‘Learning’ does not equal ‘work’, Mr Mooney
Most of us home educators read Tony Mooney’s opinions with alarm in last week’s Times Educational Supplement. What worries us, I think, is that Mr Mooney (a self-avowed home education inspector with seven years’ experience) does not seem to understand the concept of autonomous learning, which is the way many of us choose, quite legally, to educate our children at home.
Far from being negligent, or even odd, in our informed decision to employ this learning method (Tony Blair has recently called for a more personalised system in schools,) we’re simply ahead of the trend: trailblazers, if you like. If Mr Mooney is using public funds to inspect us, it’s very important that he learns more about what it is that many of us do.
In some ways it’s not difficult to understand how the confusion arises. Learning in schools is invariably logged, registered and assessed in the form of ‘work’. An inspector of schools could reasonably assume that an absence of ‘work’ indicated an absence of learning. But this is only the case with such a high pupil: teacher ratio, where the teacher needs the evidence on paper to demonstrate each child’s understanding of the information conveyed.
Home educators, with far fewer children, need no such proof. We know whether our children are learning or not because we know them so well, and we’re with them most – if not all - of the time. So, just because Mr Mooney and his colleagues are not seeing ‘work’ on paper when they visit home educating families, this does not mean the educational provision is unsuitable. Most home education ‘inspectors’ understand this very well. I’m amazed that some still don’t seem to, and yet still draw public funds for the work they do.
But how, I imagine Mr Mooney and other conscientious ‘inspectors’ asking, are we to properly assess the provision, if there is no work to inspect? How can we tell whether the child is learning at an appropriate pace? Whether the parent is delivering a suitable curriculum?
There are many ways to tell the difference between an autonomously educated child and one who is educationally neglected. For the benefit of Mr Mooney and any other concerned parties, here’s a list of the indicators.
In autonomous home education:
· There's at least one adult parent/facilitator who is available to help the child with learning at all times, on child's request;
· Learning is completely child-led, so the adult is responsive to the child's interests without demanding a set result;
· The child's expressed educational needs are met. This means access to books, Internet, software, equipment, libraries, museums, courses, tutors etc., as and when child requests them;
· The child is aware of the above points and options, as much as possible;
· Learning can take place any time, anywhere, in any form and is not restricted to one area, room, house or building. It happens in all of the child's waking moments, so it really is 'full-time' in every sense;
· Education is therefore uniquely personalised to suit each individual child;
· The child learns only according to his/her interests, so is always fully engaged and working to full potential;
· The child's wish to learn can be damaged by being held to account over issues like output and progress;
· Learning isn't usually divided into subject skills: these develop as and when the child requires them;
· Learning naturally ebbs and flows, so periods of rest and passive thinking or processing usually follow more active phases;
· Low adult: child ratio enables constant assessment and feedback, so 'work' on paper (or any other format) is not an essential requirement and therefore may or may not result from learning;
· The learning process is fully owned by the learner, and as such any work (should any exist) belongs to the child and not the parent/facilitator;
· Progress is not usually as predictable or regular as it is in schooled learning. It can be sometimes very fast and sometimes very slow, depending on the child and his/her stage in the process;
· The child is offered opportunities to socialise and is free to choose how and when this takes place.
With this information, it should be a simple matter for a home education ‘inspector’ – or anyone else - to weed out the educational neglecters from the autonomous home-educators.
One final concern to address, which I suspect Mr Mooney would raise. Even if you use the above list to successfully identify autonomously home-educating families, how can you determine whether the child’s learning is of the right quantity and quality and covering the right subjects in the right way? If he asked this, Mr Mooney would once again betray his considerable expertise in schooling, and his considerable ignorance of autonomous learning.
In this, the ultimate personalised learning system, the child’s own curiosity and will to learn is carefully preserved and utilised to drive the learning process. If we over-ride this and start trying to dictate what the child should learn and how it should be learned, we snuff out the spark of curiosity and go right back to schooling and all it’s associated problems with disengaged learners.
Autonomously home-educated children are usually learning non-stop and are passionate about what they learn. They tend to grow up to be highly motivated, successful workers, as many of us with adult children brought up in this way can attest. But when it comes to producing a pile of assessable paperwork, our kids are usually – thankfully - at the bottom of the class.