I am fascinated by learning. What ignites the first spark, how knowledge and understanding become embedded, the directions these can take people in as their lives unfold. As a teacher, this informed my whole pedagogy. I didn’t want to stand at the front of a silent classroom and speak, filling supposed empty vessels with the fruits of my superior intellect. I wanted to inspire, to start the young people in my charge on a journey of discovery which would hopefully take them way beyond the walls of the school. So much of education, it seemed to me, was about fitting square pegs into round holes – and I just didn’t want to be part of that.
If as a teacher, though, the constraints of our education system were frustrating, as a parent I find them positively frightening.
I look at my unique, bright, inquisitive boy and I can’t quite comprehend how he will benefit from being subjected to rigorous standardised tests. Whilst I have every faith in the intentions of the vast majority of teachers to bring out the best in each of their students, I worry about how their resolve will hold in the face of ever-increasing external pressures. Fundamentally, my fear is that the government do not want to foster a populace driven by individual thought and opinion. And I do not want to do my son the disservice of reducing him to being merely a cog in the machine.
It is for these reasons that, after years of being a passionate supporter of state education, I find myself reluctant to begin the process of enrolling him in one of our local schools. He is a while off compulsory education, but at three years old he is already unusual amongst his peers in that he does not attend nursery or pre-school. He will be more unusual still if I follow through on my instinct, bubbling just below the surface, to keep him out of formal education until he is at least seven. By this age, I would hope, he would be resilient enough to navigate school as an informed and engaged individual. Many educational experts believe that this is the age at which children are best suited to enter formal schooling – a theory born out by successful education systems all over the world.
I am mindful, though, that there is an awful lot I am trying to do with my days: writing novels, representing my community on my town council and as a school governor, acting as a subject consultant for Ofqual. The question of how I am going to find time to provide meaningful learning experiences for my preschooler has not passed me by.
Except… My experience as a teacher has taught me that much of the school day is spent managing a large volume of children rather than focusing on individual learning – I can only imagine that this is even more pronounced in early years than it is in Secondary. And my aspiration with my son, just as much as with the pupils I have taught in a school environment, is to be a facilitator rather than a font of all knowledge. I want his learning to be driven by his natural inquisitiveness, not constrained by what I feel he needs to know and understand.
And it is this that has led me to unschooling. As an advocate of child-led parenting in the baby and toddler years, and student-centred learning in the secondary school, it seems the logical path for me to follow as I look to foster a love of learning in my son.