When Maya Isaaks's younger son was bullied, first by a teacher and then by other children, he became so unhappy that the family made the decision to home educate him rather than continue sending him to school. Parts of this logart are taken from a diary she kept at the time.
I’m standing in the playground and – for almost the first time in years – my nine-year-old son skims over to me, smiling. "Let’s go." His face lights up and he takes my hand (he doesn’t care any more what the school bullies say) and we practically run out of school for the last time.
Happy boyThe letter’s been written, the formalities observed, and we are now officially a home-educating family. True, some of the parents in the playground look as though they’ve swallowed a wasp when I tell them. Others, sadly including some I’ve counted among my friends, don’t really make eye contact any more. They are suddenly unavailable for our usual coffee and chats, but it’s a price I’ll happily pay to see the look on my little boy’s face today.
My 13-year-old enjoys being at school and would loathe the idea of home-based education, but this one has been trying to tell me – in his own way – that school is not for him, since he started at nursery aged three.
He couldn’t wait to get to school and had taught himself to write his own name, to read like his big brother and loved nothing better (apart from sport) than playing with numbers. But from the moment he set foot in the nursery, it was a bitter disappointment that he never really got over. He expected to love it but he just wasn't happy, despite everyone's best efforts.
In his first few years of school, his teachers said his academic interest and aptitude were 'really exciting', but for whatever reason the school system just didn't suit him and he was bored and miserable. Now we’re not talking about an infant genius by any stretch of the imagination. Nor did he have any particular behavioural problems. He was just an ordinary little boy who was fairly bright in some areas and had a hunger for learning.
Other parentsHe craved a best friend, but that wasn’t to be and, even at four, there are some things you can’t arrange for your child. He tried to enjoy school, but a child who wants to do well and hasn't yet learned not to shout out the answers doesn’t endear himself to teachers or other parents – although it didn't seem to bother the other children.
One mum, whose own child was naturally socially adept, told me repeatedly that she’d never met a more competitive child than mine. Ah, playground politics. She was right, though: he was competitive from a very early age. Despite secretly wanting to deck her, I agonised over this and wondered where we were going wrong and whether we should be discouraging this trait if it was alienating the other children. But he was simply interested in different things from everyone else.
Teacher troubleOne day he skipped into his Year 1 classroom, thrilled to have discovered while playing with a set of counters that division was just a case of subtracting over and over again. He asked his teacher if she could give him some division sums to work out in school. Rather than explain that she didn't have time, she got very cross with him.
Some days later, he asked me if it was okay to kill himself so he didn’t have to go to school any more. Horrified, I went straight to his teacher, who shrugged and said he was an arrogant child and she’d decided he needed squashing so that’s what she was doing. This was when I found out about the division-sums incident: she explained that she'd told him off for asking as it was indicative of him getting above himself. I can appreciate that it's annoying to have a child in your class who is asking for more time and attention than you are able to give, but there are gentler ways to deal with it. He was five years old.
He was bulliedThat was the first time he was bullied, but not the last. Any child who has different interests, or is at a different stage from the others, is at risk, especially where there isn't an effective anti-bullying strategy in place, and my son’s classmates had been taught by their teacher that it was okay to bully him. He was initially tearful and bewildered, but soon became very angry – and so began his journey from a sunny, carefree little boy to a surly know-it-all with virtually no self-esteem and the inevitable behaviour problems that go with being deeply unhappy. Every time he was picked on or put down, he was mortified, and he soon learned to cover up his humiliation with stroppy, don’t-care defiance.
Despite the problems he was having in school, he’d always mixed happily with other children and adults elsewhere, so I was shocked when the school’s SENCO [special educational needs coordinator] asked out of the blue whether I thought he might have Asperger syndrome like his older brother, as his social interaction in school was a concern. She brought this up casually in the playground after school, with all the children and parents milling around. It was difficult to respond as she'd caught me on the hop and my children were trying to chat to me. I was pretty sure he wasn't on the autistic spectrum (he isn't) but whether he was or not, the insensitive and public way she raised the subject was the final nail in the school coffin for me.
Finding out about home educationThat was the day I got on the internet and started to research home education. When, after much discussion with his dad, I mentioned the possibility to my son, his eyes lit up and he beamed at me. Looking at the hope, joy and relief on his face, I knew it was the right decision.
Now, as we walk home through the park, with a huge weight lifted off both our shoulders, my son chats happily about the coming summer, his friends, his sport and his studies. For the first time in ages I can see a glimmer of the sparky little boy I sent to school all those years ago and who was crushed by the system’s need for him to conform.
Rounding the corner to our house, he grins at me and says, "Now I can read all the Jacqueline Wilson books and nobody will laugh at me for it." Absolutely.
Maya's son chose not to go back to school, but continued to enjoy his education and made lots of friends with other home-educated children, as well as through his sport and other activities. He took IGCSEs and A levels as a private candidate and is currently having a great time at university in the USA. His older brother, meanwhile, stayed at school until the end of sixth form and is now training to be a teacher.