Memorandum submitted by Jackie Burnham



Autonomous education is a viable enriching philosophy of education: see a US example in action.

There is ample literature to support this approach

There are numerous examples of successful self taught children and adults.

This autonomous approach and programme of education can be accountable and subject to regular checks.

My credentials:

BA hons,.MA, PGCE.

3 years of state school teaching experience, 2 years college tutoring, 15 years home educating 4 children.

My children's careers following autonomous learning:

-one graduating this year with a Masters degree in Maths from University of East Anglia and becoming an actuary,

-one applying to Cambridge University this year for Politics, Psychology and Sociology,

-one planning a career in veterinary medicine.

- my 4th child: see under

Case study of an autonomously home educated adult who is studying Politics at York University. (See below).


1. The democratic school, 'Upattinas' in Pa United States ( is a perfect example of the autonomous philosophy in action. Their mission statement is: to nurture and inspire interest-driven, non coercive learning in an open democratic community.

They believe:

- in participant controlled, non compulsory, and non coercive learning.
- that living is learning and that play is the basis of learning.
- that there are many ways to learn and all are valid.
- in encouraging and supporting personal excellence.
- in people of all ages learning together respectfully.
- in emphasizing trust and communication rather than rules.
- in balancing individual freedom with responsibility to the community.
- in diversity and non discrimination.
- in non violent problem solving.
- that we must work for environmental renewal and global justice.


Maybe some institutions similar to Upattinas could answer the need to cater for those families wishing to choose this form of education. I have been working towards this end for a few years but would want it to be accessible to all and not belong in the private sector.


2. Far from autonomous learning being an elaborate form of 'child minding' it is an extremely nurturing one to one relationship between parent /tutor and student, The key is to answer every single question the child has and to make it a priority to help and guide him in his search for the answers. People assume that because the child is in control of his choices that he is left to run wild. The 'child minding' reference in your text is an assumption of this sort. Just because a child is choosing what he studies or explores - why does that presuppose a lack of engagement by the supervising adult? Indeed close engagement is the key to the success of the whole process. If the child has no one interested in his well being or his interests he will begin to feel neglected and this can be the slippery slope. Unfortunately a small number of children who attend school can also feel this way and if the autonomous home education option is there it can be their life line. Just because the adult is not structuring or driving the course of learning does not mean that the self motivated student is not progressing admirably. We trust ourselves as adults to know what we want to study with our energies and our time - why can this same right not be accorded to children who wish it|? Children will choose to do things that will develop them if only we could trust them and listen to them and not attempt to control them.


3 We took our son out of school when it was clear he felt he was failing by not learning to read phonetically as his other class mates. It transpired that he was borderline dyslexic and needed a whole word recognition approach which we chose to follow at home at his timing. However we had to help him 'unlearn' the poor self image he had gained from his school failure at the age of 4 and this took about a year and a half of free play to build up his self confidence before he felt sufficiently ready and asked us to help him learn to read. It is common for children who are removed from school for similar reasons of deep unhappiness and a sense of failure to need a substantial healing period of 'de-schooling'. Following this he then proceeded to learn whatever he was interested in which covered everything from fudge making to rocket building. We regularly had visits from the visiting home education officer when we lived in England and from our chats at Upattinas, in the States. They satisfied themselves that learning was proceeding albeit in maybe an

unorthodox manner and certainly not parallelling the national curriculum. When my son was 15 he chose to go to school to get his qualifications and managed this very well, He graduates from York University this year with a BA in Politics and International Relationship (predicted I or IIi grade) and is going into journalism after being editor of his award winning university paper (short listed this year for the Guardian student media award)


4. The main problem we thought he would have at school in year 10 was his writing as he had written very little in his life - choosing his PC as chosen writing tool. However we were amazed to find many children had worse hand writing than him and his soon improved quickly. Far from proving a problem - his 11 years out of school had equipped him with strong self motivation, independent thinking skills and self discipline and he knew exactly why he was at school. Too many students - in our experience - don't seem to appreciate why they are at school and are only doing it because they have to. Too many students feel that school is a prison that actually stops them doing what they would like to do with their lives and interest and sometimes they leave with no sense of self empowerment or horizons - particularly if they have been labelled as 'failing' students throughout school. In the autonomous learning environment there are no failures and everyone has special needs as everyone is unique. It would be such a pity and a indeed a negating of our educational freedom to take away this option!


5.The same procedures of checks and controls that are now in place can be continued. It would be useful for the supervising LA officer to be offered some training as to the ethos of this philosophy to further enhance the trust relationship you mention. In the case where the child is clearly not receiving any kind of mentoring or guidance from a home adult - then questions could be asked and procedures followed. Why ban all learning through this approach just through fear that some families may misuse it? Talk to those families by all means, but don't stop the rest of us from making a great job of it.


6. There are so many well known figures who did all their learning and business building outside school and despite their schooling. Here are just a few famous names: Richard Branson, Louise Alcott, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplain, Mozart, Andrew Carnegie, Florence Nightingale, John Stuart Mill, Winston Churchill. Please see for a full list.


7. John Holt the US pioneering educational writer in the 1960s and 70s leads the way in this field. See. his publications such as Why Children Fail, Teach Your Own, The Unschooling Handbook.

These books were on my PGCE course. He is accepted in the mainstream field of educational thought. John Taylor Gatto also wrote persuasively and compellingly on this subject.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Also Jean Liedloff : The Continuum Concept

Here she discusses the concept of attachment parenting that underwrites this non coercive approach,


8. Autonomous learning can nurture genius and passion and allow for total non interrupted engrossment. It does not suit all children. Many would prefer to follow the adult lead and crave an externally imposed structure. However for children who show independence of thought, who prefer their own company to enforced socialising, who perhaps have a learning difficulty and those who buck the norm, it is an invaluable gift to offer them that can make all the difference to not only their personal happiness but in reaching their full potential..


September 2009