So, when I started secondary school, I was having a bit of a tough time due to my parent’s separation. The secondary school I went to was a large all-girls school. I wasn’t fashionable, I didn’t wear make-up and I wasn’t skinny, so this didn’t help with making friends. It didn’t take long for me to become segregated. I was suffering with anxiety and panic attacks and at the time all but one of the teachers showed any empathy or understanding and the rest of them soon labelled me as naughty. That couldn’t have been further from the truth, I was sensitive, caring, always wanted to please the teachers and I was relatively clever. All I needed was for them to understand when I was having a panic attack that I needed to leave the classroom, and this was never allowed. And that assemblies, break times and lunchtimes were unbearable for me. My mum requested that I’d be allowed to go to the library (where there was always the librarian) to be somewhere quiet but this was never allowed either.
The only thing that helped me get through to begin with was the school matron. She was wonderful. So, I became part of ‘matrons’ gang’ and spent every lunchtime in her room along with a group of other girls. It got to the point that I went and hid in the sixth form toilet where no one would come and look for me let alone find me. This was through desperation as the panic attacks were embarrassing and the way the teachers treated me was humiliating. No wonder I didn’t make any friends. I also don’t think any of my peers understood my behaviour or what was happening when I was having a panic attack. Then at the end of year 7 Matron retired and she was being replaced with a school nurse who made it clear she wouldn’t let anyone in her room or go to her for anything other than first aid. Nothing else was offered for me or the other girls. Still the request to go to the library or somewhere quiet was turned down and we were basically told it was tough and we’d have to do the same as every other pupil.
The only thing that was allowed after a lot of hassle was for me to go home for lunch, but this in itself was a nightmare as the deputy head made my mum write a letter each week requesting, I could go home at lunchtime and that this letter had to be signed each week by two different teachers!! One week I’d not been able to find 2 teachers who’d sign it before lunchtime and when I went to the gates where my mum was waiting for me the lunchtime supervisor wouldn’t let me out the gates!
Well, you can imagine what happened as a result. My mum went ballistic and I had the biggest panic attack ever. When my mum got me home, she had to peel my shirt off me because of the state I was in from panicking. It’s safe to say I didn’t go back ever again.
I still remember the meeting we had with the deputy head and the educational welfare officer where my mum told the deputy head, I wouldn’t be coming back and instead I’d be home educated. The deputy head turned around and told my mum that was illegal, and they needed my bum on a seat as they’re paid per child!! The deputy was all high and mighty until the education welfare officer backed my mum up and said it was perfectly legal for me to be home educated and then we left! That wiped the smug look off her face!
So, for the rest of my teenage years, I was home educated.
At the time there wasn’t a lot of information or support available. All we knew is that I didn’t have to follow the National Curriculum. We managed to find Education Otherwise which is a charity supporting those who are being home educated. This opened up avenues in terms of gaining pen pals who were also being home educated and finding out about events and groups, however, most of these were in London. The internet wasn’t like it is today and it still required dial up! So, finding out information and meeting people was hard. My mum had to work full time so on a day-to-day basis I was at home on my own. At times I found it hard to be motivated and in essence I was teaching myself. I had a few textbooks and my mum set me some projects to do but with no Google or Wikipedia it was even tougher.
During my time being home educated I went on a few adventures including joining a residential trip in Wales and a festival for home educated people and their families. I got to know a few people across the country and ended up getting involved in a rally in Scotland regarding their laws around home education. I was asked to give a speech in front of Scottish Parliament when I was 15 and I was interviewed on BBC news. Looking back, I can’t believe I did that!
When I was home educated there were a lot of obstacles along the way. I knew that I wanted to complete GCSE’s and A Levels with the goal of going to university. However, as I wasn’t at school, I had to find alternative ways to go about this. The local colleges only offered GCSE courses to those who were 16+ but I wanted to achieve them at the same age as if I were at school. So, this led to a battle with them to allow me to join the courses, but my Mum is a fighter and I managed to get on the courses when I was 14. Now, a lot of colleges allow anyone who is 14+ and home educated to attend courses. When it came to A Levels, I did some of them through correspondence courses but then we had to find somewhere where I could take the actual exams. Yet again my Mum had to battle to find somewhere that would allow me to do this. Local schools and colleges wouldn’t allow it but eventually a private school did allow me to go and sit the exams there, at a cost of course!
Despite the challenges I faced I still managed to achieve my GCSE’s and A Levels and gained a place at University!
I hope that now there are a lot less challenges for people to face when being home educated and that there is a lot more support.
The main thing for me was lack of socialising especially with people my own age. I don’t have a big family and was never surrounded by lots of people. However, I started volunteering when I was 14 and over the years I volunteered with the NHS, (helping to run groups for people with learning difficulties and groups for the elderly), Make-A-Wish Foundation, Millennium Volunteers and Girl Guiding UK.
I’m not sure if the image people have of home education has changed over the years or weather people still have this misconception that those who are home educated are all middle class who can afford to not work and therefore home educate their children or hippies. I agree that home education is something that isn’t an option for the majority of people because we can’t afford not to work. If money was no object, I would definitely consider home educating my girls, but I would be mindful of the possible impact it could have in terms of socialising and how it may make them stand out because they’ve not shared the experience of attending school like most other children. I do have concerns about them going to school, but I just hope that the school they go to will be a good one. Every school is so different and in my experience as a Primary School teacher, an Ofsted report doesn’t really reveal much in terms of the ethos of the school. In my opinion it is the Headteacher that creates the school’s ethos and values. I’ve read so much about schools during lockdown and it really highlights to me how different they are.
I don’t regret my experience of home education – after all it got me where I am today. I think sometimes I forget how much I did and achieved. Yes, I was disappointed I didn’t get straight A’s, but I had no teachers and limited resources. But does it really matter? I still got into University, I still gained a degree and my teaching qualification.
I genuinely hope that schools have improved since I was school age in terms of support for children struggling for one reason or another.
Looking back, I don’t know how they got away with treating me like they did. That’s just reminded me of an incident at my Primary School not long after my parents split up when I was a mess. Now I loved Primary School but those memories are tainted by the fact that I started not wanting to go to school as I didn’t want to leave my mum so she struggled to get me to school and I would curl up in the car. So, what did my teacher and the head do?! They physically grabbed me out of the car and carried me into school by the ankles and wrists whilst I screamed. Can you imagine if that happened today??