Saturday 21 February 2015

At long last an update!

With great surprise I have just seen that my last post was June 2014.
So much has happened educationally and otherwise with my family that perhaps the most helpful post would be to disclose the past few months of my older children's secondary education.

For each and every home schooler, one can never foresee exactly what will become of their children's education- which paths they will take, how many dozens of times they change their minds on which course they want to read at University (or even go at all), which A levels to take, or taking a more diverse path with a vocational qualification like a BTEC or HND.
And all this on top of preserving their faith we have tried so diligently and tirelessly to instil within them!

My eldest son Ben chose to try the brand new sixth form in the local comprehensive after being home schooled all his life. At 16yrs he stepped into school for the first time and settled in as if he had always been there. He is a naturally warm, affable and extremely laid back young man; a teacher's dream to teach, and so his life became very structured and he quite enjoyed the new experience of school, always making sure he told his Mam 'it will never match home schooling though'!

I cannot pretend we were entirely satisfied with all the teaching- some teachers were poorer than others and there was an obvious lack of experience with one particular subject which had never been taught there before. This was a disappointment and it reflected in the marks of all the pupils.

Ben ended up with very acceptable grades and had always planned a year out as he was still only 17 when he sat his A2s. (He was the baby of the entire 110 pupils in school!)
Considering this he managed the depth and the amount of work (which shocks most people, especially after GCSEs) efficiently and managed to have a lively social life at the same time.(Nothing like my over active mind had feared, thankfully!)

What did surprise us was that even though Ben applied to five Universities, he decided to not go, well, not this year, the reason being he questioned whether it would be beneficial to what he would like to do which is join the police force in Central London.

Currently, he is in Campos, the traditional community in Brazil, for a few months with a Catholic friend. He is having numerous exciting experiences of which we feel very happy and hopeful about- administering to the homeless, cleaning and helping with the beautiful Church which they live next door to,  re-building a nursing home, learning Portuguese and hopefully building a Confessional. All these experiences will bring them great graces and teach them important lessons in life- perhaps, ultimately, this is the highest form of education?

My eldest daughter Marie has chosen a more unique path for her secondary education which (admittedly) matches her personality well! She sat 5 IGCSEs and then has gone straight onto an Access course from home. She is studying nursing with the Distance Learning centre       which is all done online and at home (bliss!) and will, hopefully, be her route onto a degree course where she will study Mental Health Nursing. They will take students from 16+ although they do prefer them to be older.
Marie is also studying Latin A level at an Oxford School four hours per week. Their Classics department is excellent and she felt she could not turn this opportunity down having always loved Latin. Nursing and Latin- eclectic and very Marie..

Knowing what to do for children's secondary and higher education can be daunting.  As Catholics one must be discerning, but also pragmatic at the same time. Whilst some people would not choose to send their children into school/college to study at a higher level, it is also extremely arduous to do so at home. For us I felt it was right to send Ben to sixth form and I feel it did him no harm or damage, but instead some good as he saw and witnessed how other peers behaved (exceptionally and surprisingly well, thank God) and it was a step into the world without it being too far from home. In fact, it was just 15 minutes walk away so each day he would return and we would have the opportunity to discuss and chat about his day and his work. This, I believed, was vital for that transition.

Letting go is the absolute hardest thing to do as a Mother, yet it is also a joy to watch one's children flourish and grow, in their education and learning, and in their spiritual lives.

May God bless each and every one of our dear children in their lives as they try to follow God's Holy will. We place them under the patronage and care of the Most Holy Family.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Exam contemplations.

As I write we are amid the exam season once again. This is the fourth year we have experienced exams as a home educating family, and I think with trepidation of the next, ooh ten years or so, we have to go!

Exams; one chance, or perhaps two, if one has two papers, to gain decent grades and be successful. No matter if the student feels under the weather, has a serious worry, suffers 'exam freeze' is all down to how they perform in those exams, and woe besides anything or anyone who distracts them.

Is this fair and just? Probably not. Yet for years this is how the UK educational system has functioned  and A levels seem to be becoming harder and more demanding and the IGCSEs the home educated children must do, in place of the GCSEs, are far more rigorous.

 Marie, my 16yr old daughter - now there's is a story and reminds me always to be prepared for surprises. All her educational life she has been astute and clever gaining very high marks in every subject she's applied herself to. She is our second child and even though I knew how bright Ben was, Marie always seemed slightly more academic and seemed to absorb and understand subjects like Latin and Maths with more ease than Ben. It was only natural, I naively presumed, that she'd breeze through her IGCSEs. How wrong I was! It isn't that Marie has failed in any way, yet she has not achieved what she is capable of.

As home educators, we usually have to teach at quite a high level, or at least guide (in my home!) and I knew from Marie's work she was very intelligent. She would return from the first two exams reasonably happy and certainly not flustered only to find a few months later she had not gained the high grades she had hoped for. On exam number three (Biology ICGSE) we sat down and discussed it. 'No, no, I absolutely do not panic!' she exclaimed, yet something was wrong. On asking for her Latin paper back (she gained a C at 14years old which in retrospect is not that bad!) her tutor said he would not have recognised that it was her as it was so far from her usual high standard.
We realised she was experiencing 'exam freeze', where she would just clam up and think she had forgotten everything through nerves and then write either muddled answers or even be unable to answer at all.

So, what to do? Over that year, Marie's confidence in her studies wavered, so much so that at times she would ask me never to put her in for an exam again. She re-sat a couple of exams and did better, but life is not for re-sits and it hurt me to see her self esteem diminish because of the exam world.

We discussed it in length and as Marie is blessed to know what she would like to do for a career - nursing/possibly midwifery -  she went and found the simplest way she could enter this profession. (Another skill home educated children seem to acquire- the gift of being independent enough to find things out for themselves).

She completed three more IGCSEs this year (the minimum I suggested!)- English Language, English Literature and Art. This will give her (if, please God, she passes!) six IGCSEs (and  German too), and she has discovered she can take an Access course to Midwifery which will allow her to bypass A levels and any further exams until degree level.

The Access course is in place of three A levels and one needs no qualifications to apply. I had previously thought one had to be over 18 years old to begin yet they are happy to accept Marie at just 17. The bonus of it as well is it is from home, so she will not be entering a school as Ben has done, and which she is opposed to.

As for Ben he is nearing the end of his two years in sixth form, in fact school life is now complete and he just goes in to write his exams.
It has had it's pros and cons and I still believe it was best for Ben, but entering a secular school as a traditional Catholic previously home schooled brings it's difficulties and it was only because I had great faith in his strengths and purity of heart was I less reluctant for him to go.

That said, he has now seen a little of the world and had a taste for what will come next. He would return home at night, discuss his day and the conversations he had been involved in or overheard (if he needed to, but as a boy, he is never too eager to evaluate things!) and made some good friends whom accepted and liked him for who he is. It has not been detrimental to him in any way, and in some areas it has been very beneficial, especially the rugby and football playing and the two trips abroad.

Secondary education, but especially post-14 yrs, is a real battle for Catholic parents and their children, Where to send them, which subjects to study, which school if any, which course is a continuing minefield and we can only, as I have tried to do here, help each other along with our own experiences.

Please keep all children sitting exams and discerning their educational future in your prayers, and May the most Holy Family protect and guide them!

(For the Distance Learning courses where the Access course is see this link-

Monday 24 March 2014

The ever changing education system.

Here I am again about two months too late. Once more life seems to get in the way of any kind of sensible writing (if you can call this sensible) and quiet.

In approximately 8 weeks our eldest son, Ben, will sit his A levels (or A2s as they are sometimes referred to here). It is quite mind blowing that his first, and last, two years in school are nearing an end. How he has fared I will leave for another post, perhaps I'll ask him to write one, if I can catch him at home for long enough once he's 'free' again!

Much to my surprise (and to be honest, relief) the A levels are yet again, being reformed. From September 2015 the A level course will be linear; assessment only after two years, rather like it was when I did my A levels all those years ago.  The AS level will be retained but will be a qualification in itself and so one can no longer go and and complete a second year and turn it into an A level as Ben has done.

Additionally there is no longer any January exams available. Ben has decided to re-sit one Unit of his first year and instead of being able to do this in January just past, he has had to add it to his final exams which has caused some extra pressure and worry. (More on my part it must be said but then is it not a Mother's job to worry?)

Are these sensible and beneficial changes? I feel more at ease with two years for A levels with no break for exams after what is really about 6 months. When Ben went into sixth form to study A levels, he found himself after five tender months being told to begin preparing and revising for the summer exams. It is much to take on and most students (especially having gone from GCSEs which they do in schools and are a poorer standard than the IGCSEs) have a tremendous shock at the work load and the standard required of them to pass these exams well.
Here the home educated student is at an advantage- they have already learnt to work independently and do not need constant guidance in their research and learning. The depth of learning and requirements is a huge  difference for A levels- the schooled child suddenly finds they are no longer spoon fed but feeding themselves.

So reforming the A levels to a two year course seems a good option to me. It allows the student to master their subject more deeply and become proficient at answering the exam questions and learning content more assiduously without the constant reminder of threatening exams after only a few months.

A levels remain well respected for their rigour and Universities require them and prefer them to other qualifications. If your student is seriously considering University, especially a Russell Group one, then it might be worth considering the more traditional A levels rather than the 'soft' options.

It feels like yesterday when Ben made his debut into school for the first time ever. Now he is nearing the end and will, after a year doing some voluntary work and seeing the world, enter a new phase of his life; most probably University and I'm sure there will be a tale to tell about that too...

May the most Holy Family keep all our dear children ever in their prayers, and guide and govern them in their studies with discernment and good judgement.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

The gift of independent learning.

I apologise for the tremendously long break. Home educating my gaggle of children takes up rather a considerable portion of the day, as well as making sure they are fed (quite) nutritiously, hubby is not forgotten, the house is kept orderly (as much as it can with a feisty 3year old) and the one schooled child is given adequate attention when he returns home around 4pm...

Having my eldest son, Ben, in sixth form and home educating the five younger ones has high lighted the tremendous gift we can offer our children through home education - the gift of independent learning. Witnessing Ben use this gift within the school system has shown me how very important it is as he has found his experience as an independent learner invaluable.
From a tiny age all children are in awe of our world and learning is fascinating and enthralling. It does not take much to engage a 5year old in astronomy or a 9year old in Roman history (or vice versa!). As they grow and develop there is more scope within the home for them to pursue their own interests (as well as the subjects they may be required to learn, as in our home) and there is an inherent need to be independent, a joy when they master a subject or an activity which cannot be equalled.

Whether one directs their children to learn, follows a rigid timetable or/and curriculum, or even autonomously educates, the home educated child discovers how to master certain subjects and through this confidence, will become an independent, and usually more skilled, learner.
Whether academic or not, this skill will be extremely helpful through out their whole lives; whether they enter sixth form as my son Ben has, or they go straight to college/University or work, or remain within the home until they are ready to leave.

The skills they acquire are thinking for themselves - analysing, probing, questioning and constructively criticising. If, like my older children, they have been handed an IGCSE text book, a note pad and a pencil and watched Mam hastily flee the room, they will quickly decipher how to work for themselves. It is undoubtedly a harder and more arduous form of study- no spoon feeding in home education! Yet, this freedom and allowance for the child to direct, not the parent, is so imperative to forming their future work ethic and their character.

One interesting aspect of sixth form Ben often mentions - even now in the second year of A levels - is how many students find it taxing to work alone. They are told the key to success in A levels is independent study yet they are not 'taught' it or shown it  and this can be a stumbling block for many months. Ben thought the teachers were really helpful at first and always offering advice, opinions, handouts.This conflicted greatly with his peers' opinions (who thought they had been stranded) and became a source of amusement for about one week!

There's no question that, as I'm always saying, every child is unique, and therefore will learn differently. Yet most home educated children, which ever way they've learnt, will usually become more inquisitive, confident and independent young adults as they have learnt from a very early age what true freedom within learning is.

Do you believe home educated children become independent learners?

May the Holy Family continue to keep us all ever in their prayers!

Wednesday 6 November 2013

In loving memory of Michelle.

Even though I am going to find this a painful post to write, I would like the world to know, or at least, our small home schooled community, what a legacy Michelle Scott has left behind.

Michelle was a special fiend of mine. I will always regret never having met her in real life but it was not to be. We 'met' in rather amusing circumstances, on the 'Hebrew Catholic Association' forum. I've never been quite sure as to why Michelle hung out there (or myself actually!) and for a long while I naively presumed she lived in Birmingham, Alabama, but when the penny dropped that she actually lived in Birmingham, UK, I wrote to her privately and ever since then we corresponded every two weeks or so for many years.

We shared much- chronic, debilitating illnesses and the passion to home educate our six children, being committed Catholics and actively pro life. Many an hour was spent discussing and inventing ways to educate children from the sofa and on a budget, plus we were extremely interested in different philosophies, our shared passion being the Montessori method, about which we enjoyed swapping ideas, materials and amusing stories.

Michelle ran a very well read and admired blog, 'Thinking Love, No Twaddle' (this originates from the Christian educator, Charlotte Mason, whose methods Michelle followed and very much liked).
Every blog post was beautifully and eloquently written- what a gift God gave Michelle!

But what was so incredible was that Michelle achieved *all* this whilst suffering so much and for so long. For 11 or so years she battled with various illness, one of them a serious heart condition. I was always in awe of all she achieved and would often read through some of her notes or lessons and feel inspired and encouraged.

Her resolve never gave in- she educated her children to cook, create, love and respect. She was a truly devoted Mam, wife and fellow home schooler and to say that I will miss her is a tremendous understatement.

Here are just a few of her impressive and wonderful blog posts. Please read some of her blog and enjoy it as this is what she would have wanted. May her legacy live on!

 - Michelle's love for the Montessori method shines through.
- Making Arcimedes come alive for the children.
- Living with a chronic illness and home schooling.

Michelle also wrote lessons for young children:    - Truly a heroine for Catholic home educating Mams!

Michelle passed away on Tuesday, October 22nd and her funeral is on 15th November. Please keep her in your prayers, especially during this month of the most Holy Souls.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace. Amen.

Friday 27 September 2013

Curriculums V Do it Yourself

The long summer break is over and Michelmas term has begun (when near Oxford...!) and most children, home educated or schooled, are back to lessons and timetables.

A question close to my heart, which I am often asking myself, is whether following a curriculum, like the Catholic American courses, would be easier/simpler/ more beneficial than making it up as we go along...Many long hours have been spent with a dear friend debating and discussing this question. So far we have both held off from using any bought curriculas and  prefer to choose our own books, often spending hours writing lessons for children of varying ages, and then of course comes the laborious task of (finally!) marking these lessons...(if they can be found!)
A sacrifice it is..and there are times I can certainly clearly see and feel it to be the best way for our family, yet it is an arduous way of 'teaching' and one wonders about the (vast?) gaps in the children's education.

For me I felt it was imperative to follow the British system, after all we do live in England and it would  ideally make it simpler for the children to carry onto further education if this is what they sought, and to allow them to get used to the examination system. Sitting exams is no easy feat. My small amount of experience has shown me to never be too presumptuous! Children often can surprise you...a child may be claiming A grades in all their subjects yet suddenly fall to bits in an exam and come out with a C. This, of course, is demoralising although also something to learn from. Yet the English system does prepare them for later exams, like A levels and University, or even exams they may need to sit in places of work.

Honestly speaking I always liked the idea of being free to choose exactly what my children learn (after all isn't this one of the main reasons for home education?) - from what literature they read (thank God we never have to worry about our daughters bringing home Jacqueline Wilson books from the school library!) to which Maths course best suited them. I researched so many educational books  and still find myself today opening a long awaited package only to feel great disappointment as it wasn't quite what I was expecting. And then there are times one finds a jewel of a book which becomes a firm favourite and is handed down from child to child.

The American curriculas (Kolbe Academy {my favourite}, Seton, Our Lady of Victory) are all immensely sound and Catholic.  One can feel completely at ease, knowing their child will only ever be exposed to truly Catholic books and not only that; there are lesson plans, teachers at the end of the phone and  even someone to mark their lessons, advise and help! All for a price, of course, but many parents feel justified in this and rightly so. I can see the attraction (after doing it alone for the eldest children it is now becoming even more of a pull  for my two younger sons!) yet something holds me back. (That cherished book, the freedom of choice in what they learn, the cost?)

It would definitely make my life easier, and possibly some day we may buy a course or curriculum and give it a try, but for now I rather like making my own decisions, searching for a special book...(just recently my aforementioned dear friend showed me her latest find - a beautiful English book of prose and poetry which to me was like being shown a precious jewel (but affordable!) and I feel such excitement knowing it is in the post!) Collecting different books from various places and mixing and matching is my idea of  enjoyment! Designing a timetable for my 14yr old son has, so far, been quite illuminating. He's following three IGCSE courses too, but this time I am trying to read along with him and write him instructions. It still means using the faithful answer books (I would be lost without Maths and science answer books ; Deo Gratias for them!) and much time creating timetables but I feel it is a worthwhile usage of time. If all else fails, it's off to Kolbe Academy for him!

As with which course to choose, whether to go to University or sixth form, all our children are different and unique and each precious one will require different means and ways of learning and educating. Whether it is a hand written comprehension on 'Beowulf' or a classics lesson from Kolbe, each way has it's advantages for our children- their souls are safe and they are living within the Domestic Church.   - Kolbe Academy   -  Our Lady of Victory  - Seton Home Study  - Fisher More Academy - This was previously known as Regina Coeli and has now been taken over and sounds exceptionally exciting..I will write a post on this college very soon. Ss Thomas More and John Fisher, Orate Pro Nobis!

Sunday 28 July 2013

Are Home Educated children at a disadvantage in the exam arena?

I've been brooding upon this question for a while now.

Academically it makes perfect sense to opt, if one can, for the IGCSEs- they are undoubtedly more rigorous and demanding than the GCSEs.
For many home educators there is no other option- the IGCSEs do not require course work (or controlled assessment) and so they are solely exam based. In some areas it is possible to study GCSEs and then arrange for a controlled assessment at an exam centre but they are quite a rarity and usually the simplest choice is to turn to the IGCSE route...

For a majority of home educators then, as they are more in depth, a student will often end up sitting slightly less of these exams than had they done  GCSEs. Or it could be the fact that at school so many of the GCSEs are modular (in parts) that they tend to squeeze in as many subjects as possible. It is not unusual for schooled children to attain 12 or even up to 14 GCSEs. (!)
(It does make one wonder why though when some of these 'exams' are in questionable subjects and how useful and valuable they will be in their future lives?)

Still, if there are schooled children applying to colleges/Unis with 12+ GCSES how do the home educated children fare when they leave home ed with 6/7/8 IGCSEs? Will this place them at a disadvantage?
Plus, how does a parent deal with a child who may not manage with sitting exams as well as others? This may place the child at a sore disadvantage and one can then see how much easier really the whole school system is with it's modular exams (doing it in parts) and continuous cycle of re-sits...or re-writing assessments...

And, I am now contemplating whether these institutions actually recognise the superior quality of the IGCSEs, and do they even care? Will the home educated student stand a better chance with fewer IGCSEs against multiple GCSEs? Do they take this into account and acknowledge that these courses were harder ?

The other question which has been playing on my mind is the whole exam 'experience'.

Chatting to a dear friend the other day, she was explaining how many exams and tests her children have been placed through being at school. She claimed one of the only positive aspects of school was that it does prepare the student for exams. If children are being tested as young as 7 (many home educated children have't even begun formal lessons by then!) and then again through out the year, at the end of primary school, and then so on into GCSEs, it is plain to see that schooled children will have an advantage of at least being more comfortable with the whole exam experience, and therefore, may 'perform' better.

I am not claiming this to be a good revelation or something to be considered and as Catholic home educators the fundamental reason we keep our children out of school is to protect their God given soul. Nothing can ever be more vital than this.  So no matter how many times I am taunted by the idea that my children may be poorer performers in exams only through lack of experience, of course, or be at a disadvantage against their schooled peers in the exam arena, it is of no real consequence when the life of their soul, their moral character and their innate love of the Holy Catholic Faith can be better preserved and protected at home.

May the Holy Family pray for all Catholic families as they strive to educate their children in this world!