30/06/2009

Teach Yourself Home Education (by Deborah Durbin)

Deborah Durbin is a journalist who has been home educating her daughters for the past five years. As a home educator myself (albeit 'retired' now), I was delighted when she asked me if I would review her book.

'Teach youself home education' is published by Hodder, written for the long-standing and well-respected 'Teach yourself' series. The title is perhaps a slight anomaly: one can only really learn to home educate by launching into it, and seeing what happens. Every child is different, after all.

Still, this book undoubtedly covers just about every aspect of learning about home education from a theoretical point of view. It begins with an introduction, including a 'case study' of the author's own experience, and the reasons she started home educating, as well as one explaining a landmark court case in 1981 that fully established the right of British parents to educate their children at home.

The book then explains the legalities. It quotes from the Education Act, and looks briefly at employment law as it relates to children. It's interesting that this book has launched at a time when the British home education community is reeling from a negative report made at government level, suggesting that home educators be required to register with their authority, and undergo extensive monitoring. If this is passed - and it will be a seriously retrograde step if it is, leading, potentially, to all kinds of other government monitoring - then this chapter will have to be updated.

Subsequent chapters cover reasons for home education, evidence citing research for the positive benefits, and step-by-step guidance to getting started. There are sections explaining different styles of home education, how to gain qualifications (such as GCSEs) if desired, and also the surprisingly common question about 'socialisation'.

My only slight disagreement - and it's very minor - is that in writing about different styles of home education (and there are many) the author describes her own experience as 'autonomous'. Autonomous education is defined in the book 'Doing it their way' by Jan Fortune-Wood, and is basically a full-time child-led way of learning, with no required structure, no timetables (unless a child requests them), no differentiation between 'school' days and holidays.

My own style as a home educator was more like that described by Deborah Durbin - a lot of interest-led learning, but at least a small regular amount of maths and other overtly academic learning. It worked well for us - as I'm sure it does for her - but I think of it as eclectic, mostly unstructured education rather than fully autonomous.

The book is mostly written in an objective style, explaining what is possible and how things work, with only a few glimpses into the author's own home education experience. Other home educators - adults and children - are quoted in places, usually in 'case study' type boxes, but the majority of the book is factual, as befits the 'Teach Yourself' style.

I have to admit, it's not a style that immediately appeals to me. The layout of the pages felt fussy, at times, and the 'key points' at the end of the chapters not particularly helpful. Still, that's due to the publishing style and doesn't affect the main content, which is very comprehensive. As I read, I don't think I learned anything new, but then I educated my sons at home for about nine years, and thus have read extensively on the topic.

I wish I'd come across a book like this when I was starting out, however! It's very reassuring on just about every aspect of home education, and would be excellent to hand to worried parents or friends. If you are considering home education, or wanting to know more about it, or if you know of people who do not send their children to school, I would highly recommend this useful book to you.

Other recommended books about home education: Free Range Education (edited by Terri Dowty); Homeschooling: a patchwork of days (by Nancy Lande); or for more extensive detail about research into home education, see Educating Children at Home (by Alan Thomas).

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 30th June 2009

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