Our journey into home educating began due to school refusal and although many autistic children like my son struggle with the school enviroment, school refusal and school related anxiety is on the increase in children with and without additional needs. This leads me and many like me to wonder why? Over the last year or so I have searched for clues as to what went wrong. There are many possible reasons of course, not just one, some of which were obvious but perhaps others that are more hidden.
In his first month of home education my son wrote this piece for his thoughts and feelings book and I think it offers a lot of clues to how some children now perceive school;
SCHOOLS ARE LIKE PRISONS
They are controlled and paid for by the government – just like prison.
They shut you in and tell you how long you have to stay there – just like prison.
You stay in the room they tell you to – just like prison
They tell you when you are allowed to go outside – just like prison
You have to do everything they tell you or be punished – just like prison.
You have to wear a uniform – just like prison.
There are people who watch you and make sure you are doing what you are told and not trying to escape (teachers and TA’s) – Just like prison.
I think schools are exactly like prisons for children.
My son was just 10 years old at the time and reading it sent a shiver down my spine. Imagine if this was your life and how you felt about where you spent every week day, wouldn’t you get depressed, anxious and lose interest in life?
How changes over the years have affected the learning experience
Perhaps reading what you have so far you think I am anti-school? Actually nothing could be further from the truth, I have worked in the past as a TA and believe passionately in education. What I have come to realise however, is that in recent years mainstream schools have evolved through necessity because of government funding and legislation changes, but seemingly without giving much thought to how that affects the experience of those learning and working within them.
Class sizes getting bigger, a higher percentage of SEN students in mainstream (with little extra training or support for teachers), more homework at primary level, children often travelling further to school due to OFSTED reports, teachers added work load, the national curriculum, increase in testing and funding being stretched – these are just a few of the ways things have changed and that have potentially impacted on children’s school experience.
Teacher lack the freedom to be as flexible as they could be in the past
I was a shy child with undiagnosed dyslexia when I went to school back in the late 70’s, I struggled socially but loved learning. This was due in large part to the amount of flexibility teachers were allowed in those days. I remember one primary teacher who particularly inspired me by allowing me to bring my rabbits in once a week for the class to handle and learn about. It was instant kudos for me and helped me make friends, increased my confidence and inspired me to write stories about my pets so improving my literacy, she even entered one of my stories into a competition which I ended up winning. I probably would not be writing this blog (ie writing for pleasure) without Mrs Samuels. This is just one example of how allowing teachers to have greater autonomy and smaller classes helped to tailor my learning, as well as that of many others, enabling each child to learn in their own way.
Children are switching off
In contrast my son went off to school with a love of books, a positive attitude and a desire to learn, great interest in music and art, a desire to make friends, a love of nature and outdoors, good manners and a happy outlook as well as (at that time) undiagnosed dyslexia and autism/PDA. By the time he was deregistered 5 years later he was phobic about reading, given up on music and art, socially isolated, threatening self harm and unable to leave the house.