Monday, 24 November 2008

A semi structured approach to home education

We had never intended to home educate. In fact, it had never even occurred to us. We sort of fell into it as a last resort.

Our girls (now 14 and 12) were in an independent, fee-paying, girls only school until March 2007.

We withdrew them because of educational and welfare issues that we were unable to resolve with the school. As we looked at our options, the closest independent school was miles away and the local state schools have a very poor record. So I started to research home education and, to be honest, very nearly didn’t do it at all.

It was only when I chatted to someone who told me his daughter was taking some GCSEs that summer that I personally felt more comforted.

Coming from the background we did, I think we had always intended to do something in way of GCSEs or equivalent with a view to potentially opening the doors into further and higher education.

We started out with quite a formal time-table, which soon gave way to a more flexible “semi-structured approach.”

We started working with English, Maths and Science Workbooks for the appropriate age group, which was very useful to see what they had covered in school and where there were some pretty gaping holes in basic knowledge, especially for the younger daughter and her Maths!

This was accompanied by using online resources such as BBC Bitesize .

I knew we were in no great rush and that we had time to find our feet and to settle into our own routine.

I found some research that had been done on students studying for GCSE subjects and found that each subject consists of approximately 100 hours of study. If they studied one subject for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week they could be up to the standard of passing an exam in 5-6 weeks if they chose to!

I then found a wonderful forum for Home Educating families who are considering GCSEs and alternatives. It was a real god-send to me because I was beginning to think we were the only family who were considering taking exams.

That moved us away from GCSEs to IGCSEs, which are the international version and seem to be a better preparation for A-Level than GCSE, as well as being recognised and liked by most Universities. Additionally there is no coursework.

When the girls left school it was the first time they had really had the time for external activities and they joined Stagecoach (a group for singing, dancing and drama), joined a Pop Music school where one child plays the electric guitar and the other plays the drums, started horse riding and other activities.

Stagecoach has been fantastic for both children and especially for the older one, who has decided she wants to pursue Drama and acting as a career.

Fortunately we had continued with Speech and Drama lessons from leaving school and continue to work towards the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) exams. These carry considerable weight in the acting world, as well as contributing towards UCAS points for University.

From that passion, she has found somewhere she would like to go to study at 16 years old and that has given us a clear path to follow. She has been told that she needs 6 GCSEs or equivalent, including Maths and English.

We are working towards IGCSEs with both children, including Maths, English, ICT, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and our older daughter is also studying German.

We are doing this in a mixture of ways. Some subjects, we work at home from books and online resources; we have a tutor for the Speech and Drama; and we are part of a group for the Science, which has been organised by some of the home educating parents we know who have a degree in the subjects and can teach them.

When we started, we adopted a project based approach. We picked our favourite subject- chocolate- and used that to teach across every subject including Maths, Science, ICT, Geography, History and culminating in the obligatory field trip to Cadbury World in Birmingham!

With the younger daughter, she is in the Girl Guides and we have spent most of her first year of home education doing numerous badges because she has responded much better to a more project based approach than to the formal approach, that her older sister seemed quite comfortable with.

Completing the Guide badges has provided her with a huge set of very useful tools, including researching, organising and presenting material in numerous different mediums and setting goals and sticking with them to completion.

The younger daughter is a keen writer and photographer (something we really only discovered when they finished school). She has written 3 full-length books for girls, which we are in the process of self- publishing for her.

Within the first few weeks we had got her photography website up and running, which she built herself, with some help from me. We are working on selling her photographs and creating a business for her out of her writing and photography. You can see her website at

For the first year, we did not socialise with other home-educating families at all. I had spoken to a couple of group leaders and felt that most groups seemed to consist of either very young children or people who were taking the totally autonomous route to education. I felt like a fish out of water.

It was only when I met someone in the Home Ed GCSE forum, who was talking about an IGCSE drama group, that we went and started to meet other families who thought in the same way as we did. This led onto the group with the Science IGCSE.

For us it has been very important to help the girls find things they are passionate about, as well as allowing them to try different things and discard the ones they don’t like.

As I know how fast they are absorbing the subjects that we are covering, it also gives us the luxury of being able to go out for the day or for the girls to spend the whole day in bed if they seem particularly tired.

For our family, this has worked best with a “semi-structured” approach, as it gives us a sense of direction. It is a constantly evolving process.

I have written about our journey on my blog

Amanda Goldston

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read Amanda. It's great to hear stories about older children and how well they are doing in finding and following their dreams and passions.