Sunday, April 05, 2009

Pondering Schooling

Yesterday was the first day of the school Easter break. At 9am Angel was sitting at the computer working on an English assignment - an essay looking at the character of Lady MacBeth, as shown by two specific scenes. The promptness, I have to admit, is not due to any enthusiasm for Shakespeare, but due to her Born Organised personality (to use Fly Lady's terminology - she inherits this trait from one of her parents. It isn't me.)

What surprised me was not the efficiency, but the quality of her work. Literature is not her forte. She has spells of reading for pleasure, but is more inclined towards Harry Potter than Shakespeare, to say the least. But she was tackling the topic logically and with some fluency, with the appropriate use of quotes and some real understanding of the context of the play. Why? Because she has an excellent teacher who has brought out the best in her. Last school year she had a teacher she disliked for the first half of the year, and a substitute for the rest. Her English work was run of the mill. In UK terms, she was assessed at Level 5b (potential C grade GCSE). This year every piece of work she has done has improved on the last, and she is now up to Level 7 (potential A grade GCSE) - which I guess translates in US terms to improving from Cs to As. Her maths experience has been similar to her English one - a couple of good teachers, improved confidence, and dramatically improved grades.

Would she have reached the same standard if she was still homeschooled? I very much doubt it. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to even try tackling Shakespeare with her, fearing it would turn into a battleground (it really, really isn't her thing!). Could I have got her essay writing technique up to the same standard? Probably not at this stage. At school, she works because it is expected of her and there is no mother-daughter relationship to cloud those expectations - she can't negotiate with a school teacher the way she would negotiate with me.

On the flip side, get a bad teacher - or even worse, no teacher - and school can be a disaster. Last year she had a substitute science teacher for half the year; this year she has had two terms of shortlived substitutes, rarely having the same teacher for more than a week at a time. There is a critical shortage of science teachers in the UK, and even Angel's highly regarded Upper School is struggling to fill teaching vacancies - what the situation must be like for some schools, I shudder to think. Guess what Angel's science grades are? Level 5a / C ... way below what she is capable of, and I'm pretty certain that if she was still homeschooled she would be doing quite a bit better.

As I gain experience of having children in school, I am increasingly aware that the way children respond to both school and homeschool is very individual. One child may thrive in school; another wilts at school and thrives at home. There is no doubt that academically, school is the right place for Angel. She learns better in a group than on her own, and given the right teacher she does very well - better than she would have done at home.

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