We have been home-educating for 15 years.

Our home-educating adventure began when my youngest son Joseph (now 21) was bullied (for want of a better word), at primary school. He was so young. Just 4/5 years old.

It was totally heart shattering to see my child change so dramatically. Joseph went from being a happy-go-lucky, confident, always smiling sort of boy, who was the first in the classroom every morning, eager to learn – to being incredibly withdrawn, hardly talking to anyone, lacking in self-confidence and with such sadness in his eyes. At the time Joseph wore glasses, and he had an eye patch to treat for a lazy eye. He was also receiving speech therapy for speech dyspraxia – thus making him a very easy target for the ‘bullies’.

I tried talking to the teachers. I had numerous appointments with the head mistress of the school. I tried to discuss my concerns. All that knew him had noticed a change in his personality. Staff members mentioned that he didn’t seem as happy as he had been. They noted he had gone very quiet in class and wasn’t as keen to learn as he once had been – but still no-one would admit to there being any sort of problem at the school. The teachers were handing over parts of Joe’s broken glasses to me 2, 3 sometimes 4 times a week at pick up time, never able to offer an explanation as to why. But still there was no admission of an issue at the school, instead preferring to put the blame on Joe’s homelife – after all, there must be some sort of change at home, right?

I was absolutely exasperated.

Joseph became incredibly shut down. Withdrawn. He barely ate or spoke, and spent hours alone in his room when home.

I started to try to spend as much time as I could helping out at the school – particularly with Joseph’s class. I was desperate to see for myself what was happening and why such a change was occurring. I took pupils for reading sessions, helped with spelling tests, swimming lessons, and attended the nature walks and any days out. I noted that Joseph just sat in class without speaking a word. For hours he didn’t speak to a single soul.

My heart was breaking. Still the school was in denial of any sort of problem, and the only advice they could give is that it was a phase he was going through. It was mentioned that the cause was perhaps a separation thing, that Joseph was finding the adjustment period too much. I didn’t believe this. Joe had gone through the pre-school routine without an issue, he had happily been left for hours, and would often be rather put out when I turned up to collect him. He was a sociable soul, always happy to be in others company, never shy or unsettled. He had loved school and made the transition easily, often getting up at 6am, uniform all on ready to leave. He would get upset at the weekend that he didn’t have to go – that’s why the separation reasoning didn’t make any sense to me.

I was scared. Just how long do you allow such damage to be done in the hope that it is ‘just a phase’ as the so called ‘experts’ suggested? How long do you sit back and watch, waiting, feeling helpless. How much time has to pass before the damage becomes irreparable, permanent, and you can’t get that happy-go-lucky carefree child you once knew back?

Things were getting no better. Joseph would come home and on the occasions we could get him to talk, he would talk about groups of boys pushing and shoving him. Sometimes he would say that someone had accidently pushed passed him or bumped into him and caused his glasses to fall – but at other times he would say it was intentional, that the boys had been mean and cruel with their words. He seemed to know the difference and it was so difficult to hear. Still the school failed to recognise any problem as they had not personally witnessed anything. I asked that an extra eye could be kept on Joe at break times and you would have thought I had asked for the world to be handed to me on a plate with a bow.

When things escalated to the point that Joe was actually being physically sick on the walk to school I knew enough was enough. He was just 5 years old and looking lost, unhappy, with a constant sadness in his eyes.

I started looking outside of the school for help. I spent hours on the internet searching for bullying and school phobia. I am forever thankful that Education Otherwise – one of the charities set up to support home-educators – kept appearing at the top of the search listings. I couldn’t ignore it, I clicked and a spark of hope flickered in my heart.

At that time I had absolutely no idea that home-education was a legal option here in the UK. I didn’t know anybody that home-educated, and had certainly never heard of anyone doing so. I was bought up to believe that every child had to go to school. It seemed like such a huge and daunting responsibility to take on, but I was desperate. So concerned about the deterioration in Joseph’s self-confidence and wellbeing that I was willing to give anything a try to fix things.

After a great deal of research (and a few more trips to the opticians to repair broken glasses), we made the decision to de-register Joseph from school. We did think that maybe we could transfer to the other local primary school, but worried about the damage that could be caused if he suffered similar experiences there – after all he still wore the eye patch and received speech therapy, that wouldn’t change any time soon.

Initially the de-registration was thought of as a temporary solution. I think that was what helped me to feel less daunted about taking the plunge. It was just going to be for 6 to 12 months in order to rebuild lost confidence and self-esteem.

But it worked so well.

Home-Education fitted in with our lifestyle and we noticed a change in our son within weeks. We decided to de-register our daughter Chelsea (then aged 7) too. Not for the same dramatic and damaging reasons as her brother, she certainly wasn’t bullied, but we did have a few niggles about the system that we had put down to just how things have to be. We had also lost faith in the staff and trust had been broken, something that wouldn’t have been easily repaired. Knowing that we now had another option open to us gave us a way out of that uneasy relationship, we didn’t have to put up or ignore things any more.

Home-education has worked very well for us. We are a close family unit, and I feel that the relationship with my children has really benefitted from time spent with them day to day. When we first started out my husband worked nights. With the children at school they were hardly ever able to spend time with their dad due to his sleeping and work times. Once out of the system we were able to spend many more hours with him which benefitted us all.

It should be said that I am certainly not anti-school.

I am well aware that many children go through the system and thrive. I’ve always made it clear that if any of my children wished to go to school I wouldn’t try to persuade them otherwise. But school really doesn’t suit everyone – just as home-education wouldn’t and doesn’t! We all have to choose what we feel is the best choice for our families and situation, and we should be able to do so without criticism or judgement.

When the children first came out of school we tried to replicate their school day and did ‘school at home’. We tried to be structured – complete with a timetable to follow and lesson plans. I was desperate to prove to the family doubters that I could do this. Desperate to prove that I could be a successful home-educating mama and that I wasn’t going to let my children down as had been suggested. I wanted to make sure that we fully covered everything that would have been covered at school.

I failed.

I got upset and frustrated when our days didn’t go to that plan. It wasn’t long before I realised (well, admitted to myself), that playing at schools wasn’t going to work for us. Life just kept getting in the way. Discussions during ‘lessons’ would go off track and we would end up going off topic, sunny days would call us outside to explore nature instead of sitting at the table with workbooks, and sometimes we wanted to go and spend time with Nanna – although at first she wouldn’t allow us to during ‘school hours!’

I started to relax.

I started to research how children learn, different learning styles and different methods of home-educating. It soon became clear that we didn’t have to sit at a table from 9am – 3pm. We didn’t have to write pages and pages, we didn’t have to plough our way through repetitive worksheets or workbooks. Instead my children could learn in many other ways – through discussions, reading books, using the internet, watching television, visiting places, talking to people, going to clubs and associations. The list is never-ending. To coin a home-ed phrase, the world is our classroom!

I now have six children. They are aged 5, 8, 13, 17, 21 and 23. The youngest 4 have never stepped foot inside of a school building. The eldest has now found her independence and has flown the nest, and she is currently studying Psychology, Sociology and English Literature. All have a love of books and reading. All have inquisitive minds. All have amazing personalities, individuality, free minds, and a zest for living life.

At times we find ourselves the ‘talk of the town’ when out and about. Occasionally we are stopped and questioned about the children not being in school – and reactions to the home-educated response vary. Some people are curious, asking lots of questions and are positive and interested. Others are very negative and tell us how they find it hard to believe that we are allowed to do such a thing. I’ve been told that I doing something wonderful for my children, and also that I am ruining the futures of my children. I’ve learnt to ignore those that don’t understand home-education, and am sure to remind myself that it’s not personal as they don’t know me either!

Of course, the home-educator lifestyle isn’t always rosy. I rarely have time to myself, and many people have remarked that they couldn’t cope with having their children around 24/7. I was the kind of mama that missed my children when they were at school and I relished the time with them in during the six week holiday break. Some mum’s count down the days until school is reopened, I was certainly not one of those. I learnt a long time ago that my home wouldn’t ever be as clean and tidy as I would like it to be, and sacrifices have had to be made, particularly financially, in order to make things work. But definitely, without a doubt, it is worth it.

To see my children happy, thriving, and with a real thirst for learning – yes, it is so worth it.

And Joseph? The child responsible for my seeking alternatives and thinking outside of the normal box? He is an amazing lad. At 21 he spends a lot of time here at home, but also time with his girlfriend in Liverpool. He is kind, caring, and considerate. He is the first to hug me when I’m upset and will happily help anyone in need. He is mature, confident, and loves to talk about history, politics, the paranormal, true crime, and so much more. I am so very proud of the man he is becoming and am thankful that we had the opportunity – and more importantly the choice – to home-educate. It literally feels like a life-saver for me and my family, and certainly for Joseph. The alternative outcome had we continued with forcing school upon him doesn’t bare thinking of.

Home-education won’t suit everybody, just as the school system doesn’t. But for me and mine, and so very many others, it has proven to be a great solution and the perfect lifestyle.