maths GCSEs before starting college so as not to have to do re-takes at college. He's been doing them for the last year with weekly tuition, I've had to look at the English curriculum. The information is laid out in a way which is visually really hard to read, while the texts you have to read/assess are 100 year old classics, and therefore clunky, with small point size, no line spaces between indented long paragraphs. The morality described in them is way beyond its sell by date - child beatings, hunting and empire. The content of English GCSE is as out of date as its ambition, I am irritated that my son feels compelled to study it. I suggested he didn't bother.

My partner and I are both art workers and the kids seemed happy to go in that direction so our home education turned out to be 10 years of art school. They have both been helping me for years, and began selling art at exhibitions or online, and being paid to make short films by the age of 16. They're not raking it in but its a good Saturday job's worth from their own work. Every now and then they entered work into competitions at the Bodgers Ball, local garden shows, Exeter Animation Festival, and computer games design or VR online and win surprisingly often. Both wanted to go to art college at 16 to be around roomfuls of people making stuff. They are A grade art students and appear reasonably socially functional. I think it's all working out OK for them. They are definitely more skilled than I was at 16!

For me it's been great, it fed directly into my work. Having to focus on child learning meant I accidently devised painting and animation workshops that I then taught at schools and art clubs. It has improved my own painting. To teach a workshop in action painting or grid enlargement you have to think hard about what is really important, how it works or why it doesn't. Following the kid's interest in green woodwork meant that I had to learn it myself - for example I had to learn how to use a drawknife (8inch razor shape blade) before handing it to my 9 year olds, and this has led me into a new area of work.

To usefully enable or suggest direction to the kids, I had to work out what they were finding of interest, so I had to try and look at everything again through their eyes, and ways of looking my partner had introduced them to. A pond was not just a pond to casually walk passed, it had frogs, newts dragon fly larvae and was rammed full of drama. A tree wasn't something I might cut down for firewood or looked nice, it was a potential climbing frame, leaf galls to make ink out of, or home of strange looking insects. It was a great eye re-opening experience, but temporary, now the kids are gone trees are starting to look a lot like chairs or firewood again.

I loved bed time stories. Children's literature is so much better now than in the '70s, such smooth reads with brilliant storylines, Phillip Reeve, Michele Paver, Philip Ridley and loads more. I am so glad I got 10 years of reading in, I would have happily gone on for longer but I got moved out of the bed room.

I haven't attempted precise carbon footprint accounting, but I assume the environmental impact of keeping our house heated, lit, and resourced during 'school' hours is a fraction of what it costs to run a child's share of a school and associated infrastructure.

Schools are paid between �6000-�8000/year/pupil. If home school families were paid that, I'm guessing everyone could afford to home school. What helped us afford to do it was because as part time workers we got working family tax credits. I always saw them as my home education payment. The tax payer still got a bargain because we didn't get as much child/tax credits as schools would have been paid.

If you've read this far you're probably interested in home educating your kids. Ours is probably extreme art school home ed. I've come across other families specialising in everything from maths to music with similar results. Loads of families don't specialise and the kids seem fine and when they finish they seem to find work or further education routes.

If however you are interested in devising legislation, I hope you will look at home education as informing and a valuable part of the redesign of education fit for the 21stC, and work out how it could be encouraged and supported. If you look at home education as a danger that must be regulated you are starting from the wrong place and completely missing the point. It is the mainstream system that is defective, get your own house in order.

Of all my DIY/experimental environmental enterprises/artworks, the cost analysis, social benefit, and eco gains of home school have been the most effective. It has been cheaper for society than the industrial alternative, a smaller carbon footprint, unmissable fun, and a better result. You can check out this claim by taking a look at the work my kids have put online -