The Advance of Alternative Routes to Education

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“It comes down to a simple question – who do I want to teach my kids as they grow up?”

Ewan Gurr: ‘Home-school was already a success for some families’ (eveningtelegraph.co.uk)

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph 25/01/2021

As many parents across Scotland expected, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon extended the period schools will be closed to most children until the middle of February. Last week, Ms Sturgeon said: “Our reluctant judgment is that community transmission is too high to allow a safe return to school on February 1.” Advocating home learning in today’s letters page, however, Home School Mum wrote: “I find joy in teaching my children but the level of micro-management by schoolteachers is unbearable.”

In the seventeenth century, Scotland became the first country to provide universal education for boys and girls. A century later, the UK had only six universities, four of which were in Scotland producing the likes of David Hume, Adam Smith and Andrew Bell. The latter graduated from St Andrews in 1774, became an Episcopalian priest and educationalist, eventually going to pioneer Madras College. Bell once said: “Give me twenty-four pupils today and I will give you twenty-four teachers tomorrow.”

Scotland – with direct support from the church – became the global pioneers of education. It was not until 1944 that UK Government Education Secretary, Rab Butler, ensured nationwide provision and, quoting former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, announced: “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.” No one could have conceived when these words were uttered to what extent a pandemic would stretch the fabric of education to breaking point.  

In September and October 2020, various reports emerged across Scotland revealing that there had been a spike in the numbers of parents withdrawing their children from state education. Children already taught at home are the one demographic who have remained insulated from the turbulence of lockdown. I recently spoke to Dave and Cath Dickson from Lochee, who withdrew their three sons – Josh, Noah and Ethan – from state education over two years ago and are seeing incredible results.

Dave says: “It comes down to a simple choice – who do I want to teach my kids and who do I want them to become?” He adds: “I found there was a very short list and schoolteachers we met, nice though they were, did not make the list.” Dave, 34, feels education has lost its way and become too focused upon reaching university at the expense of character formation, skills development and a love for learning. Cath, 38, says: “Our boys love school and have developed a great relationship with each other.”

Cath described a structured day with their boys studying English, Maths, History, Science but also including quiet reading time, playing online chess as well as doing woodwork with their dad, Dave, who runs his own successful business. She says: “Education is integrated into our lives and it is tailored to suit their needs. It is not easy, it can be stressful at times but when you work through those challenges and see the benefits, it makes it clear how valuable this approach really is.”

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