Life for children outside a formal education | Portsmouth High School

Life for children outside a formal education

Over the holidays I watched the Channel 4 documentary Feral Families. In this first episode three families decide to opt out of formal education and their children lead a free life away from the restrictions of bedtimes, school and it appeared any form of boundary and structure.

Not all members of the family supported the parents’ decision and in at least one case a grandparent paid for tutors to ensure his grandchild was learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. The children came across on the programme as happy, carefree and living an idyllic existence. They were polite and respectful and I began to question the value that society places on attending formal school and living within boundaries. Music to some people’s ears would be that the majority of the youngsters didn’t seem to have mobile phones.

However, thirteen year old Archie had one and when he wanted to spell a word he spoke into his phone for it to spell it for him only something got lost in translation and he paints the word cub instead of club on the side of his caravan den. Having discovered his mistake he artistically covers up his error with big bubble writing – he isn’t fazed or set-back by his blunder. The children living next door to one Feral Family said they would watch television all day if they were left to entertain themselves.

The children featured were happy – who wouldn’t be if you could help yourself to ice cream at 10.40pm as one child did on camera? They lived life without the usual constraints that expect them to conform. One small girl dyed her hair purple.

I question the motives of those parents featured in the programme; a parent cited how unhappy their child was when they had attended school which is why the parent had removed them. They wanted to eliminate all forms of upset. Schools should be places where children acquire knowledge and learn to think and that can be achieved in a home education setting too. What the children in the programme missed out on was learning how to socialise away from the family and deal with everyday problems and challenges – perhaps this is what is meant by “upset”. These families were not making this choice for an easy life – I have to say that it looked like jolly hard work to me home educating your brood. However, I did wonder if their rationale had more to do with removing all conflict from their children’s lives and I will be interested to see how these children cope with adult life following their carefree existence as children and teenagers.