One of the many reasons cited by parents as influencing their decision to home educate is their concern over the narrow focus of the curriculum in school on purely academic outcomes.
Many feel that this neglects the wider education of their young people, particularly with regard to personal skills, character development, the ability to diversify and overcome challenges, yet keep motivated. All vital skills needed to survive and work in the world outside school.
So it is quite exciting to see a recent article on the BBC website reporting that schools are being urged by the All Party Parliamentary Group to do just that; to promote a wider range of activities rather than always focussing on academic gain.
John Cridland, director of the Confederation of British Industry is quoted in the report as saying that schools have increasingly become ‘exam factories’ and this has neglected to develop the attributes required to function effectively in the workplace. And, even though some of his ideas fail in supporting this view, Gove also agrees there’s a need for a variety of activities and is reported to have said in a recent speech that ‘top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow…’
This is very much in line with what home schooling parents feel and promote within their educational approaches; a diversity of experiences. But is there ever going to be enough time and energy for children to fulfil both the demands of a grade led curriculum in school and pursue a variety of other activities? And will they even want to?
As Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, says in the article; how do we educate resilient young people that have a sense of moral purpose and character, as well as being passionate, reflective learners?”
I feel this raises the questions; what do we want of schools? What is schools’ remit and what would we consider the role of general parenting and lifestyle?
An advantage of home education is the opportunity that young people have to build these character skills through a family and community based approach to their learning and lifestyle.
In most families children have some say in their education, so they remain engaged and motivated, any curricular demands are covered much more quickly than in schools leaving the youngsters plenty of time for other activities, they mix with a higher proportion of adults and a broader range of people than just their own peer group, and they generally have a diversity of experiences giving them opportunity to develop character, social adeptness, entrepreneurial and innovative skills, and the fortitude to overcome challenges.
I believe that these are the experiences that build in youngsters a personal strength and faith in their ability to succeed if they keep trying, a resilience in bouncing back from failure and the ability to move beyond it. All of which the article outlines as necessary for our children to live productive lives beyond school.
Backing up this idea that young people need more than just academic achievement is Lord Winston who put forward another interesting view in an article entitled ‘Why I don’t employ students with First Class Degrees’ He openly admitted he discriminated against graduates with First Class degrees because he says ‘I would rather have young people around me who developed other interests at university and didn’t just focus entirely on getting that first’. He believes they are more rounded individuals.
If we continue to put heavy academic expectations onto our young people in schools are they going to be able to develop this roundness and diversity of skills?
Maybe, like the home educating community, we need to be less desperate in our obsession with academic attainment and make sure our children receive an education that is going to promote all aspects their development and give them the space to do so.