The only legal obligation for parents who home school in the UK is to provide full-time education that suits the age, ability and aptitude of the child. The law does not stipulate which subjects should be taught or at what level. This blog provides information about the primary curriculum and recommends different approaches to primary teaching.
Whether or not you should follow the national curriculum will depend on the nature of your situation. If you are planning for your child to return to mainstream education, or if there is any chance that they will be taking school exams in the future, then you should certainly consider following the national curriculum. At the least, parents should know the curriculum well and bear it in mind when planning lessons.
By following the curriculum, particularly for the core subjects, you will ensure that your child is learning the same content, at the same level, as their peers in school. This means that if your child returns to school they will not be working at a different level to their classmates. Similarly, national tests and exams are based on the national curriculum. Therefore, if you are planning for your child to sit their SATS, or school entrance exams, it is vital that you cover what is in the curriculum.
However, if you have made the decision to permanently home school your child without putting them through national exams, you may choose not to follow the curriculum. Some parents choose to create their own curriculums, based around their child’s interests and their own knowledge and skills. Similarly, if your child is working at a very different level to what is age-expected, you may find the national curriculum does not work for you.
If you are unsure about what will happen in the future, one strategy may be partially to cover the national curriculum. For example, you may choose to stick to the curriculum for Maths, English and Science but teach your own curriculum for other subjects. That way, you will not be limiting your child’s opportunities in the future, should they sit exams or attend school.
All children in state education are taught by the national curriculum. The curriculum sets out which subjects should be taught and the knowledge, skills and understanding children should achieve in each subject according to their age.
The subjects in the primary national curriculum are as follows:
For each subject, the national curriculum lists the objectives that should be met for each age group.
The official primary national curriculum can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-primary-curriculum
A helpful breakdown of the primary national curriculum can be found here: http://www.primarycurriculum.me.uk/
Whether you have chosen to follow the curriculum or not, you will most likely be looking to try and cover the subjects listed above. The beauty of home schooling is that you do not need to stick to the ways these subjects are traditionally taught in school. For example, physics does not necessarily mean copying diagrams from the board; you could teach your child through learning plumbing or mechanics skills. Art for primary children does not need to be finger painting; you could visit a gallery, do photography, pottery, or sewing. Instead of learning to the play the recorder, you could choose the mandolin. Instead of learning French you could take on Mandarin. Don’t worry if you don’t have the necessary skills yourself: there are plenty of courses and online learning options available to support you. You could even take the opportunity to learn a new skill alongside your child.
In mainstream schools, subjects are most often taught separately. Another advantage of home schooling is that you have far more flexibility. Cross-curricular learning (integrating multiple subjects from the curriculum) can be a far more efficient and engaging way of teaching. For instance, the simple task of baking a cake could incorporate a whole range of subjects: reading and writing recipe instructions (English), working out how much money the ingredients will cost and how much change will be received (maths), measuring and weighing the ingredients (maths), doubling, halving or finding other fractions of the ingredients (maths), learning about the properties of the ingredients and how they cook (science), decorating the cake (art). Teaching in this way can make learning feel far more applicable to the real world and is a fun way to engage children.
Everyone learns better when they have chosen to learn and are interested in what they are learning about. Therefore, many home schooling parents employ a ‘child-led’ teaching strategy, in which children choose what they want to learn. Depending on the age and the nature of the child, this is will need to be guided. For example, you may tell your child that you are going to be doing history over the next few weeks and then allow them to choose which period of history they would like to learn about.
Similarly, everyone teaches better when they are teaching a subject that they are knowledgeable and passionate about. Play to your strengths; if you are an expert in computer software for example, start to teach your child some of your technical skills. If you work in finance, teach your child about managing money. Whatever your own profession or expertise, you will have picked up a large bank of valuable real-world skills and knowledge that you can share with your child.