Should we do it? If so, how, when and why?

Assessing our Home Educated Children

How do you feel about “assessing” your child? Assessment can be a bit of an emotive word. It might inspire horrible memories from our own schooldays of scratching your head in a spelling test or spending summers revising for GCSEs. There are increasing pressures on schools to assess pupils’ progress in all sorts of different ways which many feel are not age appropriate and put unnecessary stress on staff and pupils alike. For a good number of parents, this is a contributing factor in their decision to home educate – because their child was stressed out by tests and exams at school or because they choose to avoid this from the outset.

But what do we mean by assessment? Really it is just the process of ascertaining how well a child has understood or learned something, or developed a skill.

Summative assessment tends to take place at the end of a topic or period of time (this would include things like GCSEs, end of term tests etc.). Formative assessment is much more fluid and this is the assessment that takes place all the time, organically. It is continuous and ongoing – as a teacher you realise from a comment in class or some written work that a pupil doesn’t understand something, or that someone has mastered a topic and is and ready for more. It’s instinctive, continuous and ongoing.

In a school situation much of this needs to be evidenced because teachers are (rightly) accountable and also have a responsibility to feed back to parents. But at home?

The process of educating our own children is obviously very different than the process of educating other people’s children. We are accountable to our children and to ourselves. We usually do not need to report to anyone (at the moment) and we do not need to strictly evidence our children’s learning journeys, although many choose to. Does this mean that we do not need to assess our children’s progress? Of course not. But the nature of parenting means we have been assessing our children since the day they were born. We watch our babies and facilitate their development; we help our toddlers learn colours and build fine motor skills by watching to see what they can do and helping them with the next step; we answer our children’s questions about the world around them. Home educators – and, indeed, all parents in a way – just keep that going.

Take this as an example.

My five year old has recently developed a fascination with place value.

“Mummy, what does 1 and 8 make?” He showed me a 1 and an 8 he had written next to each other.

From this comment I could see that:

  1. There was ambiguity around the mathematical concept of “making” numbers which needed to be clarified to him. He was muddling the concepts of addition and place value.
  2. While I knew he could identify 18 as an ordinal number, he did not yet know what the written numeral 18 looks like.
  3. He was interested in number and place value.
  4. He was ready to learn more.

Therefore, this, in teacher speak, “informed my planning” which sounds much more formal than it is – in reality it was quick and instinctive. I may have written in my bullet journal “do place value tomorrow” but that’s about as far as any written observations went and it was purely to remind me. The next day I got out some little coloured circles from our Spielgaben set, the mini whiteboard and pens, and we had a bit of a go at tens and units, then practised writing numbers up to 20. Now he knows what 18 is.

However you choose to home educate, your assessment process will almost certainly include some or all of the following processes:

– You talk to your child and respond to their questions, clarifying any misconceptions and building knowledge through discussion.

– You reflect on their interests, needs or skills and provide activities or educational opportunities for your child based on those.

– You may make detailed or brief written observations about areas they are finding difficult and provide them with opportunities to become more confident or skilled.

– You monitor their progression through any written or practical work.

– You may help your child to “self-assess”. This can be as simple as a young child sounding out a word and checking a picture on the back to see if they got it right, or an older child or teenager marking their own essay against a set of given criteria.

So, should we assess our home educated children? Honestly, it’s pretty much impossible not to. It is an inevitable and natural part of the dynamic between parent and child. Should we record our observations? If it is helpful for you or your child, go for it. You can use notes, a tick list, a learning journal. The key is for it to be meaningful and purposeful. If it’s not necessary and it doesn’t help you, and you don’t have a specific agreement in place where you’ve committed to doing this, don’t worry about it.

Sometimes home educating parents are asked about their assessment process. If someone – an LA official, a family member, a curious neighbour – asks you how you assess your child’s progress, you can simply reply that you follow the model of formatively assessing your child through daily observations and discussion, making written notes where necessary and using this data to inform future planning. 😊

Wishing you all a lovely learning journey this summer.