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Membership trustee Blog: Helena Wilson

What does Education Otherwise believe home educators to want? I became a trustee because I believe that we can help public bodies to understand how parents feel about this question and to work toward ensuring that parents can choose to home educate going forward.

As a home educating mother of eight I know my children far better than anybody else does. I know their skills, their struggles, their aptitudes and their abilities. I also know that nobody cares as much about their education as I do. I believe that most parents feel as I do and my experience on the Education Otherwise helpline confirms that other families do too, whatever their educational choices.

My good fortune as a home educating parent is to live in an authority area where education staff show respect to me, as a parent and respect for my children’s rights for me to choose the best education for them. We all feel wronged when others fail to respect our choices, wishes and views, even more so when they relate to our children and my local education staff clearly understand that.

From respect comes reasonable relationships. My local authority education staff benefit from their own good practice, as home educating parents trust them to be respectful and as a consequence, are more willing to engage with them where necessary. Education Otherwise launched the ‘Kit Award’ because we believe that parents want us to encourage excellent practice and my local authority staff were amongst those who won awards for good practice, nominated by parents in my area.

With eight children to home educate, I find any time taken away from them unacceptable and I really do not enjoy providing information about my education annually. However, it does prompt me to spend time reflecting on how far they have all come and how much they have achieved. Home education has been their only form of education throughout their lives and with my first child having his GCSEs behind him, I cannot help but be proud of their achievements.

I would fiercely resist any unreasonable attempt to take away any time from my children and me. Mutual respect is key for me and Education Otherwise’ research leads us to believe that it is key for most home educating families.

One thing that I wish the local authority would do, is to open up schools for examination places. It costs very little to obtain an extra exam paper and to have another chair in the exam hall. This would be a cheap and effective way to ensure that all home educated children can attain the examinations that their futures will benefit from. This is a source of resentment for me and feels as if the Government is criticising us on the one hand when we do not arrange examinations for our children and on the other, not supporting us in accessing those examinations.

Fees for a single A level were higher than £3,000 in a private examination centre during Covid. What committed parent has that to spare? I for one was grateful that Education Otherwise was instrumental in persuading the DfE to provide some funding toward examinations, but they could have gone further.

I am fortunate to live where the local authority is reasonable and respectful, but what about those parents who do not enjoy that same situation? My heart goes out to them as I ponder how the local authority staff would feel if they put themselves in that parent’s shoes, not even able to accept valuable support for fear of what comes with it.

Of course, there is another side to this and we all recognise that not every parent gets it right, we would be deceiving ourselves if we said otherwise. I would expect my local authority to offer support in this situation and only as a last resort take formal action. Just as I would expect them to conduct every part of that process respectfully and supportively.

As a parent, I believe that I am not unusual in wanting to live my life in peace, choosing what is right for my children without unwarranted interference. As a trustee of Education Otherwise, I share my colleagues’ belief that by closing the divide and fostering mutual respect, my children’s future ability to home educate their children can be protected.

Mutual respect is key, after all, it is how humanity avoids wars.