Minerva’s Guide to Alternative Schooling

December 28, 2022 by Harry Denniston, Education Writer
two children and their mother looking at school work
A quick, easy read on the various Alternative Schooling options in the UK, if you’re thinking of making the switch from traditional school.

With teacher strikes promising disruption to the academic year and, with it, students’ learning, many parents are considering alternative schooling options.

It’s not just the strikes. The after-effects of the pandemic, and its shake-up to the education system (not to mention how we work, live and travel) have offered glimpses of different ways to do things. Ways that might suit young learners better than the traditional bricks-and-mortar, 9-to-5, large-classes-led-by-harried-teachers approach.

The current term for these prospective ways is alternative schooling.

What is Alternative Schooling?

Alternative schooling is the collective term given to any other way of educating your child outside of the traditional state or private ( – ‘public’, in the UK) sectors. Therefore homeschooling, online schooling, forest schooling or unschooling all come under the banner of alternative schooling.

It’s important to note, however, that many educational methods in this bracket are as old as the ‘traditional’ system we might be more familiar with. Home education and apprenticeship was the dominant form of education in Europe until around the 1830s.

Various revolutions, or revolutionary figures, in the 20th century brought to the fore the alternative options favoured by many people now, such as the first Steiner school opening in 1919, or John Holt in the 1970s, an educational theorist and supporter of school reform who was the first real proponent of unschooling.

Why are people choosing Alternative Schooling?

There are various answers to this question, many of which have been catalysed or crystallised by the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Dissatisfaction with the traditional system

Many parents are unhappy with the overburdened state system, in which teachers have to work with large classes and, as a result, many students are overlooked and under-supported.

  • Family lifestyle

Many people want to travel with their children, be that for work or leisure reasons, and traditional schooling is highly restrictive.

  • Pursuit of dual careers

Alternative schooling can be a godsend for young people who are pursuing a career alongside their education, for example in sport or film and television.

  • Mental health benefits

It is highly common for parents to seek alternative schooling solutions for young students who might have suffered in the traditional education sector because of things like stress, bullying or social anxiety.

  • Specific, student-oriented approaches

Methods like homeschooling are far more student-oriented, hugely benefiting those learners who work at particular paces (faster, slower), have particular interests, or benefit from particular teaching and learning methods. This might include learners with ADHD or special educational needs, but also refers to students who simply learn better with more stimulus or one-on-one focus.

What are my options?

  1. Alternative Schools

There are a raft of alternative institutions across the UK and beyond, founded upon the idea that education can be done differently, and devoted to educating children in more democratic ways. 

Opting for an established institution like a school – even if it is different from traditional ones – can feel like less of a leap for those who don’t want to shake things up too much.

There are as many options of alternative school as there are alternative modalities themselves, but popular ones include forest schools, Steiner schools and Montesorri schools. 

There are also numerous charities, movements and models that state and private schools may participate in or subscribe to which indicate their commitment to alternative modes of education, such as the Learn to Lead model, the Co-operative School movement and the Small Schools membership.

What alternative schools tend to have in common is a commitment to:

  • democracy between the students, parents and teachers
  • smaller-sized classes or learning groups 
  • alternative methodologies of learning that put positive relationships, wellbeing, self-led learning and motivation and self-directed pacing at the forefront

For a useful summary of alternative school options, see here.

  1. Unschooling

Unschooling is an exciting and radical mode of education in which any form of curriculum, schedule and authority is largely done away with. Unschooling focuses rather on the student and their natural curiosity, letting learning unfold through a more rigorous, diligent pursuit and exploration of everyday activity.

Hannah Canavan calls it ‘a way of being in relationship with our children that means we extend to them the same respect that we extend to our adult friends and family, and a way of learning through every aspect of life instead of primarily a classroom.’

With unschooling, the parent becomes more of a mentor, encouraging activities and learning opportunities based around a child’s natural interest on any given day. So the difference between unschooling and homeschooling is you are not following – nor even implementing your own – curriculum. You respond, rather, to your child’s learning desires.

Unschooling can be particularly good for younger children. Older children can then opt to re-enter traditional education in order to gain the qualifications they might need to pursue a certain career. 

  1. Homeschooling

The meteoric rise in homeschooling has been coupled with the realisation that, as many people discovered during the lockdowns, being both a parent to and sole educator of your child is a full-on occupation. Homeschooling has begun, then, to mean something different from the stereotypical parent-teaching-the-child model it had previously come to represent.

Homeschooling has seen an increase since the pandemic because:

  • Parents see it as the highest level of education available, with direct focus and bespoke curriculum
  • Students prefer it to going into school each day, dealing with social aspect, daily travel and learning at other people’s pace
  • Students can customise and focus on specific subjects for career path
  • Students can get ahead in certain subjects and take exams early
  • Parents can have a bigger part in their child’s education

Parents seeking to homeschool their children right now are looking at a hybridised learning landscape. This means children will be engaging with a range of learning techniques – from self-led learning using online resources or Virtual Learning Platforms to one-on-one lessons with private tutors – to complete their homeschooled education.

You can go it alone, or hire private tutors to help. See our guide on how to start homeschooling for more details.

  1. Online Schools

Online schools – and online homeschooling courses – are also on the rise around the world. Generally favoured because they’re not too-huge a leap away from traditional schooling, online schools tend to offer the perks of homeschooling at a more affordable price, enabling students from all around the country to study the British Curriculum wherever there’s an internet link.

You can find 5 of the top UK online schools, and details about each, here.

At a school like Minerva’s Virtual Academy, all the best bits about traditional school are carried over – live group lessons, extra-curricular activities, weekly assemblies – and put online, helping do away with any issues around a lack of social interaction for a child. The live online lessons are mixed with self-taught modules and exams to ensure students maintain the advantages of homeschooling.

Still Stuck?

Minerva has a wealth of expertise when it comes to beginning the journey towards alternative education. We run homeschooling programmes, an online school and have a specialist team who can help with any admin or questions regarding taking a child out of regular school and switching things up. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, or just want a chat about potential options.

You can also explore our Homeschooling Advice Centre here.

Meet Our New Online School!

If you’re thinking of schooling your child at home, then our brand new, thriving online school could be the perfect solution.

  • All lessons and learning material supplied
  • Group lessons with other pupils
  • 1-2-1 mentoring
  • Suitable for pupils in Years 9 & 10 (GCSE)
  • Free trial period available
  • Rolling monthly payments, cancel anytime

All you need is a computer with an active internet connection, and we’ll do the rest. Visit Minerva’s Virtual Academy now to register for an immediate start!

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