Parent Voice 2

Ross Mountney – Home Educator and Author

Ross Mountney is a parent, home educator and author. She started her career as a teacher which she says “was a bit daft really” as she was never at ease with the school environment. That was when she began to suspect that much of what went on at school was not always good for the children, let alone the teachers.

Ross says that when her children reached school age, being what she thought was a dutiful parent, she sent them off to school like millions of other parents. She recalls how she watched her children fade before her eyes; their smiles, their happiness, their vibrant personalities. Worst of all; their passion for learning. She thought:

“There must be another way…”

And that was when she started home educating her children.

What type of home education did you do?

I didn’t label it so as to keep it flexible, except that the concept of ‘schooling’ didn’t come into it.

What did a typical day look like?

We home educated with respect to the needs of the child at the time and what they enjoyed and took interest in, some of that interest being sparked by us, leading out practice of basic skills from there. We also encouraged them to see that the individual is part of a bigger society that they would want to participate in so it was important to relate to that as the children got older and wanted to make their way in the world.

When they were young, we encouraged activities and interests that meant something to them at the time, but also took them out, gave them experiences of different activities, people and places, stimuli and locations, especially those contrasting to our own.

Our days included a lot of play, maybe some practice of basic skills relevant to what they were engaged in, outings and meet-ups with others. They enjoyed clubs and groups like dance, drama, art, riding, swimming, crafts, etc so were interacting with other kids most days.

We used home based activities like cooking, shopping, self care, looking after others, reading, to further basic skills, as well as building an awareness of the wider world through books, online, going out and meeting others.

Physical activities and getting outside were always part of our days and part of educating them to be healthy and self-responsible.

As they grew up they began to direct their own interests and learning and practice skills and study around topics and subjects that interested them, which they pursued at their own rate. We had many, many discussions about living, working, earning, how they make their way in the world and what would get them to that point.

Although never tested in the formal sense of the word, we talked about qualifications and how these proved to others what we already knew – that they were intelligent and capable – and how some might further they career. From those discussions they opted not to do GCSEs (they looked too mind numbingly boring!) but to go to Further Education colleges to pursue the subjects they were interested in and onto Uni from there. Part of that decision was because we lived so rurally and other opportunities were few.

Have your children ever been to school?

The children started school and then came out after 1 and 3 years.

Why did you decide to home educate?

We finally decided to home educate as both children were increasingly miserable, unhappy, unwilling to go, showing signs of regular ill health, both physically and mentally when they had been thriving and well during term holidays and prior to school.

Most particularly we home educated because they were becoming totally switched off to learning whereas before school years they were curious, fascinated and keen to investigate everything.

We believed that their happiness is important – it is vital for them to reach their potential because it also affects their mental health, and should not be put on hold for the sake of, or style of, learning. Education and happiness can successfully coincide.

In your opinion what are the main challenges of our current school system?

I believe that the system started to fail when the National Curriculum was implemented because it initiated the practice of restrictive and inhibiting measurement of both pupils and staff, to the degree of obsessive and damaging testing. Not only does this generalise children’s attainment which is impossible when you think about the diversity of learners, it also breeds all the unhealthiest aspects of competition between pupils, staff and schools – and politics.

Politics should have no part in our children’s education as it’s now made kids useful pawns for adult agendas. The narrow rigidity of ‘teaching to the test’, which is almost inevitable for schools to stay afloat (financially and politically), has meant that the more inspiring elements of subject content, approach and style of teaching have been prostituted.

The obsession with scores has meant that more non-measurable subjects like the arts and sports, as well as personal development, have been abandoned. Yet it is exactly these subjects that promote the health and well-being we are all too aware our young people are losing.

It is a sorry downward spiral of grade-obsession and politics, which parents have been conditioned to believe are necessary for their children’s education and to thrive in ‘real’ life beyond school, which is so misguided, untrue and destructive.

What are state schools doing well?

I may be pro-home education for those who are in the happy position of being able to use it as an approach to learning, but I am also aware that some families need other places for children to be whilst they work and some other family homes are sadly not the happiest or healthiest places for the kids and they need other perspectives. So schools thankfully provide this, and in some rare schools they are able to do this in a way that enables the kids to retain their wellbeing and sanity!

What changes would you like to see within the state education system?

  • I would like to see a complete reversal in the school climate of test orientated learning, abandonment of incessant measurement.
  • Opportunities for young people to be better in charge of their subjects.
  • A wider range of subjects without the snobbery and hierarchy attached to the academic versus the arts and humanities.
  • In short, a more holistic education – in approach and content – which deals with the whole child, not just their ability to pass exams, with teachers appointed for their humane qualities and interest in children not just their degree.

Are there any misconceptions about home education that you would like to challenge?

There are many myths surrounding home ed usually based in complete ignorance, and conceived by those who have no experience of it at all.

A classic is the myth that children need to go to school to be socialised and home educated children are missing out on that. The reality is that schools are poor places for kids to learn social skills; they need to be with a high proportion of social and intelligent adults in order to do that, as Home Ed kids are, and they also need to learn to build trustworthy relationships, not those based in one-up-man-ship, doing others down, or bullying such as the school climate tends to be. The last place for healthy socialisation is in a school which bears no relation to the mixed interaction made by free choice out of it!

Associated with that is the myth about children educated at home not being in contact with the ‘real’ world when the school world, along with its social world, is nothing like the ‘real’ world outside of school. Home educated children are in more contact with the real world simply because they are out learning in it, not in the institutionalising world of school, and therefore they become more independent rather than the opposite, contradicting the myth that they’ll be soft and unable to get out there!

One of the biggest myths sold to parents is that they will be unable to educate their children adequately because qualified teachers are needed to do that. Being a qualified teacher and seeing some other qualified teachers in operation, I’ve observed that teachers are rarely better equipped to facilitate children’s learning despite their degrees than any intuitive and engaged parent who is willing to learn.

And finally, a myth that certainly needs challenging is the one where parents who home educate are considered weird! The truth is that home educating parents are just ordinary parents, but who are brave enough to do something about the failure of schools to provide for their child’s needs and who are able to think outside the school and political propaganda we’re told about educating. Nothing weird about wanting the best for your children.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

The education of our children is an emotive issue. Of course it is; we want the best for them. Politics and institutional propaganda have played on parents’ emotions about their children and bullied them into thinking about learning in ways that are not necessarily the truth, but which suits the system and politicians needing votes.

I would urge parents to think independently about what they want for their kids, what they think education is for in the wider sense (like preparing for a healthy, happy and fulfilling life with all the connections one needs to do that, rather than just results), and how they might best achieve that for their family.

Learning can be successful through a myriad of approaches, just like you can successfully raise a child through a myriad of parenting styles. Engaged, inspiring, diverse and thoughtful facilitators and learning approaches are needed to do that, wherever they take place, in ‘schools’ or otherwise.

I include a family philosophy on education on my website among other articles which readers may find useful:

Ross Mountney’s Article, Blog and Books

Ross Mountney has contributed a book excerpt for our website which you can read in our Articles section.

If you would like to follow Ross Mountney, you can sign up to her blog, or follow her on Twitter.

She has also written a number of books to help home educating families:

A Home Education Notebook to Encourage and Inspire

A Funny Kind of Education

Who’s Not in School

Learning Without School, Home Education