Home education is on the rise. It is a form of education that few agree with, claiming that home-educated kids struggle in social settings. But is this backed up by the facts?
“Being home-educated has definitely made me more confident.”
I’m speaking to Sophie Arkadiou, a 16-year-old who left school aged 9 to be home-educated. Within a few minutes of us chatting, she’s challenging all the common stereotypes around home education. “I was part of lots of groups. I did things like going camping and I went on lots of educational trips arranged for home-educated kids. We went to museums and visited Wales.” In 2018, Sophie moved from one-to-one education to the Pre-16 GCSE course at Nottingham College, and she’s never looked back.
Sophie acknowledges that both traditional schooling and home education can have different effects on everyone, and that it takes time to develop social skills. This is where groups for home-educated students, such as the Pre-16 course can help. “It’s an opportunity for them.” From being a shy, quiet person, groups like this can help open up and build confidence in a home-educated student. They’re given a chance to interact with others and build their relationships.
However, Sophie is in no doubt that being home-educated had a positive impact on her development. “For me, it was mainly the freedom to live the life I wanted” she tells me. “I spent most of my time outside building tree houses and learning about things that interested me.” Unshackled by rules, she got to explore the world and interact with other home-educated families at educational groups where she learnt so much that you don’t get in schools.
So do home-educated kids suffer from a lack of socialisation? To try and find out, I spoke to two local experts.
Jo Edgerton is the Pre-16 Manager at Nottingham College. She runs the Pre-16 GCSE programme for home-educated students and has been doing this for the past seven years. She doesn’t believe that there is a lack of socialisation with the students she works with. “I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily because they’re home-educated. I think it’s who they are as an individual” she explains.
“We do have some students who come to us specifically because they have struggled with a school environment and they have struggled socially,” Jo acknowledges, but she believes that this might be, because they have additional needs; they could be a shy person or it could be linked to the school curriculum and how it doesn’t suit them.
There are so many factors that can affect someone’s social skills, but there are ways around it. One of those is the Pre-16 course. Jo also stresses that some students don’t have any socialising struggles, “We’ve got students who are massively sociable and can find that opportunity to get to know others and make friends with people.”
“I always say to students it’s amazing how quickly you’ll make friends. Within a week you’ll see friendships forming” Jo says. It’s great to see this happen and how it can help improve a student’s skill in socialising. It builds up the confidence that they need and gives them a little push in the right direction.
Jo’s course itself engenders socialisation. “I think everyone starts quite anxious because they’re doing something new, it’s different and they don’t necessarily know who they’re going to meet,” Jo continues. “But then you see those people genuinely grow in confidence as they get used to coming into college, getting to know teachers and students and just having that flexibility that the course offers.” For Jo, college gives them the freedom to expand their social skills during their time on the course.
“We work with anyone aged 13 up to 16 and you see that maturity grow with them as well.” Jo explains. As the younger students interact with the older students in the years above them, the teachers witness not only a huge change in their confidence but also in their maturity levels. They seems to mature quicker and learn more because they aren’t restricted to their own age group.
“You see them gravitate towards one another” Jo reflects. “There are some you’re surprised by as they become great friends, and it just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.” By letting them experience things for themselves, Jo says , they’ll find their own place.
Brendan Coulson is the founder of the Pre-16 course, making it the first college in the UK to offer specialist provision for students who have been home-educated. He says that working with home-educated students has shown him a whole new side to education.
Having taught both home-educated and schooled students, he claims that “They were the brightest, most academic students I had. It almost felt wrong that they had to spend a year of their life having to prove that they were at the level to get on the course.” Students who are home educated score 15% to 30% higher than school students on academic achievement tests.
Watching the students at work, and listening to their stories, it’s clear that the course brings so much to them; an education, socialising, and something to love and enjoy. It is wonderful for them. When talking about how the students would interact socially with each other, Brendan said “The support they found you was amazing. I was so taken back with what I was seeing. It was a massive success story.”
With so many adults being against home education, Brendan is often challenged with questions about gaps in education, safeguarding and more. For him, all these claims are unfounded. “That’s not what I’ve experienced whatsover,” he asserts.
Brendan spoke about how only a small portion of students have taken longer to adapt to social surroundings than others. “The vast majority are more mature compared to students who are studying in schools and have more of a sense of purpose and in terms of wanting to study. They have a greater desire and interest to study and much more motivation.” He goes on to suggest that home-educated students are more assertive. “They are more confident in articulating their views than I have ever seen from students coming from a school. I have been in schools and they are far more confident to have a debate, and I would say for someone who has been teaching in a university for two years now, they have the skills that we are trying to engrain for university students. That confidence and the ability to challenge was something I noticed, and that was very different from those who came from a school setting.”
Brendan also doesn’t agree with the argument that home education stifles socialisation, “If anything, I would argue that students in school are more locked down because they’re more restricted from having to stay within the secondary school setting.”
As lockdown forced schools, colleges and universities to close their doors, now nearly all students have had an experience of home education. There was a total of 300 million students worldwide who were studying from home during this time, dramatically adding to the 100,000 UK students who were already being home-educated. “After lockdown, I think we’re going to see an increase in home education as a result of it,” Brendan predicts. Prior to Covid in 2019, there was already a 40% increase in students leaving school to become home-educated, and post-pandemic that trend will surely accelerate.
This alone shows how much home-educated students social skills have grown. Through groups that they go to, they are given a voice to start discussions with not just children their own age, but with adults as well. They’ll have completely different views so debates like this would really become eye-opening and they would be learning something new. This is something that would be used more in the ‘real word’ compared to debates set by teachers who set them between children who are going to most likely share the same views.
So, is there an effect in terms of a home-educated student’s social skills? Do they lack anything compared to if they were in a public school? Or do they shine just as brightly because they got the opportunity to go out into the world and learn from others around them? They had no restrictions on the people that were sat around them in a classroom. They got the chance to spread their wings and socialise with hundreds of others of all different ages with different opinions. These groups that are made for home-educated students have been incredible for them.