Home schooling: the experiences of two teenagers

Educating a child at home is possibly not something that many parents would ever contemplate doing.

So it might be surprising to learn that up to 50,000 children across the country are being taught by their parents in this way.

But what makes a family decide that a traditional education is not the right one for their child? And how easy is it to go about taking a child out of school and providing for their education at home?

Reporter Holly Whitmill spoke to two mothers and their sons who decided that school was not for them.

To say that 17-year-old Craig Nykamp lives in a rural area is something of an understatement.

The drive to his parents' home is down a rutted, three-quarter-of-a mile long drive through fields, and the closest town of Southam is about four miles away.

It is a beautiful location, but I wonder what impact living in such an isolated spot had on Craig during the years he was educated at home.

Now studying to be an IT practitioner at Warwickshire College, where he has been praised for adapting well to college life, the experience does not appear to have been a problem.

Craig, whose mother Linda, 51, took on the role of educator, was 14 and just about to start his GCSEs at Aylesford School when they decided he should leave.

Craig said: "It was the way we were so limited to what we were doing and being taught."

Linda said: "We just had one problem after another. I think it's great that children should have a basis in all the subjects, but I don't feel they should have to go into such depth. If children have a particular interest in something they can study it later on."

Linda informed the school she was going to teach Craig at home and then they were on their own.

She said: "When I told the school I was taking Craig out they said he would never learn to take any decisions for himself and that it would be hopeless.

"It was made clear to you that if you took your child out of school nobody will support you. Never did I ever want to home school. I just decided that was so unhappy at school that nothing could be worse."

Linda had worked as a classroom assistant, but did not have any special qualifications for the role and continued to work part-time during the two years Craig was at home.

The pair set up a 'schoolroom' on their upstairs landing and used GCSE text books to study English, Maths, IT, science, Cantonese, cooking and geography for around two hours a day.

Once a year a Warwickshire County Council assessor checked on Craig to ensure he was being educated to the correct level.

Linda said: "It doesn't matter what you are teaching your child, but it needs to suitable for their ability and needs. The lady who came to see us was very nice and that we should take one day at a time. It was a bit of a muddle through when we started."

Craig said: "It wasn't really routine, more when we could do it. We went through the work in the books that we had. I also taught myself about computer programming and web design which is how I got into college.

"It was very good. The only problem was I missed the social side of things especially living out here where it's so remote. I would see friends every so often but not much.”

Linda said: “The benefits for Craig was he was so much happier being at home.

“It was much better than when he was going off to school so miserable and not getting anything out of it from a learning side at all.

“We followed the GCSE curriculum because I didn’t know what was in the future. It would have been completely unfair to move away from them in case he wanted to go back to school.”

Although Craig did not sit any GCSEs he still managed to get a place at college based on the work he had done at home.

He will also qualify for a place at Derby University if he passes his course.

Craig said: “I found it quite easy because the college teaching system is very different. They let you get on with your own thing and give you much more responsibility.”

Linda said: “The first thing his tutor said was that there was no problem from social or integration side.

“I hope our experience shows other parents that all is not lost if you have to take your child out of school.”

Craig has two older brothers and a sister who all had a traditional education, both in South Africa where the family lived for 23 years and in the UK.

Mark, 21, works in graphics and design, Clinton, 27 is an estate agent and Melanie, 29, has chosen a more ‘alternative’ lifestyle and spends half the year living in India.

Mrs Nykamp said her daughter is considering different ways of teaching her son Leon.

But Craig, who hopes to get an apprenticeship in the college’s IT department, is not sure it is a path he would choose for his children.

He said: “If they were really unhappy I would give it a go, but I would try and keep them in traditional education.”

Nick Howden-Steenstra, 15, lives not far from Craig in the village of Ladbroke.

But despite their proximity and fact they were home-schooled at the same time they do not know one another.

Social networks for parents and children being taught at home do exist, but Craig did not join one and according to Nick’s mother Jane they do not always help because “everybody is out of school for totally different reasons.”

Nick, whose parents paid for him to sit three GCSEs in English, English literature and maths at Warwick School, is now studying for A-levels in law, government and politics, psychology and drama at Banbury Sixth Form College.

He attended both Harbury and the Crescent primary school in Rugby, but because he fell into the ‘gifted and talented’ register of children able to learn above their age group, did not find the work challenging.

Nick said: “I had a tendency to drop out for a couple of days, but still get good grades.

“We looked at the secondary schools around here and thought it would be best if I didn’t have to go to any of them.

“I thought why spend five years doing GCSEs when I could do them in two?”

At the time Jane was head of the design technology department at Avon Valley School in Rugby, but she gave up her job to help Nick with his education.

From spending time at his aunt’s organic farm to learn about cheese-making and running a business to trips to Winston Churchill’s museum to research the Gunpowder plot, the pair made learning fun.

Jane said: “It started off being a lot like school - that was what we both knew - but we soon moved into being very topic based and doing lots of visits and learning through TV and video.”

They made use of Oxford home schooling on line and went along to some home education summer camps.

Jane said: “Those were good but he didn’t have anything in common with the children at the local meetings. By the time you are a teenager you have your own circle of friends and he was out doing things most days with people he shared an interest with.”

For Nick, who hopes to become either an actor or lawyer, this included drama groups in Leamington and Stratford, fencing and archery lessons.

These activities meant he had lots of social interaction and helped boost his confidence.

But the reaction of friends and those he met to the fact he was being taught at home was divided.

He said: “Some people either think it’s a great idea and are a bit jealous or that you are mad or stupid. There is also the misconception that you have a private tutor.”

But the set-up suited Nick well and he is pleased with how it went.

He said: “The fact that I cut out two years was the right choice for me. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend five years in the classroom learning about things I wasn’t interested in.”

In his third year of home schooling Jane got a job at North Oxfordshire Academy and left Nick to get on with the studying himself.

She said: “Nick had found his own way of studying and I could help him in the evenings when I came home.”

Although things have worked out well for Nick, both he and his mother have a warning for anyone considering the same path.

Nick said: “Just go for it, but make sure you plan it otherwise things can get out of control if you want to do GCSEs.”

Jane said: “You have got to take control of your own education because there is nobody there to do it for you.”

HOME EDUCATION FACTS

Contrary to popular belief it is legal to educate a child at home as long as they are receiving instruction that is suitable for their ability and aptitude.

This does not necessarily mean following a course or even studying for exams, as there is no requirement in law for children not in school to sit GCSEs.

Also, home-educators do not need to be teachers or have any qualifications.

The local education authority has to be satisfied that you are fulfilling your duty to educate your child.

But is not responsible for telling you how to do this.

For more information visit www.education-otherwise.org