Today for this #100daysofhomeed series I have something abit different from the Q&As so far. The following is a guest post from a lovely lady called Karen, who previously home educated her son before finding a suitable school for him. She is kindly contributing to this series to share her experience and offer words of advice for anyone in the same boat. Thank you Karen! Over to you….
Hello! I’m Karen… mum to Harry (now 8) and Imogen (now 7).
I’d never intended to home educate. In fact, both children were registered for a local prep school shortly after birth.I had an idealised vision of them skipping out of the door in knee high socks and boater hats!!!
However, by the time Harry was due to start school, that lovely little prep school had written to me advising that they could not meet Harry’s needs. As hard as it was to read, it didn’t come as a surprise – there were warning signs well before then and, in hindsight, I believe it’s one of the best things that happened. Early intervention has been an amazing blessing for both Harry has an individual and for us as a family.
Due to the school’s rejection of Harry, we stopped ignoring all of those little warning signs and had Harry assessed. He was diagnosed with high functioning autism shortly before his fourth birthday. Though there was an element of grief, there was also a good deal of optimism. I felt sure that, with the diagnosis, support would be easily obtained.
I applied for and was subsequently offered a place at our local state school which had an excellent reputation. Naively, I believed Harry would be awarded a statement and be fully supported. It came as a huge surprise when, after only a few days of Harry being at the school, they announced that Harry’s needs could be met without any additional support. Undeterred (but with hindsight, I now see that this was the beginning of the erosion of my relationship with the school) I pressed for an assessment.
In the weeks this took to complete I watched my gorgeous, happy inquisitive little boy retreat into a shell. The many, many talents he had were merely annoyances to the school. ridiculed for what he could not do and reprimanded for what he could left him bewildered and confused. It was apparent that the school would not – or could not – support Harry. It is my personal belief that they simply didn’t have the resources, so it was easier to constantly repeat that they weren’t required.
Coupled with this was the reaction from other parents. While the school’s strapline was that Harry didn’t require extra help, it was glaringly obvious to everyone else that he was occupying far more than his fair share of the classes only TA’s time. I didn’t (and don’t) have any issue with their concerns. In fact, I welcomed them… hoping that it might add weight to my argument, but it was with a heavy heart that I acknowledged it was my child no-one wanted theirs to sit next to or to be friends with. That my child would be excluded from playdates and parties.
I had promised myself and my family that I’d make it till half term before reviewing the situation (again!!) with the school but after 4 weeks two things happened. Firstly, I got acknowledgement that harry was not eligible for a statement. His academic work was not significantly behind (and in order to trigger support, it should be two academic years behind!!!!!) and, while everyone around me was telling me what Harry needed was ‘socialising’, the LEA confirmed that he was at school for an education… so no support would be offered at breaks. Secondly, two days later, Harry walked out of school. Aged 4, he walked home alone. No-one stopped him. For quite a few minutes, no-one noticed he’d gone…. because (I only found this out after the event) once again, he’d been isolated and put alone in a corridor.
I de-registered him the day he walked home. His school days had lasted 4 short weeks.
I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. I knew nothing about home education. I knew very little about SEN. But I knew there had to be a better way.
For a good few weeks, we did nothing. Harry and I sat and played and just worked on Harry becoming that happy little boy again. Over time, we started to venture to home ed goups, SEN sessions…. and a whole new world opened up. We decided on a semi-formal education. We changed a room into a classroom, so Harry was never expected to do school work outside of his ‘school room’ and employed a wonderful tutor who deals with additional needs students to work on the areas Harry found hardest… All the areas Harry enjoyed, we simply enjoyed together. Days were spent at forest school, skiing or making science experiments. Working slowly to engage Harry, I realised that he could remember things better through song, so we sang a lot!!!
After 3 years of home education, Harry was offered a spot at a lovely small independent additional needs school and he started there just over a year ago…. He is supported with a 1:1 for 20 hours a week (and always when off site) which is what he needs. It is what he always needed. I believe that this is the right setting for him at the moment, as it allows him more freedom and independence from me.
While I’m not a natural home educator, and my children are both now in formal school (my daughter did indeed start that local prep and she really enjoys it!) I am blessed that I embraced home education at a time Harry so desperately needed it. Home education allowed Harry to be confident in himself. In who he is…. and, moreover, it proved to both children that I would never send them to a setting which made them unhappy. While I am comfortable with the schools they both attend right now, I wouldn’t hesitate at taking them out if that was right for them.
I’d like home education to be seen for what it is – a viable alternative to formal school settings. It’s whatever you want it to look like, which is massively empowering both to parents and to children. It’s not a one-shot deal, it IS possible to move between home and school educational settings as and when the time is right for your child.
And I’d like to say to anyone whose child is struggling in school… PLEASE consider the alternatives. You will find a wonderfully supportive network of people out there.