Three years ago thousands of parents were forced to become scientists, historians, top athletes and artists when home schooling became a must.
While many were grateful for the schools to reopen and, with a new found respect for our teachers, closed their home classrooms for good, for others, it was the first step to a new world.
The number of home-educated students jumped by 42% last year, according to data collected by Kent County Council. There has been an increase of 28.7% in children aged between 13 and 15 opting out of the classroom.
Almost one third of those who chose home educating in the last year sited mental or emotional health as the reason.
There are no strict rules around home schooling. A parent simply has to write to the school’s headteacher to inform them they are deregistering their child.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that “the parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education”. However there is no clear definition stated for full-time, suitable or efficient.
According to the government website on elective home schooling, children who are educated at home are classed as privately schooled. They do not have to follow the national curriculum and they do not have to sit exams.
If they do choose to take an exam though, they must pay and apply to an approved exam centre.
And there’s no need for parents to worry they only got a D in their History GCSE or never learnt a word of Spanish as it’s up to the parent and child what they chose to study and how.
Emma Narine, from Slade Green, decided to go down the homeschooling route with her daughter Matilda when she was finding school life tough in Year 5.
She said: “It wasn’t something we had ever considered, then I got chatting to someone who was home educating their child and Matilda and I decided to give it a try.”
“I wanted it to be about having fun, meeting new friends and trying new things.”
Home educating mum Emma, 43, discovered it was not about becoming an expert of every school subject overnight but about finding what worked best for her and her child.
And it’s clearly working, as Matilda has just taken her maths and English GCSEs a year early.
The flexibility and freedom that comes with home educating is also deemed a huge bonus.
Whilst working with an online tutor for Maths and English, and attending college twice a week, Matilda has enjoyed a varied curriculum of learning at home which has included educational trips to museums, zoos and farms as well as trying out new skills such as wall climbing, archery and ice skating.
Emma said: “We learn about what interests us. We learn a lot about history from documentaries. We might see something on TV and then we talk about or we have a day out and it piques her interest so we go home and find out more about it.
“Everywhere we go we can learn something new.”
And she says her daughter is a different person from the one who went to school.
“She is much happier. She is not forced to do things she can’t do. I can educate her in the way that suits her.
“She has not had to face all the pressures of school. And there is no morning rush.
“We don’t have to work solidly from 9am to 3pm as we get things done quicker. We are working one to one and we don’t have all the time spent handing out books, stopping to tell children off and getting them to settle down.”
As for the criticism that the parent and child do not get any time away from each other and might start to feel a bit claustrophobic, Emma said you adapt.
“You learn to enjoy each other’s company but also to respect each other’s need for space,” she said.
The biggest criticism of home schooling has always been over fears the children are missing out on learning those social skills they develop while spending time with their peers.
To avoid this, a weekly group has been set up at The Jolly Miller, in Sutton-at-Hone, as fellow home educator Jo Gillard thought it was important for parents to have somewhere to meet.
“It can be lonely for parents,” she said. “You wonder if you are doing the right thing. You meet different people who are doing different things different ways.
“It’s nice to be able to come together and access different information and work out how to negotiate things.”
Emma gave up her job as a first aid trainer to concentrate on educating her two children, Matilda has a brother Nemo, who is nine, but she said many parents fit working part time around their children’s studies.
Plus Emma says there is a whole network of other parents and children who are also home educating, so they often go on educational trips together as well as meeting at the weekly catch up in South Darenth.
Matilda, 14, said she enjoys mixing with fellow home educated youngsters, of all different ages.
“It’s really nice,” she said. “I have friends who range in age from eleven to 16 years old.”
Emmie Gillard is also 14. She has been home educated for the past two years after bullying at school made it an unbearable place to be.
Emmie, from Suttona-at-Hone, said; “I just did not get on with school. It was just too much. They put so much pressure on you. And I was being bullied.”
She added: “I’m not judged against everyone else when I’m at home and I’m not made to feel stupid.”
She said she has changed a lot since being home educated.
“I was not confident at all at school, but I am now. My mum and I temper the learning to what I am interested in and how I learn best. It’s much more flexible than school.
Mum Jo, 50, agreed. “She was so shy and so anxious. Her mental health was going down hill.”
There are arguments that children who are educated at home miss out on the life experiences that come with going to school but Emmie says learning at home has actually opened up opportunities to her at a much earlier age than if she was at school.
She is already helping out in the pub kitchen where her mum works and is about to start a motorbike mechanic apprenticeship as part of the Archway Youth Project, a social enterprise organisation offering educational workshops for youngsters.
But while there are many positives to not having to face comparison with their peers there are those who argue the youngsters are missing out on the benefits of a bit of healthy competition, such as winning a prize in assembly or coming first in an event at sports day.
There is also the difficulty of possessing the self discipline to not get distracted by creature comforts at home or your favourite TV series.
Matilda admitted: “Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated. You have to make a clear distinction between your work space and you chilll space so you don’t get distracted.”
When parents first start looking into home educating Jo said they can stress themselves out thinking they need to become an expert in every subject their children learn at school.
“When I first started I was worried that as a mum I would not be able to provide the education that a school provides. But it’s home educating,” she said. “Not home schooling.
“The school follows a currriculum but we don’t have to. We may get to the same place at the end of the journey but we go about it a different way depending on how the child learns and what suits them best.”
Jo says it is the flexibility of home educating that works so well for her and her daughter.
“We tried certain things and they didn’t work so we sat down and looked at how we could do something differently so it suits us both and works better. If it suits her and it suits me I get more out of her, so it works.”
And she said it’s not just down to the parent to know everything about everything.
She added: “We rely on a number of different sources alongside my self to give her that education. There is CBBC bitesize, youtube and lots of other websites to help.
“There are also tutors you can sign up for or you can ask questions on the home educating social media groups.”
Jo said: “I don’t see myself as Emmie’s teacher. I am more of a mentor showing her where to go to get the information she needs.”
But what about qualifications? How will they get jobs in the future without GCSEs?
Jo has an answer.
“If at 25 years old she wants to join the police but she doesn’t have one of the GCSEs she needs, then she has the confidence, because I have shown her how, to get the information to pass that GCSE and open up all the career paths she wants. “
But for one Dover headteacher, who has worked in education for the last 15 years, there is nothing better than the school environment for a child to thrive.
She said: “School is not just a place to provide children with the best education possible and the knowledge and skills that will help them progress to the next stages of their education. It aso offers a safe space for children that experience adversity in their lives.
“Schools support children to be confident and sociable citizens within the school community and beyond. Schools provide access to services which support the whole child, including nursing services, speech and language therapy and educational psychology.”
But Danielle Taylor is still keen to try home educating. Her daughter Freya is just four years old and Danielle has decided to start home educating her from January.
She said: “Children should not feel like it’s a race. Just because they might master something slower than someone else it should not mean that they are behind.
‘We are all doing the journey of life at our own pace’
“I don’t like all the comparing, like it’s a competition. There is too much pressure. Children are all different.”
She added: “It shouldn’t be about having to do this at that time. There should be more flexibility.
“We are all doing the journey of life at our own pace.”
Danielle is planning to include learning in all aspects of life, without the need to send her daugther into a classroom.
“We’ll count how many steps it takes us to get upstairs to change her brother’s nappy.
“I will teach her about what she is interested in. It’s not necessarily what you learn in school that gets you where you end up in life, but experiences that you have lived.
“You don’t have to follow the discipline of school then work. Let’s break the mould.”