TV’s Nadia Sawalha and husband Mark Adderley talk to Lisa Salmon about the challenges and rewards of opting to homeschool.
Like many parents, Nadia Sawalha has been homeschooling. But for the Loose Women panellist, this isn’t something that’s just come about due to the pandemic – she and her husband, TV producer Mark Adderley, have been homeschooling their daughters for years.
They first decided to take youngest, Kiki-Bee, out of school six years ago, when she was seven. Two years later, they also started homeschooling Maddie, then aged 12 (the girls are now 13 and 17). Not because they had a problem with mainstream education generally, but they felt their girls simply weren’t flourishing and weren’t happy at their conventional schools.
The journey hasn’t been easy, they admit. But they’re very proud of what they’ve achieved and have now written a book – Honey, I Home-Schooled The Kids – to share their experience with other parents.
“Homeschooling our girls was never an easy choice,” they stress in the book.
“It wasn’t an ideological choice. We often say, ‘We never went in search of homeschooling; homeschooling very much found us!’ It’s strange to think that some six years later, something we had no knowledge of, something we considered a bit crackpot and weird, has become our ‘new normal’.”
With so many families having been thrust into homeschooling this year, they say they can “empathise with the palpable shock of suddenly finding yourself almost entirely responsible for your kids’ education. Our hearts have really gone out to parents who found themselves suddenly at sea trying to safeguard and protect their children’s learning.”
Although it was a choice they made years ago, they’re keen to point out that homeschooling is “not the easiest option” but “is in many ways by far the toughest. And yet, it can also be the most rewarding.”
Here, Sawalha, 55, and Adderley, 49, tell us more…
Have you learned a lot from homeschooling your daughters?
“We’ve learned immeasurably,” says Sawalha, “and where we already knew about certain areas, we’ve learned about them in more detail, which has been great. For instance, we’re taught a very specific history syllabus in school, but we’re able to home-educate about movements like Black Lives Matter, which also allows us to demonstrate that there are, in fact, many histories – some of which are never formally taught – and we’re able to focus on these in more depth.”
You both have very busy working lives – how did you find the time?
“We’re both freelancers, so we’ve been able to mix and match across weeks,” explains Adderley. “But the biggest misnomer about homeschooling is that it’s just the parents teaching – it isn’t – and also, a lot of teaching happens outside conventional work hours. So the weekends are busy for learning too. Nadia focuses more on curating and managing Kiki’s learning schedule, and I more on Maddie’s academic work.”
Do you think parents need above average intelligence to homeschool?
“Absolutely not,” declares Adderley. “It’s very much about using resources and learning as a parent too. To even use the term ‘above average education’ runs against the concept behind many people’s reason to homeschool.”
As the girls get older, do you ever find yourselves trying to teach them things you don’t understand yourself?
“The myth of homeschooling is that the parents are the sole arbiters of knowledge,” says Adderley. “We work with many experts, teachers and tutors – but where answers or knowledge isn’t always immediately at hand, we encourage parents to share in the process of finding out. No one, not even teachers, knows everything.”
What about GCSEs?
“I’ve never felt in my heart that this was where Maddie needed to go,” admits Sawalha. “Ever since day dot, she has wanted to be a performer. Her college choices offer places based on extracurricular activities, auditions and face-to-face interviews. The need for GCSEs simply isn’t there for Maddie in the way it is for many other children – and given we had the ability to educate her up to the level of GCSEs, we ultimately decided to give her the choice of taking them or not.
“Looking at her own passions, her career path and the college requirements, she elected not to. I believe she has benefited from a natural education that has set her on a path to making her hobby into her career.”
Do you think homeschooling is more suited to creative and artistic children?
“No,” says Sawalha, “I believe our kids have probably been drawn to the arts because we are an arty family, but we’ve always supplied the sciences too, and there are plenty of resources out there for more science-driven kids and families who want to homeschool.”
How often does the local authority check up on what the girls are learning?
“Once a year, and we share our learning progress with them,” says Adderley.
Do you think your girls have missed out on anything by being homeschooled?
“We ask them that all the time, but have always been met with a categorical no,” says Sawalha.
Do parents thinking of homeschooling need to do a huge amount of research before withdrawing their children from school?
“We are not advocating homeschooling as a solution for everyone – far from it,” Adderley says. “We believe in homeschooling as complimentary learning that can sit alongside conventional learning. If you’re experiencing a traumatic situation with your child, due to bullying, anxiety, or even mental health issues, we want to tell all parents that it’s entirely legal and sensible to withdraw your child from school and take stock. It’s YOUR child. What we discovered was that what started as a difficult and challenging decision, has become a life-enhancing one in many ways.”
Do you ever feel daunted by the responsibility?
“All the time,” admits Sawalha, “but this is the reality of being a parent. It’s daunting, yes, but to be honest, we feel that’s as it should be.
“Even if your children go to school, the responsibility for their education in many ways should be a big one. But of course, homeschooling means you haven’t got the luxury of dropping your kids at school and essentially keeping your fingers crossed that the school gets it all right. It’s a very complicated but rewarding commitment to homeschool.”
Are you proud of yourselves for homeschooling?
“We’re proud of ourselves, but we’re also proud of our girls returning the trust we’ve given them,” says Adderley. “Being a parent is all about learning and growing together – some of it’s about learning ‘stuff’, but most of it’s about learning ‘life’. We’ve tried to teach our kids that ‘learning’ doesn’t start and end with GCSEs, A-levels or degrees. In our opinion, these exams measure the system, not the person. Learning is for life.”
Honey, I Home-Schooled The Kids by Nadia Sawalha and Mark Adderley is published by Coronet, priced £14.99. Available now.