Many people wonder exactly what happens when someone is home educated and in this article I aim to answer some questions that seem to be raised in my personal experience. Firstly, it is a legal form of education within the UK and in many other countries (it seems to be widespread in the USA, where some families choose to educate their children at home in order to follow a religious framework for their education). I must admit to only having direct experience of home education within the UK, so that is the area I will focus on.
People choose to educate their children at home for many reasons; some children never attend school and are taught this way throughout their education, however it is possible to remove children from mainstream schooling at any time during their compulsory education as long as the local education authority is informed. As mentioned previously, some families choose to educate children at home to make religion the focus of their schooling or even to avoid their children being taught about controversial topics such as evolution. In my area there are many travelling families who remove their children from school in order for them to concentrate on the traditional family life they experience or because they don't agree with the school environment. In my case, I had many problems with bullying at school so I decided I would like to become educated at home and it suited me brilliantly; when children leave school because of bullying I don't believe it is running away from the issue, but finding a way of coping with it that gives them the confidence that there is something they can succeed at.
Contrary to popular belief, no resources are supplied by schools or local education authorities and all books and resources have to be paid for by the family of the child being home educated. I didn't have a personal tutor (although some people choose to employ them) and my mum is not a trained teacher so I taught myself through reading books. I used mainly revision guides (CGP and Letts) and worked through exercises in workbooks, which worked well for me. The Internet may be a good source of educational resources but it is by no means essential for a thorough education as I didn't have home access to it and simply accessed it when I needed to at the library.
The National Curriculum DOES NOT have to be followed when children are being educated at home, although work does have to be completed (see the section on monitoring). The guidelines I would give are about 3 hours of work per day and future plans should be considered when choosing what subjects and topics to cover. For example, if you want to take GCSEs or A Levels it is a good idea to follow the curriculum to some extent (if you use revision guides this should be simple enough to do). Focusing on core subjects such as Maths and English is also recommended. One of the benefits of home education is the opportunity it gives you to work at a speed you are comfortable with; you can take more time on the subjects you find difficult and complete extension work in subjects you enjoy.
This varies depending on the local authority in the area where you live. An authority has to intervene if it appears to it that a child within its boundaries is not receiving a satisfactory education, but is under no legal obligation to ensure that a child actually is. Many, however, do seek further information when they learn that a child is being home educated. Gathering information may be done by visiting the home, by meeting with parents, or with children themselves, to discuss the work covered, or by considering written descriptions and accounts submitted by parents. As many home educating families are aware, the authorities do not have a legal right to be allowed into the home. In my case I had a home visit each year. If work is found to be below the standard of provision required the authority will give the family some time to improve the situation; however, if the situation does not improve they have the right to demand the children attend school. I found a good way of proving my work schedule, alongside presenting folders of work, was to keep a diary of my studies and topics covered daily.
It is not compulsory to sit any exams when being educated at home and I did not take any SAT exams. One possibility if you do want to sit exams is to register with an exam board and centre and take your exams as a private candidate. My family couldn't afford this, so I took my GCSEs a year late at a sixth form college (I only took 3 and a BTEC) followed by my A levels. The sixth form was less structured than a school so I still had an element of independent study to suit my learning style. However, I am aching to get back to the self motivated style of learning available at university.
The social life at school is obviously an important element of development in a child's life and lots of people wonder if children will be missing out by not attending school. Firstly, there are many clubs available for children to join and mix with other children, from music to sports. Secondly, many children's development can actually be stunted at school if they experience bullying, 'tag along' or never escape their shyness. Being educated at home allows a child to develop confidence in their own ability and character and the fact that they can often experience an adult world simply by food shopping or travelling with their parents can mean they develop a helpful element of maturity early on in their life. This definitely does not take away from their childhood, but rather adds to it.
Many people laughed at us when I began being taught at home - from teachers and friends to nosey neighbours; they all believed I was throwing my life away and I would never get anywhere without following a conventional education. However, the independent learning skills and maturity I gained from being educated at home, I believe, are a major influence behind the university offers I got. I was able to show the universities I had an original way of thinking and the self motivation of organising my studies. Obviously, home education is not the only way to develop these skills but it is quite a good way of doing so!