General Tips

Feeling all a little bit at sea? Hopefully there will be something on this page that can help you feel a smidgen more sure of yourself.

Far from being definitive lists, these are just bits and bobs that would have helped me along the way, but if you think something else should be added or changed, do get in contact and I’ll see what I can do.

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Advice for beginners:

If your child has to come out of school, you have not failed.

If your child wants to go back into school, you have not failed.

School does not guarantee that your child will come out either normal or educated.

Home education doesn’t guarantee your child will be anything!

Don’t listen to anyone who ‘knows’ things; none of us have divine knowledge and each child is an experiment.

Minimise risk of disaster to your little experiment, be they in or out of school, by being as well informed as possible, observing, listening and understanding your child as well as you can, and listening to those with experience or who have had some form of relevant training… and then shelve it all and make up your own mind.

Training does not create teachers, on-the-job experience does. We are all learning on-the-job, it is just that HEing parents don’t get paid for it or have to sit through assembly.

Other people have no idea what they are doing either, they just look confident. 

Time out is good. You do not need to be seeing people everyday, and you often find that your children’s relationships with each other, and with you, improve for not always being out and about.

If you don’t believe that you can do it, then you probably can’t. You need a certain amount of self-belief to get through the more trying days. Failing that, a really good support network of friends and family, a stubborn streak, a box of tissues and a litre bottle of vodka should do the trick.

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Priorities:

Make a list. It helps keep you focused on the things that matter.

Sitting down to read a book is never wasted time.

You can tidy the house when it is empty.

Don’t forget yourself. You can get crushed being everyone else’s prop and then are no use to anyone.

Don’t forget your marriage. You haven’t got time for a divorce. 

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Making your education your own:

If there isn’t a group doing what you or your child would like, start your own. It sounds scarier than it is, but give it a go, after all what is the worst that can happen? It doesn’t run? Well, it’s not running now, so you have nothing to lose. (Organising and running HE groups)

If there is a ‘school’ trip you have always wanted to do, chances are that loads of others would like to join too. Make it happen. It is extra work, but the rewards far outstrip the effort you put in. (Organising school trips)

Trips with others are great, but trips on your own are great too. They allows you to take it all in at your own pace and look at the things that interest you. It is all about balance.

It is very easy to get caught up in groups all the time, and before you know it you are following someone else’s idea of an education. Remember what it is you want your children to learn and the philosophy/ies you want to follow. 

You don’t have to follow any one style of education or learning. Explore it all and just pick off the best bits.

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Advice none of us should forget, but regularly do:

Take each day as it comes. You don’t know what the future holds.

Don’t plan too far ahead. Things change very quickly.

Forgive yourself your mistakes. You will make many. It is all part of the learning process, and anyway, your children will need something to tell the therapist in 15 years’ time so that they can fit in with the rest of society.

Mistakes are only mistakes if you don’t turn them into ‘learning opportunities’ (said with a very cheesy tone, spangly gold stars, party poppers and streamers) — a favourite expression in the HE community, but no one really believes it because when you crash (either literally or metaphorically), the bruises hurt too much for you to really value the lesson, but it does stick a good-sized plaster over the wound meaning you get to look at a picture of Mr Bump instead of a massive, open gash, which always cheers everyone up.

Laugh. Otherwise you will cry. Lots.

Enjoy your family. You will miss them when they are gone… but possibly not as much as the dog.

Learn to be your own person again before they leave, otherwise you’re going to feel the transition harder.

None of us are in Home Ed Land forever, don’t forget the world outside. 

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Organising and running HE groups and co-ops

There are loads of HE co-ops going on all over the place, but most people don’t call their own groups that. They usually start off informally between like-minded friends and then just develop over time. They are nearly always closed, and select people are invited to join… it’s a bit like the Freemasons really, except with fewer men and usually without the secret handshake.

Ingredients:
Vision
Time
Other parents
Venue

Method:
Vision

If you don’t know what kind of group you want to create, you’re not going to get very far on your own. Find others that are also wanting their children to learn with others and start throwing ideas about. The clearer the vision, the more easily you will be able to create a group that you are happy with. 

You may want your group to follow a particular style (e.g. Montessori, ‘forest school’, classical, practical etc.), have a particular ethos (e.g. faith), cover particular content (subject matter), or follow a particular course or curriculum (e.g. national curriculum, a textbook etc.).

Time

You need the time to not only plan and organise the group itself, but also time to work out the content of the sessions you are going to cover. It can be really time consuming if you are drawing up your own session content, with literally days spent drawing up one and a half hours of session time. It helps if you are leading a session on a topic you are already familiar with, but even then, no one likes to let others down, so you will put in much more effort for the group than you would if you were teaching your children on their own.

The unexpected side effect of spending hours on work to teach other people’s children is that your children see how you tackle learning a subject from scratch, they see how many hours you have to put in to pull it all together and they see how you deliver content that you have only recently become familiar with. All this is a fantastic example for them to learn how to work themselves when it comes to exam time and beyond.

Other Parents

You can’t run a co-op on your own. Other parents need to buy into the vision and have the ability and time to pull their own weight. 

If the parents don’t share the vision, the whole group can end up feeling like something of a power struggle and it can leave an awful lot of ill-will, which, in a small community, isn’t great.

Time is a problem for most of us, but for some it can be a real issue, particularly if they have caring responsibilities or other such things. In these instances, you may well feel that a group can run without one or two of the parents participating, but this gets near impossible when the majority do not participate, and often results in some level of resentment by those doing all the work. 

Of course you can just run a bog standard group where one person does all the work and presenting (this tends to happen when people feel comfortable teaching a subject that they already have experience of or a degree in), but these groups will only ever last as long as the one running it can put in all the work. When no one else is doing anything similar, it can be very down heartening for the organiser and leave them feeling somewhat used (unless, of course, they’re being paid).

Venue

However they start and with whatever good intentions they come into being, groups run in a single person’s house inevitably come under the ownership of the house owner. In my experience, there is no way around this. The person who owns the house always has greater sway over the group than everyone else. If the person who owns the house is easy going, they can continue for quite some time, but If that person happens to be particularly controlling (for one reason and another, HEors do appear to have more issues over control than society at large — will fill you in on that one another time), has a huge blindside to their own child’s behaviour or believes their child to have greater needs than everyone else’s (again, not that uncommon in a world where parents have put their own career aspirations on hold for the good of their off-spring), the group will die sooner rather than later. You can very easily (or not so easily sometimes) work in groups with people like this, as everyone has something to offer in terms of friendship etc., but it is just that they really cannot have too great a say if you want the group to survive. 

The other major problem with having groups in someone else’s house is that if the group stops working for the person who owns the venue, or life happens (such as school, moving house, childhood friendships becoming more destructive than constructive, other family commitments etc.) and they cannot be part of the group anymore, the group has to find a new venue, often fairly quickly, or the group dies.

Ones that are open to the wider community tend to have greater longevity, as the group tends to take on a life of its own rather than being dependent on a couple of individuals or friendships between certain children, and these tend be in non-personal settings, such as community centres etc. Obviously, this does cost more than just running it in someone’s house, but it keeps the arrangements more business like and any annoying behaviour less personal — you don’t end up with the problem of having to kick people out who have over-stayed their welcome, or watch as someone puts their dirty trainers on your white sofa.

Other potential pitfalls and consideration
  • You have to ensure that those that don’t organise anything or have it in their house have some ownership over the group too, otherwise they will not put in as much effort as everyone else (kind of defeating the concept of co-op), and eventually they will be more likely to drop out too. Everyone has to feel that the group belongs to them, otherwise it will not thrive beyond the couple of families who are completely invested in it.
  • Interestingly, the parents who run sessions and organise the groups always have louder, more participatory children than anyone else. I don’t know if this is because extroverts breed extroverts, the parents are a child’s role models so a child copies its parent, or if the child feels authorised to speak because, if the group belongs to their parents, by extension it also belongs to them, but for whatever reason, I have only ever seen one exception to this in however many years of HEing. To get the most out of children in a group, you really need all parents to be completely involved. If people just start dropping kids off or going off into another room to chat, you never get the same benefits you can from everyone being hands on and in there. If parents start asking questions, the children will too. However, if you get a parent who starts takes over the learning and won’t stop asking questions that brings a whole load of its own problems.
  • It is a really tricky balance of completely investing in a group, but at the same time being detached enough to not mind if the group comes to an abrupt stop. People’s situations change month on month, and those you think will be HEing with you for years to come suddenly up and leave, or their or their kids’ needs change. No HE group lasts for ever. If you get two years out of a group, you are doing really well. The longest group I have been in has been going for 7 years and is just coming to an end now, but most groups will only last a term or two.
  • If everyone is paying in for resources or room hire you need to consider whether you are going to share costs out per child or per family. What you consider fair generally depends on how many children you personally have and, to a lesser extent, what your politics are. You will get very different answers depending on whether someone has 1 child or 6, and how often you hear them use the term ‘deserving poor’. There is no easy way around it, if you stick to your guns it can break friendships. Most opt for some kind of compromise, e.g reduced prices for multiple children.
  • The higher the costs, the more it will limit the numbers who agree to attend the group (particularly for larger families). Money can be a really touchy subject, with some HEors having been known to make money out of a group despite others putting in equal amounts of time, expertise and resources for free. How you deal with this side of things will depend very much on your own personal values with regard to money, but the groups that tend to do best are the ones where finances are agreed collectively and all money transactions are completely transparent. 
  • One of the biggest things to look out for, but no one ever really mentions it, is HE burn out. Parents who put everything into a group are doing a full-time job on top of the full-time job of educating their own child, the full-time job of keeping their marriage going and the full-time job of running a family and a household. Something has to give and for most HEors it is the house (don’t expect much when you go around an HEor’s home), however, I have seen people put their kids in school literally over night, marriages break up and for those who can afford it, out-source a huge part of their child’s education to external tutors. It is much easier if money is not a problem, but as most HEors are on one income, people really have to pace themselves if they want to keep any semblance of sanity.
  • Home ed-ing trained teachers are absolutely the best when it comes to working with big groups of children/teens. They know how to balance the needs of every child, not just their own, and can organise and command a group of children in a way most others struggle with. They are the best! But (sadly, there is always a but) they tend to put more pressure on themselves to give the best sessions they possibly can as they feel the world is judging them in a way other HEors don’t experience. They will give the most to a group, but can often be the first to get burn out.
  • Bear in mind, it is possible to accidentally slip into being an illegal schools. This is hugely unlikely if you are working as a co-op, but if you are meeting up for more than 18 hours a week and parents are dropping the children off, you could find yourself being investigated by Ofsted. (For more information: Illegal and unregistered schools)

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Organising and running HE groups with private tutors

Some activities only really work in groups, such as, drama, sport, discussion based learning for subjects like philosophy and current affairs etc., but many parents do not feel they have the skills, time or possibly inclination to lead these types of groups, so the natural solution is to bring in a private tutor.

Ingredient: 
Time
Tutor
HEed children
Venue

Method:

Again, these come and go almost at the same rate as co-ops, however a group made up of a good organiser, a good tutor, in a good setting, with a good catchment of HE kids can survive really well — some have been running for over 15 years; the organisers change, the attendees change, the venues change, occasionally the tutor changes, but the groups themselves continue to operate. 

Interestingly, these can work wonderfully with bossy or controlling organisers, as long as, sorry there is always a proviso, the group is not run in anyone’s house. Ideally we would all like approachable, team-working organisers for every group (and there are a large number that are run by these kinds of people), but control freaks (and let’s face it, you can’t avoid them in any walk of life) can also be very good at making things happen and keeping them ticking over.

Ideally, the tutor needs to be a professional tutor who has no plans of changing careers any time soon (they will bend over backwards to make the group work), and is not related to any of the children (it upsets the balance within the group setting and can change the nature of the session contents/format in order to fit around the relative).

You have to be really careful if tutors are coming in to make sure you do not slip into the illegal schools bracket. Start double checking if your sessions are sneaking up past 10 hours a week or children are being dropped off: Illegal Schools. It does not have to be with all the same children, in the same venue, with the same tutor, or even with paid tutors; as soon as parents stop being responsible for their own children it starts taking the form of organised schooling.

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How to organise a school trip

Even if you don’t feel up to or inclined to run an HE group,  you might be inspired to organise the odd ‘school’ trip. These are an invaluable part of learning, and although there are many trips you can do on your own as a single family group, you can’t always access the tours and resources that many places put on for schools unless you book as an education, youth or school group, not to mention the discounts groups can get as opposed to paying full price as a conventional, run of the mill visitor.

It might seem a little daunting organising a trip if you have never done it before, but it really isn’t as tricky as you might at first think.

  • Find a trip you really want to do. It might be one that fits in with a project or exams you are doing, is a place you or your children have always wanted to go to, is near somewhere you have to go to anyway or one that you have been told about and fancied trying yourself.
  • Look on its website and find the ‘Education’, ‘schools’ or ‘learning’ section. It will tell you everything you need to know to organise a conventional ‘school trip’ there. Occasionally, they will give you home-ed info too, but more often than not you will need to phone up and find out specifically whether they can fit your needs.
  • What you will need to ask when you phone up is:

Child to adult ratio

For most HE groups where the organisation does not limit numbers, it generally averages out at about two adults for every three children, but can be higher for some places than others – places of further distances that aren’t on major transport lines (with women being statistically less likely to drive than men, and less likely to feel comfortable driving long distances than men, quite a few mothers make the fathers takes a day off work to do the driving) and places of high male appeal (e.g. Parliament, you’d be surprised how many dads are willing to ‘help out’ on this trip). 

Many organisations will allow us to have a higher ratio of adults to children than schools (which can often be about 1:10) when you explain how HE works, but sometimes it is not always possible. Where it is, adults are generally charged at a discounted visitor rate. 

Minimum and maximum numbers

You need both as often we struggle to make the numbers up for a group, but equally, really popular trips can mean waiting lists or booking two trips. You will also have to check whether these numbers include the children and adults, or just the children.

Age ranges

As most HE families are comprised of multiple children of differing ages, many people like trips that can cater for several age groups. Not all can, but you would be surprised by how many are accommodating. The usual approach is to aim the content at one age group, but children of several age groups will be present, and if you are having a tour or ‘classroom activity’, the speaker will generally tone it up or down depending on the participants present.

Price

They usually give school rates, but occasionally give group booking rates instead. If you are booking a specific workshop as well as entrance, you will be paying more. Sometimes adults are free, sometimes some are free (designated ‘teachers’, those accompanying a child with SEND, and occasionally, one adult per family), often all adults have to pay. 

Where there are free places for ‘teachers’, most organisers divide that discount among all the adults attending, so everyone gets a slight discount and no one gets a free place. At venues where everyone is free, you get high numbers booking on to the trip, but attendance is generally quite poor – see ‘Other Considerations’ below).

Possible dates

Sometimes they will give you several provisional days and you can ask on the HE lists/forums to see what days would be most popular, but more often than not, you have to book a day and just hope enough people can make it then. Booking quite a bit in advance will give you more flexibility, as you then have time to change the date if another day is more do-able for other HEors. 

Times

Booking anything before 10am risks a high rate of absenteeism and later than usual (for an HE event) attendees – we’re not used to rush-hour traffic, train tickets are not off-peak until after 9am and most of us hate early mornings. This is particularly important if people have to travel far distances. We can get up for the really good trips, but they do have to be particularly good.

Lunch Tables

If you are planning an all day event, or a trip that is far away, most people expect to be able to eat a pack-up. Many places have designated rooms for schools to eat their pack-ups in, but you often have to book them in advance. Alternatively, you need to do a little research to see if there is a park or similar near by where families can go to eat.

  • Once you have all your information you can advertise to individual families and groups or put it on some of the larger HE forums. Most people start regional, but if they are not getting the numbers ask on the national lists. If it is a trip strongly linked to GCSE content, many people go straight to advertising it on the national HE exam lists.
  • Keep a list of those that ask to come – most are done on a first come, first served basis. You will need to know their email addresses (so that you can contact people with extra details nearer the time), and the names and ages of their children that are planning to attend. It is also worth keeping a waiting list as people often do pull out of events last minute.
  • As soon as people say they would like to come, ask for payment and make it clear that they do not have a place until payment is made – you would be surprised how many people can pull out and never pay up, leaving the organiser out of pocket. Payment is generally done by bank transfer or Paypal – it is much easier to keep track of who has paid and who hasn’t. If it is a small local group, cash can work easily too, but you do have to be fastidious about paper work as you go – our community is too small to have fall outs about money. 
  • Do not pay the organisation until after all the participating parents have coughed up. Sometimes you have to take money off everyone before you can fully book the trip with the venue, but generally you get a few weeks between booking the trip and paying for it. If the trip then cannot be booked or has to be cancelled for any reason, you do have to return all money the people who paid to go on the trip. 
  • If someone pulls out, do not give them their money back unless another family is willing to take up the places. Otherwise it will leave the organiser out of pocket. As long as people know from the outset that this is how it works, everyone accepts it. No one will end up organising anything if it ends up financially costing the organisers every time someone changes their mind, so be tough in the face of tears, emotional blackmail and anything else someone is willing to do get some money back – it is for the good of the community.
  • Send a reminder out with any final details about a week before the trip. You often need to include your mobile number incase anyone needs to get you on the day. And take a register with you when you finally go – doesn’t have to be fancy, just a scrap of paper will do, although people pay you more attention if you have a clip board. It just means that you know you have everyone with you before your session starts and you aren’t left waiting around for the invisible man.

Other Considerations

Poor attendance: it is a big thing in HE, particularly for free or cheap trips. Everyone has a really valid reason for not making it, but collectively, we can just look incredibly rude. There are, however, a couple of things you can do to make it not too bad:

  • Send out multiple reminders, you’d be surprised how many people forget.
  • Be really specific about where to park and/or meet up (maps are often help) and make the time 10/15 mins earlier than the time you need – when people get too late, they often choose to not turn up rather than rock in to a session that has already started 20 mins late. 
  • Taking a deposit works really well for free events, but not everyone likes it. If you don’t know the majority of the people coming, take it anyway. You have to make it clear that the money will go to the organisation if they fail to attend and that they will get the money back on arrival. Generally, the amount asked for is around £5, sometimes per child, sometimes per family.
  • You can also ask for a fee of £2 to £3 for free events, with it made very clear that the money is being given as a donation to the organisation. Again, it varies between per child and per family.
  • Ideally, book the event for mid-morning onwards.

Adult attendance: If there is a group limit on the number as a whole, you may want to consider limiting the number of adults that are allowed to attend, so that more children can take up places. It is a sore point for some, as there are many children in HE who do not like to be without their parents (generally not so much an issue after 12), or who have learning difficulties meaning that they need the extra parental support, but if you ask people if their child would be willing to go in without a parent present, there are usually a fair few who will be obliging.

If the organisation have put a cap on the number of adults attending, you just have to be brutal and explain that if children cannot go in without an adult, then unfortunately, they cannot attend.

Insurance: You won’t need insurance if you explain that everyone is responsible for their own children. This is how most people organise trips and what most people expect. It is far and away the easiest way to do things, particularly with younger ones. 

If you cannot have that many parents attend, then you will have to ask the parents that can come if they will be willing to be responsible for the children without parents. If I was being really cautious, I would say that as an organiser you should not agree to be responsible for anyone’s children other than your own. Other people being responsible for their friends kids is one thing, but the organiser taking on other people’s children starts opening up the insurance question. Having said that, others happily take on the risk and nothing ever goes wrong on that front, so it isn’t much of an issue. Particularly with older children. 

If you are at all concerned that one has behavioural issues or a tendency to flail their arms and break expensive Ming vases, make sure that their particular parent is there – lie if you have to, but honestly, it is just not worth the risk. 

Ages of attendees: Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the adults here, any age is fine on that front, however, you might get a slight problem with people wanting to shake the ages of the children attending up a bit… 

Say you book a group for KS3, there will always be some who think their children are more advanced academically than their years so should be fine in that group, but generally their emotional level is appropriate to their age, so they can be a bit tricky sitting still or interacting with older ones in an appropriate way, or the content might be too ‘mature’ in nature if it covers more ‘adult’ material – sorry, I’m not good at subtlety, what I’m trying to say is, if there is any reference to sex, nudity, bad language, etc. some parents get very twitched if their child is exposed to it, no matter how advanced their child is. Others will have children in two age groups or can’t leave a smaller sibling, and they too would like a bit of leeway on who can participate in the group – some places adapt to this, others don’t. Having older children in a younger group rarely causes any problems, but you do have to double check that they don’t start dominating the session or answering all the questions so that the younger ones, for whom the group is aimed, aren’t losing out as a result. 

If you don’t want to mix the ages up, which you might not want to, particularly if you want a very focused group (this becomes more of an issue as the children get older), you have to be really clear about this from the beginning, and blame it all on the venue, otherwise you will get people being a little bit nasty to you – they don’t mean to be, it’s not personal, people just get twitchy where their children are concerned.

Behaviour: Generally, HEed children behave impeccably on ‘school trips’, and as a community we are regularly complemented on this. However, not all children behave as you might expect. If the parents don’t naturally control their children’s behaviour, it is the responsibility of the organiser to step in and have a little word with the parent. Most take it well. Some, not so well. If you can, get a teacher friend on the trip and they will be able to do it for you if you’re not really the confronting type. 

Some parents feel comfortable enough to confront the child themselves, which can work fantastically, but other parents don’t always like someone else curbing their child’s behaviour. It is a tricky one. I tend to opt for the path of maximum passive aggression and huff and puff my way around a venue without saying a word to either child or parent. It is perhaps not the best or most effective approach, but it is the one I feel most comfortable with. Ideally, I like to make sure there is a proper grown up somewhere in the group to help sort it out for me – play to your strengths.

Many HEors seem to need to continually graze. If eating is not allowed in the venue, stipulate this from the very beginning. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it does, so best to spell it out before hand. Even then, you will have people ignore you, but at least when you challenge them on it, it won’t come out of the blue.

Money: If numbers make a difference to price, it is better to overcharge and then give a refund on the day than to find yourself out of pocket. Sometimes you have to round up (never round down, it will leave you paying for other parents, which isn’t fair if you have gone to all the hard work of organising the trip in the first place), which may leave you with a slight surplus (a couple of pounds or so). If you regularly organise trips, you might put it towards the next trip, some choose to spend the surplus on sweets and share them out with the children who attend the event, some give a slight cash refund on the day, and some just keep the difference. This doesn’t usually cause any worries (most of us just feel lucky enough to be able to book a place on someone else’s trip), until the numbers start getting big. The aim of organising trips isn’t to make money, and if it is, transparency is all important if you don’t want to pull a community apart (the line between colleague and friend is very slim in the HE world).

Finally: Organise it to be exactly what you want. You will find yourself going round in circles for ever and a day if you try and please everyone else. Honestly, many have tried and all have said you just can’t.

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Booking an HE event

Sometimes organisations will come to you, but then you also need to consider finding a venue. 

Booking halls and community centres can be a fabulous way to do it, as you pay for them by the hour, and divide the cost among those attending. Again, doing it as far in advance as you can will limit damage if you have to cancel due to low numbers.

Make sure that there is good parking, a place where parents can go with little ones if you don’t want them in the session, and is easily accessible by public transport.

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