Not Back To School

For home educators, nothing marks the start of a new academic year like a Not Back To School picnic.

A fun tradition that has gone on for years, and is so much more besides.


We have survived the beginnings of the academic year and reached October. With the summer well and truly behind us, most parents have now settled on whether they are home educating their child for the rest of the academic year or not. For those that are new to it, you may have gone along to one of the many Not Back to School picnics that have been going on all over the country throughout September.

These are a fantastic opportunity for long-term HE families to catch up again after the summer and a chance for newer families to meet the community, talk to other home educators, make connections, and most importantly, if you are coming straight from mainstream education, to check if HEed children are ‘normal’ or not.

The first of the Not Back To School picnics started in September 2009, in response to the Badman Review into Elective Home Education that was commissioned by the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls. Due to the conflation of home education and safeguarding, this review was very badly received by home educators, and so as a protest to show that our children were not ‘hidden’ and to celebrate all things home ed, the Not Back To School picnics were born. 

Originally they were more like an HE fair with activities planned, such as processions, bubble blowing (a protest thing), face painting, games and art sessions, banners, cakes and extended family all there to represent the community, answer questions from locals and to introduce the world to home ed, but as time has gone on and Badman is no longer in the majority of HEors memories, they have become a more casual affair. Usually, they are just a lot of families meeting up in the park, with everyone bringing their own entertainment, food and refreshments. But unlike the usual HE park meet ups you see throughout the year, it feels special in that it signifies the start of another academic year,  an acknowledgement to yourself and the world that you have made the decision to home educate, that it is a legitimate and valid educational choice and that you are part of a community with many others doing the same thing. It is for these reasons that they often attract many local HEing families who wouldn’t normally just hang out in the park.

In Cambridge, most years the picnics are mixed-age groups, but previously, this has kept the older teens away, so this year there was a Cambridge junior-school-aged picnic and a teen picnic, which worked out really well, and helped many connect and re-connect with the wider HE community. The teen picnic was held in Lammas Land and for the most part the weather remained good. In true home ed style, only one family made it on time, with everyone else (including the organiser) arriving in dribs and drabs over the next couple of hours. Picnic blankets were laid out with everyone huddled in, but gradually they became predominantly occupied by the adults, while the teens wandered away to play on the equipment, walk about or just to have less interesting conversations away from their parent. Some of the more daring souls even braved the splash pool. It was great to see old faces again, some of which we hadn’t seen since pre-lockdown, and to see the newer faces that for whatever reason our paths had yet to cross. Time went by too quickly as always, but we were left with an appetite for more, inspiration for education and plans for the year ahead. A success by any measure. 

The threat of registration is still hanging over us in the form of the education bill (although the next sitting seems to have stagnated in the House of Lords (, but it has been there for so long that most HEors are now just used to it, and many have become somewhat pragmatic about it, expecting it to one day materialise, but hoping not during their time as a home educator – as who has time for yet more admin and paperwork?! But, for others, registration remains a very real threat to their way of life and philosophies of education.

It is generally not the registration itself that worries people, it is much more the concerns of what comes with it: monitoring, standards, interviews, pressures on already traumatised children, and unsupported, biased judgements thrown against families who do not learn in the ‘conventional’ way, learn ‘conventional’ subjects, or learn in a ‘conventional’ time frame. No one wants to see children being neglected or not given an education, but equally accepting a poorly constructed system that isn’t only not fit for purpose, but also damages children who would otherwise be thriving is not the answer. Until that definition of what an education is is broadened to reflect the reality that one size can never fit all, and there are a million ways to achieve the same ends (with some being considerably less traumatic for a family and child than others), this war will continue to rage on for quite some time yet. 

In the meantime, we will continue to make the most of the silver linings that have been the result of this long, drawn out battle, and celebrating home ed in all its colourful forms at this annual HE jolly is definitely one of them. Already looking forward to next year’s Not Back To School Picnic!!

Never thought I’d say it but, thank you, Mr Badman. 

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