Homeschooling My Child Taught Me What I Already Knew. We Need Change

Black communities have a long tradition of supplementing their kids' schooling to combat systematic racism.

This story is part of Black Ballad’s takeover of HuffPost UK, a week-long series by Black women on parenting, family, and our post-Covid future.

“Mama, I don’t want to do that, it’s boring!”

“But babe, it’s writing a story, it’s fun! You love writing stories!”

“Yes, but not about that!”

This conversation at our kitchen table about school work set during lockdown stuck in my mind. Our six-year old can often be found creating booklets about whatever she’s interested in at the time. Over lockdown she wrote about the complicated love lives of Greek gods, a series about a little girl of dual vampire and fairy heritage, and her own take on the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. These homemade books are carefully written and illustrated and can currently be found all over our house.

They often run to 30 pages plus. She loves learning but when she was set the task of writing a story for school during lockdown we struggled to get a paragraph out of her just because the topic didn’t set her on fire. I found myself saying to her, “Your books at home are so good. I know you can write more than two sentences. Why don’t you show your teacher what you can really do with your school work?”

As a parent who also spent many years as a teacher, I had a flash forward of poor assessment grades and a life in bottom sets because she hadn’t demonstrated the full breadth of her knowledge in the way expected.

Liderina via Getty Images

Yes, I had these thoughts during homeschooling in a pandemic. Yes, I had these thoughts fleetingly about a six-year-old. I should probably have taken a longer term view, but these fears point to how deeply ingrained the need to assess and measure learning is in the English school system. Parental fears are also linked to perceived high stakes for kids who don’t succeed in that system.

I’ve spent years teaching classes of teenagers maths they thought they didn’t want to learn. I could silence a room with one look and get high quality work out of the surliest 16-year-old. However my own six-year-old was more of a challenge than I thought and I really needed to get this homeschooling thing done with her so I could get on with my own work.

We decided on a compromise. She tried her best for a set amount of time on the story she didn’t really want to write and I’d send it in via email, as we usually did during lockdown. But I’d also take pictures of her own book, which she’d already spent ages working on, and send it in so her teacher could see what she could really do.

The next day we opened the message from her teacher. Mrs J commented on D’s personal booklet as if it were a part of the work that had been set from school. This started a new pattern. Most days we’d do what had been set from school and other times we took advantage of the learning opportunities all around us, took photos and sent it in.

Some days, pictures of running around the park instead of PE. Other times pictures of butterflies and voice-note descriptions of what had been noticed on our daily walks for science. Each time D’s teacher replied and treated this learning as valuable as if it had been set from school.

As well as anecdotal evidence of Black and mixed-Black kids being underestimated at school, studies have shown that teaching bias means that Black kids in the UK are disproportionately entered for lower tier exam papers, which then caps the potential grades they can achieve and has real consequences for courses and jobs they can apply for.

To combat systematic racism in education and also perceptions of a narrow curriculum, Black and immigrant communities have a tradition of supplementary schooling and other types of learning that hasn’t been recognised in their mainstream educational lives. While homeschooling during lockdown has certainly been a challenge for many parents, it has also been an opportunity for many children to pursue learning in a more flexible way.

What if, post lockdown, the rich sources of learning that happen in all areas of children’s lives were recognised, valued and officially contributed to their mainstream schooling?

This article was commissioned for HuffPost UK by Black Ballad, the lifestyle platform that tells stories of human experience through the eyes of Black British women and elevates their voices. If you would like to read more, become a Black Ballad member to get unlimited access to content, events and discounts, and to connect to its community of like-minded women.

Black Ballad Takeover
Camilla Ru
Black Ballad Takeover