“Tell me and I will forget, Show me and I may remember,
involve me and I will understand”
Yesterday was an end of an era for us. An era that provided us with the most exciting and enjoyable journey of our lives. So while I am doing a happy dance that home education has not in any way stopped our youngest son from moving on to the next step in his life, I am also a little bit sad that our life changing journey is officially at an end.
Home education has changed our lives and without doubt for us that change has been for the better.
If I have to use words that summed up our home education journey, they would include words like 'liberating' 'rewarding' 'amazing' 'awesome' and 'lifesaving'
Yes lifesaving. For the eldest of my two sons home education was a life saver. After being hit by a car on his way to school (aged 11) and subsequently suffering two breakdowns, being forced on three occasions into totally inappropriate educational settings, had we not have taken the leap of faith into the world of home education with him we would have been looking at a very dark future indeed. One I don't even want to think about.
Even when my eldest was finally diagnosed with autism at the age of 13, we very quickly found out that there were no appropriate education placements for him to attend in our Local Authority. Because he was bright (the two breakdowns counted for nothing) we were told that he would never get a statement of special educational needs. He had already been out of school for two years at that point. The choice then was to either force him into something that would have taken us back to square one with his mental health, or continue to build on what home education had already achieved during the two years that he had already been out of the system. There was no choice really. Who is going to willingly chose to damage their child's mental health?
Home education is not the right choice for everyone but it was for us. Home education allowed us to celebrate everything our boys 'can do' as opposed to dwelling on what we were being told they needed to do better.
I firmly believes that outcomes are relative to the child. Educational attainment is pretty meaningless if the child can not apply their knowledge or does not have the right skill set to do so.
Outcomes for our eldest have been very different to the outcomes that our youngest is currently enjoying. But I still firmly believe that my eldest's outcomes were positive and relative to him. Home education allowed him the time he needed to self repair. It also gave him the time he needed to come to terms with his autism. His academic ability was never an issue. His emotional well-being was. He can still buy and sell me with brain power every day of the week, but he can also now hold a conversation with someone he does not know and he is not spending 24/7 locked in his room.
My eldest son is now 26. There have been no jobs or training for him. He continues to struggle with many things. He is now visually impaired as well as having autism and he is always going to need care and probably won't live totally independently. But he does have life skills. He knows the importance of being clean and tidy. He most certainly knows if someone is trying to take him for an idiot and would know if someone is trying to take him for a ride. I see that as an outcome, although the Government might not agree with me.
We took our youngest out of the system when he was only 5 years old, when the cracks were already beginning to show. Once again academic ability trumped physical illness. No statement for our youngest no matter that he was spending more time off school with a vomiting syndrome than he was there. We could have fought the system, we could have demanded that it met his needs, but we already knew that we could do a better job than it was educating our son. So our youngest son has been educated at home from being 5 and a half years old. He has never looked back, and nor have we.
Not having to run the gauntlet of the school gate lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. But much more importantly within a few weeks the vomiting syndrome was all but left behind us. It only reared it's head again during puberty when anxiety once again became an issue. This time the anxiety for our son was about what happened next for him. He wants a job. He wants training and he wants qualifications. Despite there still being nothing available to him we have found a way to make it happen for him. It's early days yet but our son is happy to make his way into mainstream education again, and we are happy to support him while he does that.
I was invited to speak at a Westminster Briefing about home education and I like to think that I gave an audience full of professionals, many of whom started the day with a lot of preconceived ideas about home education, quite a bit of food for thought.
We were never precious with our home education everyone was welcome to join in with us. It's amazing how many of my son's friends did just that. We've covered the house with every flag of every nation. We know that Guy Fawkes was only the fall guy and not the brains of the outfit. My son built and modified a Dyson hover. He constructed a drinking straw that started at the top of our stairs, went down the stairs and into our kitchen and it worked!!! Train's can go upstairs if the tracked is laid correctly. We have had day's out we would never have thought about in our quest for knowledge. We have sat watching a Dolphin swimming in our Marina at midnight. Taken a trip on a fishing boat to watch the dolphin swim close by. Watched meteorites at 2am in the middle of nowhere, and found out that voluntary work is just as fulfilling as paid employment, as long as it is something you want to do.
My proudest home education moment came when my sixteen year old son was invited to speak at an All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism about autism and employment on July 10th 2010.
It came at the very end of our son's home education but it encapsulated everything that home education has ever given to our son - confidence, self esteem, effective communication and socialisation skills. All of the things that our son will need to make his way successfully in our mainstream world.
When we took our youngest son out of school in year one to educate him at home we were told that we could not wrap him up in cotton wool, by a couple of the professionals who were in our lives at that time.
We told them that we were taking him out of school to enable him and not to disabled him. I think we did pretty darn ok with that one.
The last fifteen years have been a ride and a half and we would not have missed one second of it. Home education is a way of life for us now and I don't think that things are going to change that much for us apart from the fact that we have now given the responsibility to educate our son to someone else. We will probably still be doing exactly what we have been doing for fifteen years for the rest of our lives. Home education is a way of life to us and it has been a very good way of life.