This is going to be a bit of a flight of fancy, and an inflammatory flight of fancy at that, so let me just say one thing first: the children God has lent us have always had the choice to attend school or not and this choice has been realistic and we have done our best to present it fairly. One reason for our approach to education is that we believe in freedom of choice. If flexischooling were a more realistic option, we might have taken it, but the choices between state education, private education and education without attending school are not fairly distributed.
Can i just say also that teachers and teaching assistants are not enemies but to some degree victims of the educational system? However, if you happen to be one of them and you carry on reading, you are probably going to be angry with me, so you might want to stop now. I will try to address my attitude towards school staff in another post.
Having said all that, please indulge me.
In England, it is the responsibility of the parent or guardian to ensure that their children are educated properly. The default position is that the parents are legally responsible for their children’s education. I’m a little uncomfortable with saying that the children are “theirs” because in fact children belong to themselves, though they are the parents’ in a similar sense to one’s parents belonging to one. They are not property. As i’m Christian, i tend to think of them as belonging to God and i have more sympathy for the idea that they belong to a family than that they belong to the state, so there are degrees of wrongness here for me.
Anyway, as i’ve said before elsewhere, in England most parents home educate the most of the time but most children also go to state schools. It would be disrespectful and patronising of me to criticise the decision to send their children to school even though i confess that i don’t understand it. At the same time, i recognise that the following are true: children learn all the time almost regardless of the setting, schools are primarily childcare facilities and money from anywhere generally comes with strings attached.
So, here comes the fantasy bit which will annoy a lot of people. If you don’t like it, consider it as a hypothetical illustration of the kind of bias which is currently in favour of schooling, but in the opposite direction. This is a utopian dream of what society would be like if it were opposed to schooling to a comparable extent to its current bias in favour.
As things stand, in law, parents are responsible for ensuring that their children receive as good an education as possible. For most parents, this requirement is unnecessary as it goes with the fact that they are parents that they do this as they see it. However, there is an argument for saying that that means that in some circumstances, it is actually a criminal offence to send your children to school. If you can provide them with a better education without them going to school, for instance if they are being bullied, they have special needs which are not recognised by the school or if there are problems with the school environment, and you are aware of this, that means you are not ensuring that they are educated, and because of that, though this would never happen, by allowing them to continue to go to that school, which may be the only school available to you, you could be breaking the law. There are many circumstances when you would have to do a very bad job indeed to do worse than the school at educating your child. That is with the law as it stands.
Now to move on to fantasy land. This is how i would like things to be.
State schools still exist. They are, however, not educational institutions because for a child at least and probably an adult, the whole world is educational. A school is potentially problematic because it segregates children from the community and deprives them of educational opportunities. Therefore, it is a far from ideal environment for education. Therefore, it is acknowledged in law, as it is in fact the case, that the function of a state school is to provide child care. Moreover, a state school is a last resort option for child care, where neither the family nor the friends and neighbours of that family can provide childcare. They are similar to children’s homes in that respect, with the consequent dangers and difficulties. Given this, certain changes would need to be made.
Since sending children to school means you are not parenting them for the time they are there, if you send your children there, you should lose a proportionate fraction of your child benefit. This is to deter parents from sending their children to school. It means that money is not handed to families with strings attached to fund education otherwise than at school, but recognises that teachers and other school staff are in loco parentis. They are being paid by the government to look after your children, so there is no need to pay parents for childcare when they are not in fact caring for the children but allowing them to attend school. If children are going to school, parents also have a greater opportunity to work and therefore may have a greater income than they would do if they were caring for their children.
Compulsory education begins at seven, as it did in Russia (not sure about now) and ends at fourteen. This is to lower further the requirement for schools. Older children can go to college, younger children are likely to be provided for in other ways.
Schools should not duplicate or restrict public access to facilities. Hence they should not have libraries if libraries are available in the neighbourhood, they should not provide computers or internet access, they should not have sports facilities and so forth, unless similar facilities are unavailable nearby. If it is in fact the case that they are not, the school facilities should be open to the public. This allows children to be in the neighbourhood rather than just be in school, and the neighbourhood has access to the school. This increases the active and passive educational value of childhood.
Registration of a child at school should be an active process undertaken by the parent or guardian. It should not be encouraged or publicised. Doubtless most parents would opt to send their children to school anyway, but it shouldn’t be made easy for them to do so.
The adults who work in schools should do so substantially on a voluntary basis. They should have a personal connection to some of the children in the school and they should be chosen by extent and variety of experience.
School hours should be shorter and school holidays longer.
There should be no age limits on access to tertiary education.
Where the workplace is not the home and it is at all practical, the majority of working days should be “take your child to work” days. This would provide children with experience of a working environment. This is clearly not always practical, but there should be the maximum possible level of flexibility here. If it is at all possible that a child be in a workplace with a parent, they should be there.
At the same time, adults should be encouraged to work for themselves, in the home or in genuine cooperatives, in order that they have as much flexibility as possible to raise their children for as much of the time as possible.
Needless to say, i think, there should be no Ofsted, no CRB checks, no National Curriculum, no SATs and no targets.
OK, have i said enough to annoy everyone yet?