Monday, 5 November 2012

First term impressions in sixth form.

As many people know our son Ben has recently made his debut into the school system for the very first time. I asked him to write an account of how he felt now he'd been 'inside' for a few months!

Of course each and every child's experience of school will be entirely different from the school to the student. Ben is a particularly laid back kind of young man and very friendly and willing so we're very thankful that, so far, his school life is proving to be fruitful.

Contemplating sixth form

One could never argue that the transition from home-schooling into full time education at school was an insignificant thing or a change that does not come along with its own set of unique challenges. I had been home-schooled all the way through primary education, and on through secondary education, so I had never had any first-hand experience in a school.  The day before I began sixth form my mind was overflowing with (now ridiculous) stereotypical views on what it would be like; the “popular kids” in the corner, the “school bully” going around causing havoc and the “nerds” sitting in their own little huddles doing huge amounts of work. Of course all these views were proved wrong the second I stepped through the door. I found that every one from teachers to pupils to the Headmaster went out of their way to get to know me and make every effort to help me enjoy and flourish in this (strange, new) environment that I would be spending the next two years of my young adult life in.

What you notice immediately (or at least what I first noticed) was that everybody is more mature; there is no ‘larking around’. My only real experience with “school kids” beforehand had been in my football teams that I used to play for. I always remembered them being a bolshie and boisterous lot who enjoyed causing trouble and making life even more difficult for the instructors/teachers. The reason Sixth Formers are not like this is due to post-sixteen education not being compulsory: all the ones who did not enjoy working and were not motivated enough have either left to look for jobs or gone to a more vocational style college. (or otherwise!)

In my Sixth Form it is very easy to escape the mostly bustling common room and find a quiet place to work, whether it be the ‘Quiet Room’ designated for silent study, or in an empty classroom upstairs. The head of Sixth Form, an incredibly dynamic and influential woman, constantly tries (and succeeds!) to instill in each student the motivation to work independently. Now, if one was to ask me to sum up home-schooling in two words, I would immediately reply “independent learning”. This is, of course, given to us by our parents. This means that when joining school after being home-schooled we already have this key skill. It also means that the teachers don’t need to drill “work at home, read around the subjects, work independently,” into our minds like they do to the students who have been in school all along. I have seen this first hand already, many times, when a teacher has said “go home and read up about all this and put some independent notes together” and the people in school previously find it really hard to do, when it is almost second nature to me.

The major reason Catholic home-schoolers worry about sending their child to school is the effect it may have on their faith. I know this was my Mother’s main concern, and I can honestly say two months down the line I do not feel in the least uncomfortable about my beliefs or my view, which I knew would be contrary to most students there. Never have I once heard any anti-religious comments nor had any kind of criticism about my faith, and all my friends at school know I am a practising Catholic. It just doesn’t mean anything to them other than, “He’s a Catholic.” I even once had an interesting conversation with a practising protestant about the  true meaning of ‘Halloween’  something we both agreed on. (Agreeing with a protestant? That’s a new one!). If any one is up for a good debate about abortion or euthanasia then I’ll be in the thick of it but I wouldn’t spend my day pricking people’s consciences (well, not yet, I’ve only been there two months!).

Another advantage of going into sixth form is the opportunity of sports. Even though we’re a new sixth form we have formed a competent 11-a-side with matches against other sixth forms and colleges. We train every Thursday but in true school style I find myself cramming my lunch into my mouth and running off to play footie every single lunch time! I also enjoy Archery classes each week which are just fantastic. Last week I returned from the five day preliminary expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. I find this is a great advantage as although this would have been possible through air cadets or home schooling groups, we have a professional team taking us through it.

To conclude, school has been a demanding transition, but an enjoyable one. It is a very rewarding system with its end of term reports and awards, and this takes place in a friendly and mature atmosphere. If there was anything I could say against school it would certainly be a grudge against the homework. The idea of two/three hours homework after school is definitely not one of the stereotypical views I had that has been proven wrong, sadly!

Ben Lewin


  1. Oh, Ben, I cannot believe what a grown-up man you are now! The little Ben served in my nuptial Mass in 2006, and now, in 2012, the big Ben's writing sounds highly intelligent, confident, and so well thought out. What a fantastic, clear writing - I could just tell that your devoted mom's homeschooling her children has been so divinely paid off! - Deo gratias!

    I must tell you that, when you said, "I have seen this first hand already, many times, when a teacher has said “go home and read up about all this and put some independent notes together” and the people in school previously find it really hard to do, when it is almost second nature to me.", your words encouraged me so much, for I am a novice mom who's embarked on homeschooling my own children here in the U.S.

    Having read your new experience at school, I am relieved that you are well adjusted already to the new schooling system, and enjoying the school life; your friends are kind and understanding.

    And I realized that, while I was reading your new journey, after having been homeschooled in your faithful Catholic home until you are formed into a confident Catholic man, going into the world isn't that scary. : ) May God bless you in your new life, and your Gurdian Angel be always with you, Ben! We pray, Catherine

  2. Well written, Ben! First hand, positive observations like yours are so important for parents with much younger children who are wary/nervous about what lies ahead. You prove that home-education can successfully produce articulate, clear-thinking, confident young people who are comfortable in their faith and not afraid to stand up for what they believe without feeling the need to force their views on anyone else. Wishing you a happy two years ahead (homework aside ;-)
    Kathryn H

  3. A home educating friend sent this comment in regards to further education. It is both insightful and helpful and her daughter has achieved highly;

    Just thought I could add a little bit. Our eldest daughter took GCSEs in 2009. We had a lot of help from our local home ed group with the organiser doing the paper work, and also taking a small group of teens once a week for 3 or 4 hours in term times for about 14 months. She offered help with Classical Civilisations, English Lit, maths, sociology and general studies. For us this was any five to get into 6th form, but my daughter really enjoyed the first two. At home we just had a lot of art, reading, visits to exhibitions and a relaxed approach to learning what she found interesting while trying to cover all the subject areas. For the GCSEs she worked by reading and completing assignments.The course work was sent away to be marked but I'm sorry I didn't follow how that was organised. We paid for it to be marked and then paid to take the exams at a college.

    On arrival at 6th form to study Art, History and English Lit, and meeting children who had standard GCSEs she at first said she wished she had science GCSEs etc but then as the course went on general knowledge of all sorts, including science, came up, she realised that she did actually have enough knowledge and often more. She was good at making connections etc. In answer to Karen I would say it was helpful for us to keep going with our normal approach to learning and not letting exams take over. She retained a real enjoyment of learning. However, I agree with Elizabeth that it depends on your child. Our second daughter is at school, partly because she wants 11 GCSEs and can cope with the way schools get you there. She seems to enjoy most of it but also seems to need deadlines and pressure!

    Amanda's blog is great for having ideas for subjects and links to sites to find out more. Thank you, Amanda and I'm sorry not to contribute beyond the first posting. I didn't really get that involved in the GCSEs in 2009. I was going to write something about 6th form, although it is the kind of inner London college many people would avoid. She just went in for lectures and tutorials; there were not really any extras but the teachers were so happy with her and she made some lovely friends and got 3As and then went to St Martin's for foundation art, getting distinction and is now at uni studying fine art. It helps to have the first trail blaze but mainly because it helps stem the comments from people who might only just be biting their tongues about home ed. Each child is so different I think you just have to research the possibilities and be open to what seems right for them and what you find you can manage.