We began home educating our four children over ten years ago and this is where the story rests at this point….
We are still home educating ten years down the line but patterns have changed and our eldest has just finished university. We have four children and the next in line, Harry, is working part time while studying for his fitness qualifications via distance learning. Number three in the brood, George, is just beginning his A level equivalent vocational course options, again via distance learning. Our last child, Max (14), is still in full-time home education with us.
Of course, progress to this stage in their educations has taken time and in the intervening years we have created more wonderful memories than we could ever have imagined. Learning as a family has given us time to get to know each of the children as individuals as well as understanding how best our little family operates. It has allowed each child to share their personality as it has developed and it has also taught us so much about how to make family time special time.
Now at a time when the children are on their individual learning paths we can reflect on how they got there. Molly is the easiest to map as her love of animals has defined her since she was very small. A learning career that focused on animals was a natural path for her and she has just completed her BSc in Conservation Biology with a particular focus on animals. She is now contemplating her postgraduate studies as she carves out a future in animal conservation research. We knew that Molly was heading for university from about the age of 14 so her learning journey had to prepare her for that. Consequently she took six GCSEs followed by three A levels plus an additional AS level. She studied for all of these through the National Extension College which proved to be an excellent route.
There has been a complete explosion in distance learning providers over the past few years but they are not all of the same quality and I would always advise parents to do their homework. We chose the National Extension College because we were impressed with the syllabuses offered, the range of subjects available and the tutor support. Once enrolled, all you have to think about is supporting your child as you would if they were at school and, additionally, finding an exam centre for them to sit their exams in. Molly was able to choose subjects she was interested in and had a natural aptitude for. A huge benefit was that she was able to spread the weight of studies over two years; sitting three GCSEs aged 15 and then the second three at 16. This enabled her to get excellent grades and it also limited the pressure she was under. Molly then chose her A levels and this included Environmental Science which was a brand new subject for A level and not offered by many schools or colleges. Once again she got excellent grades and this enabled her to get offers from all the universities she applied to. She began studying at the University of Lincoln with considerable experience of independent study already under her belt. This, of course, proved invaluable. From when they were ready, we had encouraged all the children to learn to study more independently as we knew this would prepare them well for distance learning study.
The boys are different to their sister. To date, none of them have shown any interest in university, although there is always a chance that will change. They are far more vocationally orientated and have been able to capitalise on the growth in distance learning vocational courses. It is now possible to study GCSE equivalents via distance learning in Maths and English and that was always our bottom line. Beyond those two qualifications we have left it to the boys to select subjects that interest them. However, it quickly became apparent that they did not need to study any more level 2 (GCSE equivalent) qualifications as they were capable of entering directly into level 3 (A level equivalent). Harry had begun to show an interest in fitness some years earlier and so has taken two fitness qualifications at level 3 and is currently contemplating a third. He studies hard but he is still able to combine his studies with a part time job, so he is building up a good work record which I think is important for young people going down a vocational route.
George is beginning his level 3 qualifications in animal care and dog psychology. The beauty of distance learning at level 3 is that they can decide their subjects as they go along. In the main, the boys have studied through Stonebridge College which has a huge list of distance learning courses. The boys don’t have to decide on a set number to start at the same time. With three level 3 qualifications the boys are eligible to apply to university should they change their minds in the future. This way, we have kept that door open as we believe that learning is life long and our approach reflects that.
When considering qualifications in a home education context the most important thing to become familiar with is the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). This dictates the levels of the qualifications and all formally assessed qualifications are evaluated against these levels. Level 2 refers to GCSEs or equivalent. Level 3 denotes A levels or equivalent and level 4 takes you into higher education. Full guidance can be found on their website.
Distance learning providers are required to state what level (if any) their qualifications are accredited at. Of course, some qualifications are not accredited against the NQF but they might be registered with a relevant professional body. When Harry was considering fitness qualifications we researched the leading professional body and ensured we found courses registered with them as well as accredited on the NQF. It is worth noting that there is no funding from the government if you choose this route to qualifications. Courses start at around £100 for a level 2 but are nearer £300 for a level 3 and that is per subject. So this is not a cheap option. But, if you know this expense is on the horizon, you can budget in advance.
Max remains in home school and is working towards his level 2 (GCSE equivalents) while maintaining a broad education. This breadth allows the children to make informed decisions about what qualifications to pursue. It is very different when just having one child in full time home education but I can see how Max is making the most of this opportunity. He loves online learning and as a writer and editor I have been able to involve him in my world; more lovely memories in the making.
Beyond qualifications, we have been busy involving the children in a range of voluntary experiences that we see as every bit as vital as qualifications. Molly has now completed four residential placements with the RSPB and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. This included a month as assistant warden on the Isle of Eigg which was a life-shaping experience. Residential volunteering asks lots of questions of young people looking to enter the adult world. Living semi-independently for a couple of weeks with other people they have not previously met is a challenge but builds important new skills. The ‘Do It’ volunteering website lists lots of opportunities to volunteer.
All four children have been engaged with charity work since they were small but George and Max have really grasped this opportunity and worked with charities from all over the world raising awareness and much needed funds. One of our favourite projects was working with the Butterfly Tree charity based in Zambia who work through health and education agendas to improve the lives of the communities in that country. We made tulle butterflies to sell and hosted a tea party to raise funds to purchase malaria nets. Each net costs £5.00 but can save the lives of several people. Campaigns like this serve to remind our family how fortunate we are. We are incredibly proud of all their charity work and can clearly see how their view of the world has been influenced by these experiences.
George and Max are also working towards their Bronze award with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. This is a scheme that we can’t recommend high enough. It is packed full of useful life skills as well as being a great social opportunity for the youngsters.
Harry jumped into paid work very easily and has been working in the horticulture and building trades for the past three years. We have a new community shop on the island and George and Max volunteered there and this also provided useful experience in a workplace environment.
So, as the children all begin to make their own way it will soon be time for them all to fly the nest and create their own lives. We began our home education journey initially as a trial to see how we all took to it. We can honestly say we have never looked back and consider ourselves truly blessed to have walked alongside our children as they discover the complete joy that is learning.