'Home education gives me freedom to be individual'
THE number of families choosing to take their children out of mainstream education and teach them at home has almost tripled in some areas of West Kent over the last four years.
With bulging class sizes and increasing competition for school places, a band of home educators has emerged and this week the Courier spoke to some of them.
Tunbridge Wells mother-of-three Theresa Phengsak is keen to rubbish the myth home schooling affects children's social life.
Her eldest child Amy, 16, went to kindergarten in Forest Row, East Sussex, for a year, and St Matthews Primary, in High Brooms, for a day but did not like it, and has been home educated ever since.
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She, along with her brothers Jem, 8, and Isaac, 7, are part of the South East Home Educators, a group of almost 400 families which regularly meets for trips.
"The first thing people say is – what about socialisation?" she said.
"Some people see it as children sitting at home. Of course there is some of that but the majority is outside.
"We try to give them a different way to do it."
The Cunningham Road resident admits she had reservations about taking her children out of school.
However, she says they have benefited from the different style of teaching.
"As a parent, I was worried about most things, but it's always felt right.
"One day we can be learning with a pack of cards, or on the computer. It's not structured and it's done to retain the love of learning."
Mrs Phengsak, 47, says organising gatherings with other home educators, which range from a coffee in a cafe to an educational trip to London, has become easier as technology has developed.
She said: "It was harder when I first started, having to rely mainly on newsletters.
"Now with the internet, you can just log onto Yahoo and find out what's going on."
Eldest child Amy is studying for her final A-level maths module exam in June, having gained an A* in the subject at GCSE two and a half years ago. She will also be taking her GCSE English and AS biology.
The 16-year-old is glad she did not go down the school route, and her home education has not affected her social life.
"I find it brilliant, I love it," she said.
"There's so much freedom. At school there is so much time wasted, either because you don't understand or because there isn't the one-on-one."
Amy, who has friends in and out of the home education circle, added: "In school there is so much pressure. To have a boyfriend, to drink, smoke, act in a certain way, to like certain bands.
"With the home education group everyone is so completely different, with completely different interests and opinions, dresses in different ways. Everyone is accepting and given the freedom to be an individual."
Head of advocacy and entitlement at Kent County Council, Alex Gamby, said: "Parents have every right to choose a particular type of schooling for their children.
"There will be a wide variety of reasons considered by parents when taking a decision about the most appropriate educational environment for their child.
"Some parents choose to home educate and many do a good job.
"We would generally regard a place in school to be in the best interest of a child, but where parents choose to home educate we respect that."