Once Bullied, now a Champion of Personalised Education

What’s been said?

On 25 April the Star (Sheffield) carried a report where home education in the form of private tuition became the solution to repeated bullying of a year 9 pupil: ‘I was left for dead by bullies:’ South Yorkshire snooker star Shaun Murphy speaks out on school hell.

BBC Radio Sheffield’s 24 April Snooker Heaven programme provided comment on the World Championship which finished on 6 May, plus interviews with various snooker legends and current players. As one of the panel, Murphy spoke about his experiences to sports reporter Andy Giddings [starts @ 40min 55sec – available until 1 June], and the Star’s article was based on this.

Having loved the game since he was eight, Murphy turned professional at the age of fifteen. Reporter Darren Burke explains how Murphy was “subjected to relentless abuse while at school in Northamptonshire”, quoting him thus: “I lived in a very parochial town and because of what I did, I was in the local papers and on BBC Look East. So I was singled out for a bit of abuse from the other kids.” This was something of an understatement, as the teacher who took him home after the final assault advised the family, ‘If you know what’s good for your son, don’t ever send him back to this school’.

Here ended his school career therefore, but not his education. Murphy’s comment to the radio show host was, “I couldn’t wait to get out of the school system to be completely honest. I was educated at home and I took my GCSEs two or three years early. But for that decision I perhaps wouldn’t be sat here today.”

Using a cue purchased for him by his father and previously owned by Ray Reardon, Murphy went on to win the 2005 World Snooker Championship at the age of twenty-two, but Burke reports that he still carries memories of being bullied to this day.

Why does it matter?

Shaun Murphy is a household name for many, but few will be aware of his educational journey. Although his out of school education was brought about by adverse circumstances and took the form of private tutoring rather than fully elective home education, Murphy still views those years as contributing positively to his present success. Home life was difficult during his early teens, but he sees his brief season of home education as a stepping stone in character formation, building his determination to succeed in his chosen field through discipline and perseverance.

Aware that other youngsters also struggle within the school system for various reasons, Murphy is now patron of the Mansfield-based R.E.A.L. Foundation Trust founded in 2008. The name is an acronym: Re-think Engagement & Approaches to Learning. His support for their efforts to meet the needs of young people who “may be lost to learning” is clear: “It doesn’t get any more important than working with children – of any age. And the work that the Foundation Trust is doing is something very close to my heart. I can relate to some of the experiences and stories shared by the students.”

R.E.A.L.’s perspective is: “Whilst mainstream schools are incredible forces for good in society, helping to socialize, educate and engage the next generation, the journey through mainstream education, for some youngsters, is not a smooth one… We know that these students thrive in small, tightly structured, compact, personalised teaching environments that provide a stimulating, welcoming space within which they can learn, achieve and rebuild their social and communication skills.”

Home education has become something of an umbrella term these days, encompassing a wider variety of options than pure EHE, but it’s good to know that provision such as R.E.A.L. exists for those times when school doesn’t work for a young person.

What can I do?

Human interest stories as well as research articles play their part in connecting with family and friends on the matter of home education.

Being aware of high profile individuals who have some experience of home education either as a recipient or as a parent is useful for those conversations where you are trying to show that the outcomes of HE can be positive even when it wasn’t a first choice. It can be a positive educational option in many instances, and is certainly worth defending against excessive state intrusion.