Talking about tomorrow


Home education – a parent’s experience

Two people sitting with laptops


Amanda* has two sons, one autistic and one with complex needs. Ethan is in his final year of school, while she has educated 16-year-old Max at home since P7. She explains why it’s been a life enhancing experience for the whole family

Despite being in a special school and with only four pupils in his class, Max was not coping. His needs were increasing – particularly healthcare – and his attendance was down to a few hours a week.

“The school staff were brilliant,” Amanda says. “They were willing to try anything, but nothing was working. Home educating could be completely flexible, totally tailored to him, and led by his interests. It was a no brainer.”

It still took the family more than a year to reach a decision, which Amanda feels was important.

“No one should rush into it,” she says. “You have to know what you are getting into. Home educating means I take full responsibility for all the school normally does, including setting goals and measuring Max’s achievements. I have to think about support plans, and what will happen in the future. It’s a full time job.”

No one in the family had teaching experience but good relationships with professionals helped, especially at the beginning. They shared resources and pointed Amanda to sources of information she had never heard of. She still meets staff a few times a year, so they are up to date with Max’s progress.

“You don’t want your young person to be lost to services,” she says. “People can be there as much or as little as you want, but they can tell you if you’re going about things in the wrong way. And if things change and you want your young person to go back to school, they need to know who they are and what they are achieving.”

No qualifications are needed to home educate, but Amanda says time, dedication and patience are a must.

“You’re making a huge commitment for the next 5 or 6 years,” she explains. “It isn’t a quick fix. Can you dedicate enough hours every week to do it properly? Can you manage financially? You also need to consider if it really is in the young person’s best interests, or will they miss out, for example on social skills?”

Preparation and planning are key. You are in the driving seat, so whether it works or not is down to how committed, flexible and determined you are.

“It has to be structured,” Amanda says. “You need a plan, even if you don’t always stick to it. Some days are frustrating and you feel you’ve got nothing done, but the wins make up for it. A plan keeps you on track and working towards the goals you’ve set.”

In the beginning she used a home tutor to help plan lessons, but quickly decided to go it alone: “I was doing all the work!”

The first 6 months were difficult as Max struggled to accept learning with mum rather than a teacher. But Amanda built up learning time gradually, 20 minutes first, then 30. Now she structures days, weeks and holiday times roughly around a normal school pattern.

“It’s totally about what works for him. He can learn in pyjamas if he wants. If he needs half an hour out, he can take it. If he comes back, great – if not, try again tomorrow. One of the biggest benefits is you can mix it up with activities and he’s learning without realising.”

So trips to the supermarket include number work, colours and matching items. Making salt dough involves learning life skills and maths through play. Amanda and Max spend a lot of time outdoors, and are starting travel training by using bus journeys to widen his horizons. Amanda makes her own certificates to evidence Max’s progress: Max gets one each time he completes a workbook, with his name in sparkly pen.

“It took me over a year to realise how I was getting it wrong,” she says. “I was trying to be like a teacher, but that was never going to work. I had to adapt too, and use strategies that let me still be his mum.”

She plans to home educate Max to age 18, then set up a business he can help with: maybe a cafe for people with disabilities.

Her advice to anyone thinking about home education is take the responsibility seriously, do lots of research, and be prepared to do everything yourself.

“Tell the school what you’re considering,” she advises. “Even if there have been problems, it’s important you stay on their radar.”

Amanda feels the family have never looked back.

“We are all happier and less anxious. I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m so proud of Max. I don’t have to ask a teacher for a report – I can see the progress he’s making.”

*Names have been changed

Top tips

  • Don’t rush into a decision.
  • Consider every alternative and only home educate if the positives clearly outweigh the negatives.
  • Find out about information and support in your area.
  • Search for home education on your local authority website, or ask education services about resources that can help – many are free.
  • Make a learning plan with measurable goals and outcomes.
  • Make use of free online resources.
  • Find ways to evidence progress and achievements.
  • Ask your local carers’ centre. If they don’t have information, they may help you find it.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions.

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