Breaking Up with School – the Hardest Decision of our Lives

What’s been said?

Two powerful accounts have been recently published by parents whose children have special needs. Both recount the traumas they went through in caring for their children when the school system was unable to respond flexibly to their child’s needs, and how they did their best to get these recognised. Both are worth reading if you have little experience of how hard some parents have found caring for children who do not fit into a severely strained system.

Please follow the links with care though, aware that the introduction to one is true of both: “TRIGGER WARNING: This is not an easy post to write or a gentle one to read so if you are experiencing or have experienced distressing situations with school and its effects on the mental health of you or your child you may find its content upsetting.”

Why does it matter?

On 15 May, Martine Cotter posted “The (Long Overdue) Hardest Decision of our Lives” on her blog. This may not be her own story, but the author recounts their journey through a system which seemed to be trying to “force our square peg into a round hole.” It is only at the end of the testimony that one hears of the dream which helped the mother to address her own fears, and take the hard decision to opt out of the state’s provision and home educate their fourteen year old daughter with Social Anxiety and Dyscalculia. This they did so as to enable her “To wake up each day without fear. To nurture her natural desire to learn. To take back control and autonomy. To find her place in this world. To embrace her brilliance and originality.”

Two days later, on The Learning Curve, the mother of a young son with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) wrote about her efforts to have her child’s needs met when professionals were unable to recognise them. Though shorter, her account “Breaking Up with School – The Darkest Days” is equally moving. Driven to the point of saying she was going to deregister her child so she no longer had to try and “to force him into school”, it seemed that someone finally heard her cries for help. Whilst her son’s PDA was never officially recognised, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. After a further seven months and a place at a specialist school turning out to be unsuitable, she concludes by saying, “These days my son and I love home education and I am so glad we are where we are now but everything about the path we were forced along to get here was wrong…”

What can I do?

The government seems to be concerned about the rising numbers of home educated children, but experiences like these emphasise that it is often out of desperation that parents decide to deregister their children and plunge into HE. However, if all we do with accounts like these is use them to beat politicians over the head, then we too will be failing these children and their parents. More seasoned home educators need to hear their stories and share our experiences with them where we can.

Amongst these refugees from the school system are different types of family similar to the geographical migrants we have heard much about in recent years. Many say they risked their journey for the sake of their children. That is exactly why these two mums set out on their educational migration. But not all migrants in either sphere are thus motivated. Much has been said recently about schools off-rolling children into home education, and many of these parents are ill-equipped for crossing educational continents. Several decades ago the HE community was made up entirely of pioneers ready to build their own communities from scratch. They were followed by “settlers”, who saw the good things and wanted to share in them. Our community is now growing, as “refugees” are added to our numbers. If we are to help these new arrivals, we need to hear their stories.

Perhaps elective home education is no longer a comprehensive description. Included in our numbers are both reluctant (but determined) HE families as well as coerced parents who were intimidated into taking their children out of schools unable to meet their needs. For such children Alternative Provision may have been more appropriate. The HE community isn’t able to meet all the needs of those who can no longer survive in the school system, but as we get to know them, we can perhaps help them to find what works best for their children.