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alternative education options

We look at a range of ways of educating your kids.

Decisions about where your child goes to school are full of practical and ethical dilemmas. The local comprehensive has a good social mix but seems big and impersonal (will my child get noticed? What about bullying?); private schools have smaller classes and better results (can’t afford it? Don’t agree with it? Unsure about single sex education?); Steiner school takes the emphasis off formal qualifications (but will your kids end up under-qualified?); home education gives you autonomy (but will your kids feel isolated? Are you equipped to do it?).
In an ideal world, your Local Education Authority would be equipped to look after every child’s educational needs but we know that in practice, this is not the case. We can’t make your decisions any easier but what we can offer is a wee taste of some of the options available:

State schools often don’t get a good press. Those in Bristol (where I live) have again been rated as some of the worst in the country, according to league tables from the Department for Children, Schools and Families in January 2008. I’d like to offer some personal reassurance on this one: my teenager goes to our local comprehensive (and it’s a biggie with 1400+ pupils) – according to one of the tables I looked at it’s fourth from the bottom – but he’s doing well academically, socially and extra-curricular-ly, mixes with a good cross section of kids including friends he went to the local primary school with, he walks or cycles to school, and is generally doing pretty well (smug, moi?). The point being that parental support and interest in your child’s education is just as important as which school they go to. And this is backed up by research. For instance, a paper from the London School of Economics looking at the role of parents, peer groups and school on educational attainment found that “parenting is much more important than schooling” and “the most powerful parental input is parental interest in education.”

For info and OFSTED reports see

Steiner/Waldorf Schools believe that education is a journey, not a race, and ‘play is the serious work of early childhood.’ It’s about children acquiring an interest in the cultural and natural worlds as well as traditional academic skills (and academic results at GCSE are higher than the national average). The same teacher stays with the class for several years creating emotional stability, with other specialist teachers providing the daily curriculum. A practical, active and artistic approach to learning, focussed on the child’s three roots of personality: thinking, feeling and willing. Kindergarten, up to six years old, main school 6-14. There may not be provision after this age depending on the school. Steiner schools are fee-paying, and fees are set at one rate for all students.

Home Education (also known as home-schooling). Education is compulsory by law but school is not (see the Education Act 1944 for proof). It’s estimated that there are over 50,000 children aged 5-16 being taught at home by their parents in the UK. Home educators are not bound by the National Curriculum or SATS testing. Parents who home educate say their kids learn self-reliance and creativity, and can explore areas that interest them at their own pace. There are loads of groups where children and carers can meet to share activities, and a host of organisations with websites offering learning resources and support. If your child has been registered at a school and you decide to home educate then you must inform the school and ‘deregister’ them. Parents don’t need to ask permission or inform their local authority of their intention to home educate.
Home Education Advisory Service
The Home Education Centre in Chard, Somerset offers a physical meeting place, plus online resources:

Flexi-Schooling. Head teachers have the authority to agree flexi-schooling arrangements with parents where children are registered and attend school part-time but spend other parts of the week being educated off site. This arrangement is negotiated between head teacher and parent, with no requirement for local authority intervention.

MontesSorri Schools work on the principle that every child learns and develops at their own rate following their own inner needs and interests, so pupils choose their own activities and how long they do them. Classes will be rich in oral language such as poetry, stories, songs and conversations. Teachers observe and identify children’s needs and motivation and direct their activities so that they can learn for themselves. Tends to be for nursery/pre-school kids, and schools are fee-paying.

Montessori Society:

Human Scale Education is an education reform movement set up in 1985, and inspired by E.F. Schumacher’s book ‘Small is Beautiful’. The aim of the movement is to adapt the environment within which children learn to make possible “a more holistic approach to learning that engages the whole person”. It works with schools and parents to promote learning environments where children are known and valued as individuals. The movement has worked to secure public funding for small schools outside the state system, and has helped state secondary schools restructure themselves into smaller learning communities.

Good list of small and alternative schools at

The National Association For Small Schools promotes the work of smaller schools with 100 or fewer pupils. It believes that smaller schools offer ideal conditions for learning and that personal attention leads to a sense of identity and a belief that effort is worthwhile.

For info re private/independent schools:
Independent Schools Council

Ref: Research by L Feinstein and J Symons: ‘Attainment in secondary school’, Oxford Economic Papers 1999; 51:300-321 available from Oxford University Press



Written by Beccy Golding
Published in The Spark issue 52 - spring 2008

details correct at time of going to press but may now have changed - please make your own checks

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