Why I de-schooled my Daughter and what we all need to know about the effects of our current educational system.
My daughter has always loved to learn and do her best.
Even on her first day at nursery, she strolled straight in the door and began to chat to the other children and play workers. She loved to dress up, to paint, to create, to sing and to play. I loved looking through all the pictures and reading the observations made on her in her ‘learning log’.
When she went into year 1, she was the model pupil. Always eager to do new and imaginative things for her work. Always wanting to try her best and please her teachers. Her school report was glowing.
By year 2, she was placed in the ‘gifted and talented’ group & given extra lessons after school to support her higher academic ability. The School could see her potential and they wanted her to blossom. I was so proud.
But by years 3 & 4, things began to change. She started to notice that her teacher wasn’t as interested in her imaginative ideas anymore. It seemed more important that her spelling and grammar were correct and this was evident in the red marks all over her work. She no longer learnt maths by singing and playing games to embed the ideas in her mind. Instead, she had to write out equations in her book and get on with her work in silence. But still, she loved to learn and was eager to do her best and please her teacher. She decided to take up learning the guitar as a sort of creative outlet and she loved it.
When she reached year 5 of school, she made her musical debut and entered a local music competition where she sang a song she had written herself and played her guitar. She was 9 years old and she won the award of Best Newcomer! She was ecstatic and rightfully very proud. She couldn’t wait to share her success with her school. But to her surprise, her headteacher barely even noticed her achievement and when she asked to play her guitar in a school assembly, she was told they didn’t have enough time and that was the end of that. My daughter was devastated.
By the time she had reached year 6 she began to withdraw from her work. When her teacher told her she needed to work harder to get her grades up, ready for the upcoming SATS exams, my daughter asked me “what’s the point?” She didn’t find it fun anymore. Nobody at school seemed to care about her imagination or her desire to learn about the things she found fascinating. How could she find the motivation to get excited about test papers that prove nothing about her, other than her ability to retain information she found uninteresting and a waste of space in her mind.
As her motivation dwindled, so did her teachers patience. She began to get into trouble for ‘messing about’ in class. She was picked out by her teacher in front of the whole class and told off for wearing make up. (She was wearing minimal concealer to cover a blemish. She was an 11 yr old girl!). My daughter came home in tears that day.
She left primary school with top grades in her SATS but with her spirit broken. Even so, she found the courage and determination to be optimistic about her secondary school. This would surely be different?
In the first half of year 7, my daughter seemed to find her old self again. She was cast in the school play, she forged great relationships with teachers who seemed to genuinely care about her and her interests. Unfortunately, this didn’t last. All of the teachers she had formed close relationships with had left the job and before long the rigorous testing had crept back in again. When my daughter cried one day in class because she had found out that yet another one of her favourite teachers was about to leave, she was told to “stop being so pathetic” by a senior teacher. When I voiced my concerns about all of this to the school, I was told that my daughter needed to ‘build resilience’
There was no longer time to enjoy the lessons and the learning and to ask questions. She had to produce the work assigned to her whether she found it interesting or not. If she did find it interesting she was not allowed to carry it on in the next lesson. By then they had moved onto something else.
My daughter began to come home tired and agitated. She kept getting ill with colds and sore throats which forced her to stay at home in bed. Before long, I was receiving warning letters about her poor attendance which stated that with every 12 school days missed in an academic year, a child will drop a whole grade.
I wondered in my mind what they would lose with every school day they attended and felt dissatisfied with?
In her spare time, my daughter found refuge in her singing, songwriting and playing her guitar. When she was at home she loved to bake cakes, draw pictures, make things and write stories. When she attempted to show any of these things to her school teachers, they said they’d look when they had more time. They never did. Some were even dismissive and asked her where her homework was that they had assigned to her.
My daughter got the message loud and clear. Stop messing about in your spare time with things that interest you. If you want our approval you must do the work we want you to do or contribute something to the school community.
My daughter wondered what the school had contributed to her wellbeing and natural passion to learn? My daughter was deeply unhappy and I wondered why I was allowing this to happen when I had a choice.
I chose to take her out of school, a perfectly legal thing to do. The remarks and questioning I got at this decision were quite frankly shocking..
“She’ll fall behind”
“How are you going to teach her what she needs to know? You’re not a teacher!”
“If you’re going to do this, you have to make sure she has structure to her day and she does the work you tell her to do”
“How will she get on In the real world when she has to get a job?”
I didn’t homeschool my daughter. I de-schooled her. I gave her permission to follow her heart and her passions without conditions, testing, marking or ridicule. I gave her permission to feel the sense of responsibility for her own learning. She decided what she was interested in and she sourced her own work.
My daughter had a total of 2 terms at home. During that time she wrote a novel, she learnt how to cook numerous new meals, she produced meaningful and detailed artwork, she wrote 4 new songs and recorded them professionally, she learnt GCSE maths with my one-to-one help and support. She visited art museums. She learnt all about the history of the town she lives in. She sewed, crocheted and knitted.
She had a wonderful time at home but ultimately, she missed her friends and decided to give school another go. Her decision, not mine.
What does all this prove? Well it proves that kids want to learn, they want to do well and they want to please their teachers but only if they’re given the opportunity to come to this decision for themselves.
I do not blame the teachers for my daughters unhappiness at school. They are undoubtedly overworked, underpaid and stressed up to their eyeballs but if this is how our schooling system can affect just one child, just imagine what it is doing to all the others.
We can change this. Teachers and parents need to work together to change the way our educational system is run in this country. We need to give students time to develop a voice which is unique to them and we need to nurture and respect that voice. Children need to feel safe, cared for and respected before any type of meaningful learning can take place. Finally, they need an opportunity to have a creative outlet that will never be judged or criticised. Instead it will be universally understood that it is the PROCESS of this creativity that holds the meaning much more than a final mark ever could.
Our children are the future and they have voices, intuition, creativity and ideas. Let’s stop taking their spirits away from them for the sake of a ‘model student’ with a top grade.
We all know that some of the most inspirational people in this world were not top academics but those who survived their academic years with their spirits intact.
So that’s why I de-schooled my daughter and why I would do it again in a heartbeat if she asked.
Claire Austin is a Secondary School Counsellor from Suffolk with a special interest in raising awareness of Childhood Trauma and promoting holistic, trauma informed Schools. For self-care she enjoys spending time with her family, going to see musicals, reading and long walks with her Dalmatian named Dodie.