How to write an educational philosophy
Although it's not a compulsory part of home education, many home educating families choose to write an educational philosophy: a general statement of what you think is worth teaching your child and how you intend to do it. In other words, it sums up the guiding principles of your approach to home education.
Some home educators write an educational philosophy purely to show their local authority as evidence of what they're doing with their child, but they're also helpful in focusing your mind on how you're going to approach home education.
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The law says the education you provide should be "efficient" and suitable for a child's age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs they may have.
If you're considering writing an education philosophy, it's worth remembering the general principles of education – to encourage a person’s physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
Why write an educational philosophy?
'An educational philosophy focuses the mind on what a person believes is important about education,' says Dr Helen Lees, an expert on home education at Newman University in Birmingham.
Part of Dr Lees’ work includes helping local authorities develop policies on home education and – depending on the family – she sometimes suggests that local authorities ask parents to talk through their educational philosophy. 'It shows real and careful educational thought is happening – and I think a parent’s approach to education is more important than asking about standards the child has reached,' she explains.
Do you have to write an educational philosophy?
There's no legal obligation for home educating families to write an educational philosophy, but most experts strongly recommend that you include one in your initial submission to the local authority about your intention to home educate, and many local authorities have come to expect one (although they can't insist on it). 'In my view, asking a parent if they have an educational philosophy is the only "test" for home education that might ever be necessary for authorities,' Dr Lees explains.
What should an educational philosophy include?
The principles of home education, and the huge variety of ways in which different families approach it, mean an educational philosophy shouldn’t be prescriptive. 'It's a guiding principle rather than a set of strict guidelines and a genuine statement of educational beliefs, which, of course, might change as the child’s education develops in means and manner – from structured to unstructured for instance,' Dr Lees says.
'You could include something like, "we believe as parents our children should have the freedom to decide to learn what they want to know about. We believe our children need and deserve to have contact with other children. We believe that our children can learn through the community such as using the library, museum and swimming pool. We believe as parents it is our responsibility to facilitate this.”'
Be aware of how your child learns before you write your educational philosophy. 'Some children like the structure of sitting down at the kitchen table with exercise books; others don’t. If you write in your educational philosophy you will do seven lessons by 4pm on a weekday, it could fall apart if it doesn’t suit your children,' says Dr Lees.
Your educational philosophy could include:
- An introductory paragraph setting out why you are choosing to home educate, your general approach (for example, is it autonomous, where you're guided by your child's interests, or structured, where you're following a more structured programme of lessons?), and your role in educating your child.
- Your educational goals for your child. These could be specific ('in history, I want my child to learn about the differences between life today and in Victorian Britain') and/or general ('I want my child to have opportunities to learn alongside other children').
- A summary of how you will help your child meet those goals.
- An overview of the resources you'll use. Again, these could be specific (e.g. mentioning specific textbooks and websites that you'll use) or generic (e.g. 'We will visit the library and local museums').
You can read some examples of educational philosophies here.
How often should you update your educational philosophy?
Many families who home educate update their educational philosophy annually and send the revised version to the local authority. Although this isn't a requirement, it can satisfy the local authority that your child is receiving a suitable education, and reduce the likelihood of them requesting face to face meetings.
However, you can also update it as and when it suits you – for example, if your original plans or approach to home education change. 'People are free to adapt it so it works for them in their own circumstances and for their own children,' says Dr Lees.
Can the local authority ask for more information about an educational philosophy?
Yes, but only if it feels there is a significant cause for concern – that is, if the local authority is worried about your child being safe from harm, or is concerned that you're not providing a suitable education as set out in the Education Act 1996.