The Telegraph 02/04/2020, Simon Usborne
Homeschooling is having such a moment that the royal family has been forced to rediscover lost traditions. The Windsors were taught in their palaces long before it was cool (or, er, legally required). Princess Diana then swapped attic-bound governesses for actual schools for William and Harry. Now William, evidently not a key worker, has reportedly been compelled to revert to old ways with Prince George and Princess Charlotte, whose London school (St Thomas’s) has shut its gates.
There are normally two ways to homeschool a kid, both of which were in growing demand even before coronavirus: do it yourself with what resources you can muster, or bring in tutors. Sure enough, those with money to throw at the problem – perhaps, one suspects, including the royals – are panic buying tutors.
“We’ve had 16 new home school joiners just this week and have another 11 starting after the Easter holidays,” says Hannah Titley, founder and boss of The Golden Circle, whose network of tutors work with 80 families and offer after-school sessions to a further 200 or so.
The richest families with yachts and chalets to retreat to are paying a premium for tutors to join them; Tutors International, another British firm, reported last week that one Middle Eastern family was paying £24,000 a month for the service aboard their yacht in the Mediterranean.
When the school gates reopen, the thriving homeschooling sector expects many parents to stick with homeschooling (while millions of other parents breathe a sigh of relief). However this crisis plays out, what does the best homeschooling look like in Britain today?
Why is it worth the investment?
“By definition it’s just so tailored,” says Stephen Spriggs, 36, the founder of William Clarence Education, a Mayfair schooling consultancy also now fielding frantic enquiries for its homeschool tutoring services. Spriggs, who left his job in a hedge fund in 2009 and spotted an ad for a tutor in a West London cafe, says parents seeking in-home tuition tend to have lost faith in schooling.
Bullying, mental health or behavioural problems can often be a cause – but many parents have become frustrated with the one-size-fits-all necessity of group learning, and the instinct to teach for exams.
A stint of tutoring can also be the difference between getting into a particular school or university and not. “The difference is that a tutor is always on your side, working with you and tailoring the curriculum to your needs,” Spriggs adds. Itinerant families or those with child stars also sometimes have no choice but to take children out of school.
Titley, who is 29 and launched Golden Circle three years ago after stints as a teacher and at an education think tank, says the efficiency of one-on-one teaching means a curriculum can be taught much more quickly than in a busy classroom, freeing up time to learn other stuff. Coding, entrepreneurship and public speaking are in demand. “Modern workplaces also want people who can work flexibly in creative ways from a remote location, and that’s the kind of children we’re preparing,” Titley adds.
Where is the very best place for your child to learn?
Well, at home, but there are a dizzying array of approaches and options – and costs. Titley is also the founder of the Home Schooling Association, part of her attempt to push for better regulation of homeschooling (there basically isn’t any) and to help parents navigate the fog.
Those taking the DIY approach clearly save money on tuition, even if one or both parents has to sacrifice some earning potential. The extreme “unschooling” approach means ditching curricula and exams entirely. For anything else, there are a range of resources to support the parent teacher, including BBC Bitesize and BBC Teach. The Khan Academy, which is also free, is a US site packed with lessons for different age groups which is particularly good for science and maths. The Artful Parent is great for craft ideas while the GameED Academy supports learning via Minecraft.
For families seeking tutors, the Good Schools Guide carries reviews of dozens of top British tutor companies. Spriggs recommends talking to three or four and always reading CVs. “If they’re on the younger side and just out of university, they might be a good supplement to school but if you can see they’ve done a year on a yacht here and are professional with tutoring as their main source of income, then they’ve probably developed their own curriculum and materials,” he says.
Interview tutors and ask to phone or meet their previous clients – and have trial lessons before committing. Spriggs says it takes six weeks to develop a plan for full-time tutoring, which, at GCSE level and higher, can include the use of multiple tutors to cover different subjects.
What’s the best age to get serious?
Titley and Spriggs agree that it works better the older kids get, as they develop wider social lives and groups of friends. “We wouldn’t go younger than 11 for full-time homeschooling beyond one academic year,” Spriggs says. “The social impacts are easier to manage in older age groups.”
For the same reason, Spriggs recommends not homeschooling for more than two years at any age. “If the family of an 11 year old came to us and wanted six years we’d probably say no because you can’t replicate that social environment,” he adds. Titley says most of her students are GCSE level and above.
What’s the experience like-for both parent and child?
As so many families are discovering, home education can add stresses to domestic life but Titley finds that, in normal circumstances, it can improve fractured relations between parents and children. “Some of these children have been bullied or suffered anxiety at school and relieving that pressure has helped massively at home, too,” she explains.
Spriggs says kids generally love the attention of a well-suited tutor and a departure from the lecturing model of traditional teaching. He and Titley try, as far as possible, to replicate the routines of school life to keep things familiar for parents and children, with parents evenings and reports, for example. “It’s important because ultimately that child may need to go back into mainstream education,” Spriggs says.
Where can I get the best kit
Families with the space to do it should create a classroom in the home to avoid clashing with domestic life at, say, the kitchen table. Some go to great lengths to do this, installing giant touchscreens, as well as whiteboards, skeletons, posters and globes.
Spriggs says Amazon is a boon for educational props while Titley recommends homeschooling subscription boxes. KiwiCo delivers monthly crates of creative projects to suit different ages and interest, while Mel Science sends regular kits for experiments.
What do the former child prodigies say now?
Ryan Gosling, the actor: Homeschooling gave me “a sense of autonomy that I’ve never really lost”.
Denise Miller-Jonas, mother of the Jonas Brothers: “I have learned so many wonderful things from homeschooling that I certainly would choose to do it this way all over again… it’s just a great way to live life and to educate your children and your family.”
How much does it cost?
Even if you’re not paying £24,000 a month for an emergency yacht tutor, in-home tutors don’t come cheap. You’ll struggle to get even a fresh-out-of uni teacher for less than £35 an hour. For fully qualified tutors with experience and PGCE teacher training, expect to pay £65 an hour for younger students, rising to as much as £95 for top A-level tutors.
One advantage of homeschooling is shorter, more efficient days – typically made up of five hours. But if you consider there are 33 weeks in the academic year, you’re still looking at £50,000 a year as a minimum for a full-time top tutor, which is on a par with the most expensive private boarding schools.