Karen turned to home education as a last resort when her daughter, who has profound special needs, was severely bullied at school to the point of her self-harming and threatening suicide. They quickly turned a negative reason into a positive step for the whole family.
By the time my daughter was nine, she was regularly refusing to attend school due to severe bullying, including physical assaults in the playground which were incredibly never witnessed by supervising staff. She had, and still has, profound special needs and learning difficulties, but despite her obvious distress and evidence in the form of physical bruising, the school did nothing and complaints to the local authority were dismissed without proper investigation. When she started self harming and talking about suicide, it was clear I had to take drastic action as no one else was going to do anything to protect her.
Being a single parent with a disabled child is hard at the best of times, but I had every possible barrier put in my way when I decided that my only option was to home educate. I wasn’t considered intelligent enough, I was on my own without close family support, I was on benefits, so how could I hope to care for a child with special needs and educate her as well?
Fortunately, I found help through the Internet in the form of the UK Home Ed mailing list which became my lifeline as I worked through the legal issues and promised my daughter she would soon be free of the bullies. We live in Scotland, so the Schoolhouse members on the list made sure I had was properly informed and offered me direct support while I was anxiously going through the process of removing my daughter from school. Armed with all the right information, I called the council to account for misinforming me about the law and finally managed to extract my daughter from their rotten system once and for all. My only regret is borrowing hundreds of pound to buy the books and materials they insisted I had to have before they would consider granting me ‘permission’. These were hardly ever touched as we used mainly free resources from the Internet and also shared resources with other families home educating families we got to know.
Like many nervous newbies, we started out with some structure to our days, concentrating on basic skills of numeracy and literacy. Although I knew my daughter would never be able to live a fully independent life, I was determined to prepare her the best I could for semi independent living. We also concentrated on her interests, which included regular involvement with our local Riding for the Disabled group and learning Spanish as her father took her on regular holidays to Spain where she had the opportunity to practise the language. Due to a family connection with a famous footballer, we rarely missed a Rangers game and my daughter had the chance to meet team members who soon started recognising her and waving to her in the crowd. In the space of a few short months, she was back to being a happy go lucky child who had made many new home educated friends.
Our relationship with the local authority also improved thanks to the appointment of a new education adviser who was helpful and encouraging without being bossy. She never insisted on visiting our home but was invited once we got to know and trust her, and on one occasion my daughter took great pride in briefing her on the care of guinea pigs and rabbits as she had been learning about, and practising, responsible pet care. That particular adviser has since retired, so home educators now have another officer to deal with who has been parachuted into post without any experience or knowledge of home education. At least the Scottish Government has now issued statutory guidance on home education, which the councils have to pay attention to; there is also growing number of home educators across the country and a strong national support body in the form of Schoolhouse. Families in the rest of the UK have their own support networks and I think the UK Home Education list is even still on the go.
I am now working full time after gaining more qualifications at college and my daughter is in a supported work placement which she enjoys. However, looking back, I still feel angry at being deliberately misled by the school and local authority about the law. I also still feel insulted by their insinuation that people like me aren’t capable of educating their own children and don’t have their best interests at heart – especially when they themselves failed abysmally to keep my child safe. My daughter has never forgotten the school bullies and insists that home education saved her life. I believe that it probably did.
I was glad to be asked to write a bit about our experience for the new Home Education Forums site and hope it will maybe give others encouragement, especially parents of special needs children who are being bullied and can see no way out. There is light at the end of that dark school tunnel, so don’t be distracted from heading towards it and don’t give up as your child needs you!
Starting out in home education has been likened by some newbies to jumping out of an aeroplane and hoping the parachute will open! Yes, it can be a scary step to take, especially (to continue the analogy) if the plane you are in is about to crash and you are left with no other viable option; however, once that parachute opens (which it will!) you will experience both relief and a new found sense of freedom. Read some of our Starting Out stories which have been contributed by home educators and get ready to take that plunge!