Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Home Education in Northern Ireland - Meeting with the school board.

 My posts here are usually about books but meeting with the school board seems to be a subject which fills many home educators with dread. I'll have to admit, I was quite frightened myself at first after hearing few horror stories, but I phoned the gentleman in charge up a few months before hand, found him very helpful and actually look forward to their visits now. This is not a post about whether you should or should not with meet with the board. That decision is not mine to make. This post is assuming that you will be meeting with the board, whether willingly or less than willingly. If you live in Northern Ireland I would very strongly recommend that you visit the school board site for this:

If you live elsewhere, I can not stress strongly enough that you must find the legal requirements where you live. Do not rely on hearsay or opinion. Most people mean well, but a mistake here could have serious consequences.  Look up the documents, read themselves and form your own opinion. If in doubt I would ask the board for clarification, and failing this I would seek legal advice.  I will not give any legal advise as to the situation as I not qualified to do so.

My first advice on meeting with the board is to try to do so with an open mind. If you greet people politely and respectfully, most people respond in kind. Even if you have had differences, try to put them aside for this meeting. If you despise the board - do  not say so in front of your child. The last thing you want is a child who is terrified of or antagonistic the visitor. I know many people do have issues with the local boards. I can not comment on anyone else's personal experiences. Sometimes I find it difficult to think it is the same person I know being described, but we all have different circumstances and opinions.  All I can say is that our visits have gone very well. I have found both members I have dealt with to be very helpful, polite and easy to work with. My only complaint would be that they skipped us one year and never came at all, but I do appreciate that there are many families to visit.

Preparing for the visit:

 Keeping a journal: A journal or log is one of the very best ways to show what your child does each day. I do keep one year round, which documents attendance subjects covered and things I need to remember - like to review a difficult subject a month later to make sure it has stuck. If you don't wish to do this all year - I would consider keeping a record for a week or even a single day. This gives the board member an idea of what you do. My youngest is just staring school this September and the oldest

The following  are two examples from our journal:

Friday, 26 April
New Ants arrived - set up ant farm.
Planted Sunflowers ( which the slugs ate)
Searched online for a new book reading book descriptions and sample pages. Chose Can Science Solve - Black Holes.
Guitar practice
Researched ants online
Kumon Multipication
Logic Puzzles
Wrote report on Ants
Read Gawain and the Green Knight
Read Astrosaurs

Tuesday 25, May
Collins Mental Maths
Had problems with square centimetres. Used rulers and tape measure to measure various objects. Looked online for items sold by square meter. Took breaks on trampoline to deal with frustration and came back to problem.
Anton and the Piranha - helped write review for book
Nearly Dearly Insincerely Adverbs. Played game using adverbs ( many rude).
Helping to teach brother alphabet, creative movement making alphabet shapes with bodies.

As you can see the last day is a bit short, but we all have bad days - some might choose not document, but this is in red ink so I know to review it later. I've never claimed we were perfect. The parts in (  ) aren't in the actual journal.

 At one point I tried to keep a list of books used. I soon realised I'd need another book just for this. As we have our visits in the home, I leave out a few books we are using at the time, but thy can see all the bookshelves if they wish. If meeting away from home I would bring a list of the some of the most frequently used items though. Mine might look something like this:
Project X Code series
Astrosaurs series
Kumon, Collins and Letts workbooks
Klutz books
Collection of science kits toys and equipment
Maths manipulative including pattern blocks, fraction cubes and Cuisenaire rods
Educational board, card and computer games.
Horrible Histories books magazines and videos
Vast collection of books on many subjects including from science, history, folk tales, geography, literature and books that are just fun to read.

Provide samples:
 My son used a simple spiral notebook this year with maths questions written in,  book reports, written work from school books etc... this provided a quick means to show all subjects but in  one place but other years I just used a folder. A blog page like this is also an excellent way to show case writing skills. This is my son's blog  . We haven't put up many posts yet, but as he is now age 8 this should be growing soon.We also kept workbooks etc to show if needed and had this available at the time of the visit.

I also would be certain to mention outside activities. My sons take karate lessons, attend Boys Brigade, Sunday School and the oldest goes to youth club. This does provide some evidence of socialisation, but it also lets the board know the child is seen regularly - which has become an issue after the child being starved to death in England with no one noticing because she was listed as home education ( but to be fair it has just happened again - the school noticed and phoned the doctor but no one phones child protective services! The boy actually died from abuse but was near death from starvation as well). In addition to this though, it also shows a well rounded education. my sons learn religion in BB and Sunday School and karate is both a physical fitness activity and an art form.

I  also have a book ready for the child to read each time and a project they have worked on. I had photos of trips and days out, and a list of online programmes used. This could all be combined - except for the book into a simple portfolio.

Prepare an ice breaker:
 The board member will want to speak to your child if possible. Children can  talk a mile a minute if they want too, but can easily clam up when you want them to talk. I made sure my son had a certain book I knew he gets so excited about he would be certain to break into a conversation about it as the book for him to read out loud. I also know with his interest in the science behind it he would be able to carry on a fairly intelligent conversation regarding the subject. I also had his ant farm and  bio dome out, and always have some project the child will discuss. Once he gets started talking he is fine.

My child still won't talk:
 If you think your child is going to be too uncomfortable to read out loud, or simply will not talk to strangers - why not prepare a short video of him or her reading a favourite book - discussing why they like home education  or conducting a science project. If your child will not be meeting with the visitor, this will be even more helpful.

Prepare yourself:
If this is your first visit, I would expect to be asked why you home educate. Think about this before hand and be prepared to give some explanation as to your reasons for home education, your long terms goals in this regard, and what methods you use. If you plan to go against standard practice - be prepared to explain why. I refused to push reading before my child had reached reading readiness, and had all the research to back my decision if needed. It wasn't needed though as the gentleman agreed with me.

In all honesty, one of my reasons for home education is my belief that the local school is substandard. It certainly isn't my only reason - but I would truly hate to send my child there. There really isn't any point in spending a half an hour bashing the schools or boards though. I have simply said I feel that the local school does have an issue with literacy and that this is too important to me to leave to chance. If your child has had a bad experience, it is fair enough to mention it - but I would suggest sticking to the facts and covering it as quickly as possible without name calling or casting too much blame on any individual. But I also feel you should be able to mention some positive reasons for home education rather than just saying it because the local school is rubbish.

Common Sense:
The school board isn't really there to inspect your home and it should be safe for children anyway. There should be no obvious health and safety hazards. But rather obviously, some effort should be made at creating good impression. The child's study area at least should be reasonably tidy. If this is just the kitchen table - you won't want it covered in ash and overfull ashtrays. The children should be up, dressed and reasonably clean and presentable. I'll admit I've let them stay in nice footed PJ's all day on cold and miserable days in the winter - but not when the board is visiting.  I would put pets such as dogs outdoors or in another room and if you have frequent visitors ask them to avoid calling at that time.

I wouldn't worry about things like a crying baby, a toddler who has just dumped the toy box etc.. these are normal and to be expected. On one occasion a child had recently wrecked the border in the living room and it looked quite tatty. I wasn't happy about it, but it wasn't mentioned, nor was the chipped paint in the study room. This is not an issue for the quality of education. We are not expected to live in a mansion. The paint in my hall is always chipped from bicycles being kept there. That is just the way it is.

Ask questions:
If you have any concerns about the visit, just ask. The lady who visits us now is a qualified teacher as well, so I see this as an opportunity to get a second opinion on anything that might be troubling me. I do not think they expect us to be perfect so asking if a child is on track for a certain subject is not going to do any harm, and they may have some excellent advise to help if there is an issue. The gentleman from the board who came on our first visit recommended we try some pencil grips and they worked wonders. On the last visit, the lady who came out simply reassured us that my youngest sons switching from hand to hand for writing and colouring is still normal, and advised us to ignore it at this time and let him work out for himself which hand to use. If they do express concerns in a certain area - I would ask what I could do to improve this.

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