When you’ve hit a wall with school – is it time to home educate?

What do you do when the experience of school has become unbearable for you child? When the mere thought of attending causes evenings and weekends to become a battle ground and the aftermath of a typical day is emotional overwhelm? Should you keep pressing on? Are you harming your child?

Should you just call a stop to the whole thing and home educate?

Depending on which statistics you read home schooling is up, somewhere between 130% [1] and 700%[2]. Whatever the exact figure it’s an upward trend and this isn’t just a 2020 thing, it’s been on the rise since 2013.

Whilst for some people this is a lifestyle choice there are many within the home ed system who are there purely due to the distress their children were experiencing in school and the sense that there are no other options. For some this is a great step forward, but for others it creates a whole new set of challenges. A great fit for one family is not necessary helpful for another.

So when school is a nightmare for you and your child, and emotions are running high, how do you decide whether home ed is the best route for you or what on earth to do next?

These are tough decisions, but when you pause, step back from the emotional turmoil and tap into your expertise then you are more equipped to make a clear, confident decision for you and your child. This is what I help parents do in many areas of family life. Here’s a few questions on this topic to help you access your wisdom and expertise.

1. What does my child need from their education?

Education is about so many things, not just academic learning, although that is important and qualifications are pretty essential. Whether it’s social skills, learning to be in environments which stretch and challenge, meeting a diverse range of people, child care etc there’s a whole range of factors which affect where and how we choose to educate our offspring.

Take some time to capture both what your child needs AND what practical needs you have as a family. Cost, time, the impact on other family members, your personalities, how well you feel equipped, all come into this and thinking of the whole can be hard when there is such a high level of pressure in one area. Your own expectations and experiences will undoubtedly surface in this – how do they influence you?

If you find yourself stuck at “I want my child to be happy” then dig further into what that means and looks like? Highly stressed children cannot access learning, but does “happy” mean skipping through the door and loving every minute? What does it look like in practice? How would you know your child is happy?

You may not find an option which ticks every box completely, but when you have a clear list of your child’s needs then you can begin to identify what you are looking for, whether that’s through home ed, a state school or an alternative type of educational provision.

It’s rare to find a perfect fit and learning to deal with a degree of adversity and discomfort is a valuable life skill. What that looks like will depend on your child. Best fit, rather than perfect fit is the goal. Being clear about your child’s main needs and your top priorities is crucial to being able to evaluate how you move forward.

What’s missing right now?

If your child is consistently struggling then something is missing, but what? You will already have some knowledge about what does work for you child. What settings do they thrive in? When do they learn best – is it active? Is it quiet? What isn’t present in their current setting which might make a significant difference?

If you could wave a magic wand what would change in their current setting or circumstances?

Note it’s what would change in the setting or circumstances NOT in them. I can’t offer you a magic wand, but exploring that question can bring all sorts of useful learning – is it support at playtime or a quiet space in a classroom? Is it less writing and more outdoor time? Whether this gives you ideas of how to make improvements within their current educational setting or what you’re looking for elsewhere, then this question is about really getting to the heart of what you feel might help your child.

If their current school were to be an option what would need to change?

What specific aspects of school need to improve? Getting into the classroom? Lesson time? Play time? How would you know if it had changed? What amount of change is enough for it to become a best fit? If you’re asking yourself this question and seeing possibilities eg more pastoral support, regular forest school, different transition into school then you’ve got a point from which to work.

Maybe it’s an idea which feels outrageous or impossible – dropping some subjects, going home early, not doing homework - capture those ideas too. It doesn’t mean you will take action on them, but in this moment of exploring our outrageous ideas may be telling us something about the needs we perceive.

If your child’s current school can’t provide it what other places may be able to? If you are hitting a brick wall then what might that be telling you?

What other opinions and experiences are you hearing?

This one comes with a caveat – it’s likely to be emotive, but it’s also valuable to explore the whole picture, not just the opinions and experiences which align with yours. There are those who are passionately pro home school and those who are passionately against. There’s a wealth of opinions in between. There are those who have managed to make the mainstream system work and those who have tried alternative options.

Take off any perceptions that there is a “right” way through this and see what you observe and learn. Whilst you might find a diverse range of opinions the common theme is every parent will want the best for their children. Each route might be different but the goal is the same.

What patterns do you notice? What resonates with you? What touches a nerve with your own fears and concerns? What can you learn from those who are already home schooling? Remember you’re looking for best fit not “right” answer. All of this information could be useful when coupled with your knowledge and expertise on your child.

What other options could there be?

Have you assumed your child’s school won’t do something before you’ve even talked to them? Sometimes schools have links with a whole range of providers and different interventions which may improve things in your child’s current setting. What do other local schools and educational settings offer? What else is out there? If talking to your child's school has become difficult then you may find my earlier blog series on this topic helpful:

I regularly work with some teenagers in local independent school which offers bespoke education. It’s a brilliant setting for many young people for whom the typical route through school hasn’t been a good fit. They also offer flexi schooling. Many of the parents did home school before finding this place – sometimes as a lifestyle choice and sometimes as a response to their child’s distress in their mainstream school. Sometimes a smaller school or different type of school can be just what a child needs. Sometimes not. There are a number of options “out there.” Home schooling is one of a number of options which can be great and enriching for some families – if it’s the best fit for them and for you.

Taking a child out of a mainstream school and home schooling or funding alternative educational options is a big commitment and responsibility. There are financial, emotional and practical implications as well as many potential benefits. When life in school is distressing then it can feel like there are no other options.

Finding the best way forward for your child and family can be tough on a good day. In those times when you’re exhausted and the emotions are running high it can be even more difficult, but when you can take a step back and explore, before making these big decisions, whatever you choose in the end is far more likely to be the best fit for your child.

If you are in the midst of making big decisions and finding a safe place to explore and evaluate all the different options without being swayed by the well meaning, but not always helpful thoughts and opinions of others can be crucial. I offer a free 30 minute coaching chat. To book a conversation go to:

#coaching #parenting #homeeducation #alternativeprovision #school #education #anxiety

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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