I’m Cláudia, I come from Portugal, from Ericeira, I have 3 children aged 13, 11 and nearly 9. I have a degree in Psychology and also in Teaching - 1st cycle of the Basic Education in Portugal. Just to frame this question, the Educational System in Portugal is organized by 3 cycles of the Basic compulsory education (of 9 years) and 1 Secondary Education (of 3 years). After these 12 years students can continue with the Higher Education. The Basic compulsory education consist in: the 1st Cycle (mono teaching) – 4 years; the 2nd Cycle (one teacher for subject) – 2 years; and the 3rd Basic Cycle (one teacher for subject) – 3 years. My degree allows me to teach this first 4 years (and actually it also allows me to teach some of the subjects of the 2nd cycle).
What I want to share with you has to do: on one hand, with my personal experience as the mother of Ana, my youngest child who is currently in homeschooling; and on the other hand with my professional experience, that gives me another perspective about the needs and the anguishes of the other parents.
Starting with the first point, all of my 3 children stayed with me until the age of 6, when usually the kids start the basic education in Portugal (before that, it´s the nursery school, which is not obligatory). But at the age of 6, we, parents have to make the inscription so the kids get their registration in the system of the Basic Education. At this time, we didn’t know about homeschooling, and like most of the parents in Portugal thought they really had to go to school. So, when things don’t go well, the first thing you try is to communicate with the school in order to solve the problems. If this doesn’t really work, and if you start to feel somehow insecure, than you look for another school and try to make transference. If it’s a public school, you must have a residence or work address in that geographical area. That’s what we did with our oldest sons.
Following the steps of her brothers, at the age of 6, Ana started the 1st year at a public school with around 60 students and a timetable of 5 hours a day. In the meantime, the government starts building this big “educational centers” and in consequence of that decides to close a large number of small schools, and so, the next year, Ana was transferred to this big school with around 500 students, with a timetable of almost 9 hours a day. She started having stomach aches frequently, to be often feverishly, and so on… she asked in the morning “Mummy, if I get a fever I don’t have to go to the school, right?” … and she really got this low fevers often, that passed during the day, without any other “medication” than just staying at home. She was really unhappy at school… Besides, we also started to question the teacher’s method at some points. These two aspects really started to worry us, and when we knew about homeschooling, we decided to try it with Ana.
In Portugal, the home education is legal and there are two mainly questions that we should analyze: 1) the bureaucratic process to integrate this modality which is, amazing, very simple, from the beginning; 2) the evaluation process of the students in homeschooling that is required in Portugal.
Concerning to the first point mentioned, the parents make a normal inscription in the public school of the residence area and add a declaration informing that his/her child is going to make his/her educational course by home education modality. This document should also indicate the person that lives with the child and that assume this responsibility. In our case, nothing else was requested, but I know that in some other cases, a legal proof of the academic qualifications was required. Recently I asked for more information, and this request was mentioned according to a legal dispatch of 1977 that defines the minimal qualifications required to make a registration in home education. I also know some cases, in other parts of the country, where the parents were subjected to an approval of the director of the Regional Directory of the area. As we see, the main difficult is to achieve clarifying and consistent information and this information vary depending on the geographical area. And it’s no use to go to the schools ask any questions about home education, either. They don´t really know. So, the best way to clarify this is to write a mail to the Regional Directory of Education (DRE) of the area asking for that information. Despite the existing of a general law that frames the home education, there is also a legal dispatch of 2002 that defines that the Regional Directories of Education should supervise the evaluation process of the students in home education modality, among other modalities. So, it seems that some discrepant information could be due to the interpretation that the different Regional Directories of Education make of the existing normative documents. Besides, the general law is so omitted in some aspects that give space for the Regional Directories to define some procedures according to their convictions. Perhaps in some cases, the legality of these actions could and should be questioned.
This leads us to the evaluation issue, which is different according to the different levels. In general terms, the integration of a student in the home educational modality imply that the responsibility of the quality of his formative course falls on the parent who made that option. This educational course should take for guidelines two documents: the National Programs of each curricular area and also the National Curriculum of the Basic Teaching – Essential Competences. This means that, regardless of the modality chosen, at the end of each Basic Cycle the student should have learned the subjects mentioned on the National Programs and should have developed the competences described on the National Curriculum.
According to the information that I received from the DRELVT (the Regional Directory of Education of Lisbon and Tejo Valley), this means that the public school where the student is enrolled in, does not have any responsibility on the supervision and on the direct control of his formative course. However, the assessment of the results obtained with this educational course is determined by the evaluation made at the end of each cycle, at this school.
For the 2nd and 3rd Cycles the law is clear on this matter: the equivalence exams of the terminal years of the 2nd and 3rd cycles take place on the school and pretends to certificate the end of the cycle. These exams are destined for, among others, the students included in the home education modality. For the secondary education the law is also very clear: the students should make the national exams on the subjects defined for the course they chose. With this equivalence they can continue their studies to the higher education, just like any other student. All of this information was given me by the DRELVT and they were very precise indicating all the legal documents that support their explanation. But for the 1st Cycle, the information I received from them describes the procedures we should take without making reference to any normative document, and on the research I’ve made I didn’t find legal article on this subject. So the question is: who defined these procedures, and are they equal to the different DRE’s? Anyway, according to this information, at the last period of the 4th year, the parent has to request the evaluation of the end of the cycle. For this evaluation, a portfolio with the work of the student should be presented and the student will also make the last written examinations with the other students at the school where he is enrolled in. These examinations will be analyzed by the Teachers’ Council of the school and the final decision of progression or not will be taken considering the work reflected on the Portfolio, too. In both moments (analysis of the written examinations and of the portfolio) the responsible of the educational course of the student should be presented and be heard.
Returning to Ana’s case, she ended her first year at homeschooling which correspond at the 3rd year of the 1st Cycle of the Basic compulsory education. At this far, we consider this was a very positive option. Why? Mostly because she recovered her self-confidence, and this was really the base for all the subsequent achievements; she also recovered her liberty to try and her right to fail without being punished or feeling like a looser. Because of this, she was able to ransom her creativity, not only in some artistic sense, but also applied at any other situations, like solving mathematic problems, for instance, and she also improved her mental arithmetic. Instead of copies, she is free to write all sort of texts and her own illustrated histories, which she loves to do. She developed her ability to look at the world as a whole, to see connections and to establish creative relations between elements. She remembered the joy of learning and she is really much happier.
The approach I attempted with Ana is based on her interests, her motivations, on what she wants to learn, to discover, and so on. She decides the projects she wants to research and she also decides and plans the work she intends to do during the week. At the end of the week, she makes her own evaluation of what she made, I also give her my feedback and together we make a permanent reflection on her path. Having the National Program and the National Curriculum as reference, all her experiences are “translated” and integrated in terms of goals and competences described on those two documents. At this far, this was not so difficult to achieve, maybe because it’s based on the same principles I’ve been using in my work.
For the last 10 years I have been trying to create actionable connections between the two dimensions of my training, psychology and education, according to an integrated approach. As a natural evolution of my work, I have had a privileged contact with some parents who have chosen or that consider the home education modality as a sustainable option for their children. I realized that most of these parents, for different kind of reasons feel somehow less qualified to take this step, alone. They have the will, they often organize their lives to get the time to do this, but they feel that they don’t have the skills. And that frightens them. So, part of my work, lately, has been giving this support as an advisor of these parents, in a very restricted dimensional universe. This support implies a deep analysis of the whole emotional and experiential dynamics of the families in order to identify both fragilities and potential aspects to work on. This will permit us to define some strategies in an integrated perspective involving the family in the draw of his unique and differentiated project. It also presumes that all formal aspects of the process are taking in consideration, aligned with the curricular requirements in force in Portugal. This work is complemented with some moments that have been thought for the families to meet and share experiences. These meetings occur in a space that I have created to provide opportunities not only for socialization but also for learning according to several different approaches.
I believe that this kind of support helps this potential and effective homeschooler parents to feel more confident and less anguished with their choice. I also believe that there is no such thing as a perfect model valid for everybody, and that as any other important decisions we have to make in our lives, the option for home education has to be a seriously measured one.