Blog: July 2017

Friday, 28 July 2017

Home education: education’s disruptive brand

Home educator Linda Baldwin

Today's NEC Blog is a guest post by Linda Baldwin. Linda has been working for the specialist part-time and flexible recruiter Capability Jane since 2008 and has also been a home educator since 2010 when she and her husband Mark legally de-registered their son Sam from primary school. Neither of them are qualified teachers, but at least one of them has been able to work from home since making this decision, facilitating a child-led home schooling education plan. Now they have reached the milestone of GCSE examinations, Linda reflects upon the decision they made almost seven years ago.

‘Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition and rejecting the way things are supposed to be.’ That’s the view of business entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson.

Home education is considered by education traditionalists to be a somewhat subversive movement. In the world of business and technology, however, disruption and rebellion are encouraged and celebrated - think Uber and Airbnb, which in less than a decade have shaken up the two everyday consumer service industries of taxis and short-term lets. Disruptive brands are intrepid, dynamic and bold, challenging norms and offering alternative lifestyle choices. From my perspective as a home educator, ‘disruptive’ is the perfect description of home education.

An education ‘third way’

When our son was nine years old we removed him from school and began a home-based education. Our decision was driven by seeing our formerly bright and sociable child becoming anxious and withdrawn, and with a debilitating stammer which necessitated weekly speech therapy. Combined with yet another parents’ evening of platitudes and very little to show for his last term of work, we could no longer ignore the alarm bells.

In January 2017, the BBC reported: ‘According to the latest school census, in 2016 there were 17,780 state secondary school children in 2016 being taught in classes with 36 or more pupils. This is the highest number for a decade.’ In 2016 The Guardian reported that ‘More than half a million (primary) children are being taught in “super-size” classes of more than 30 pupils as overstretched primary schools struggle to cope with the surge in demand for places.’ Home education is becoming a ‘third way’, an alternative to an education in the state system’s overcrowded classrooms or the privileged halls of the independent sector. The state system has been a disappointment to many while independent schools are affordable only to a minority of families.

From ‘unschooling’ to GCSEs and A levels

Our home-schooling journey began with a period of ‘unschooling’. Our son quickly developed new interests and began to flourish; his stammer retreated and his confidence returned. After a few months we decided to explore the national curriculum using key stage books purchased online. We gave him free choice, and in the Montessori style of learning, he explored just one subject at a time until he felt ready to move on to something new. He struggled with writing manually, so used a laptop instead.

When he was 15 he felt ready to start working towards GCSEs. As parents we applied no pressure on him to sit formal exams. The decision has been his alone, and so empowered, he has been highly motivated and fully committed to studying.

Today our son is 17. I am proud of the well-balanced, sociable and mature young adult he has become. He has just completed GCSE exams in English, psychology, sociology and law as a private external candidate at a friendly and accommodating independent school near where we live. He used a laptop for every exam and can type accurately at over 200 characters per minute.

Next year he plans to sit his GCSE in mathematics with the help of NEC, alongside A levels in psychology, sociology and law. He hopes to go on to study forensic psychology at university.

I believe that the future for home education is one of enormous growth. With distance learning providers such as NEC, it is an affordable solution for families for whom the alternatives are no longer a viable option. So many additional learning resources are easily accessible, and many are free, online and interactive.

Find out more about home education
NEC Brief Guides: Home educating your child
NEC Home Educator's Guide to Choosing GCSEs and A Levels
Education Otherwise
Ed Yourself
Home Education Advisory Service
Home Education in the UK
Home Education UK

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

NEC learner stories: Julia Wix

NEC learner Julia Wix

NEC learner Julia is keen to challenge the widely held view that young people educated at home lack the resilience built up by those who have been part of a school community. In today's NEC Blog, we are sharing her story. We are also currently working on a new guide to support home educating families to be published later in the year — keep an eye on our website for updates!

In 2016, at the age of 30, Julia Wix returned to Cambridge after travelling the world as an employee of travel and accommodation site The online company works with over one million hotels around the world. Her first job with the Dutch company was in a call centre in the UK, helping customers dissatisfied with their online experience.

Later, based in the company’s Amsterdam headquarters, she got to grips with analysing training needs, designing wikis (a website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users), managing training workshops and hosting webinars. She ending up as a global training specialist designing development programmes for the company’s employees across Europe, the USA and the Far East.

A desire to return to the UK led to her current role, at Cambridge Network, a not-for-profit membership organisation established 20 years ago. One of her key projects there is the School for Scale-Ups, a skills programme for leaders of rapidly growing businesses such as computer programming innovator Raspberry Pi. Although she was recruited for her training expertise, the organisation offers employees the variety that is one of the hallmarks of working in a small, locally focussed team. Julia might be helping a growing business designing a skills training programme one day and hosting a networking event for local high-tech businesses the next.

Globe-trotting hasn’t just been a feature of Julia’s working life. It had a starring role in her teenage years too. Her father was offered a six-month contract in Belgium and the family went to live there. The six months became several years and a flexible solution was needed for Julia’s schooling. When Julia left formal education at the age of 15, her parents turned to home education for their academically able and ambitious daughter. They found NEC through home education connections and an internet search.

The freedom to learn as she chose, liberated from the constraints of a classroom and the demands of peer pressure, suited Julia down to the ground. She describes herself as self-taught in GCSE maths, and A level classical civilisation, government and politics, French, and English language and literature. She studied and took exams in all five subjects through NEC. Her grades won her a place to study for a BA in Classical & Archaeological Studies with French at the University of Kent. As well as pursuing her passion for ancient Persia in the university library, she spent at year working in a high school in Quebec teaching

English as a foreign language for the British Council, improving her French, learning how she learnt best and learning how to teach others.

Despite having been diagnosed with dyslexia shortly before going to university, Julia was awarded a first class honours degree and in 2010 went on to study for a Masters in Ancient History at King's College London, achieving a merit.

When she looks back on her childhood, Julia sees her impassioned watching of historical documentaries, and her enthusiasm for visits to museums, stately homes and heritage sites as early signs of the direction her academic interests would eventually take.

Julia is keen to challenge the widely held view that young people educated at home lack the resilience built up by those who have been part of a school community. She believes that people who have been home schooled enter adult life with the confidence that comes from knowing they have succeeded in doing something differently. What’s more, home education gives young people a wide range of skills, including managing their time and managing their money, that prepare them for adult life. She cites the home educated American actress and internet star Felicia Day, who describes her experience of home education in her book ‘You’re never weird on the internet (almost)’.

‘Classical civilisation A level wasn’t offered by the last school I went to,’ says Julia. It’s down to NEC that I was able to go to university, and that I studied the subject I have loved since being a child. Flexibility of subject choice is one of the big benefits of studying for exams through distance learning. I’m sure my life would have taken a very different course without NEC.’

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