ERO – Review

Preparing for an ERO Review
(in an unschooling kind of way)

By Craig and Barbara Smith

When the ERO comes, they generally don’t look closely at what you have
written down. Such journals and notes as you may have are mostly
useful as a reminder for you to talk about what you have done. So
remember, if keeping a daily journal and/or extensive notes of what
you do during your day is not your style, if it is a burden to you, if
it is a stress to you, if you feel it is taking time away from the
time you could be spending with your children or your precious spare
time, then don’t do it.

The ERO are just as happy to look at photos of events and things that
you have been doing. So get the camera out on a regular basis and
click away.

Then absolutely forget about the ERO until you hear from them. When
you do hear from them, they will suggest a date something like a month
away. Decide that it is too soon and write telling them that the date
they suggested really isn’t convenient. Then propose two other dates
that are convenient for you and make sure these dates are two or so
months down the track. This gives you plenty of time to prepare for
the review. Once the date is settled, and you are perfectly happy with
the date…..the date selection is ultimately up to you, not up to
them……then start planning for the review. Please note: we are not
trying to get out of having a review; we are scheduling it to our best
advantage. This is only sensible.

Do nothing with the sole aim of pleasing the ERO; this does not
advance your objectives in raising/training/educating your children.
Keep to your convictions. If you are worrying about an upcoming ERO
review, then you may begin, even unconsciously, to do things simply
because you think it would please them, straying away from your unique
programme to one you think they’d like to see. Resist this temptation.
You will be able to speak convincingly about your own programme, but
you will not be able to speak convincingly about a programme you
followed because you thought it was the PC (politically correct) thing
to do.

The time to begin thinking about what you have been doing is once the
ERO contacts you. Then I would get out a huge piece of paper and write
in all the subjects you can think of – way more than the schools do.
As unschoolers, this is the one concession we’ll make to “eduspeak”
(more on this later). Here are the lists from the national curriculum
The seven essential learning areas:
Language & Languages
Health and Physical Well Being
Social Studies
The Arts

The eight essential skills:
Communication Skills
Problem Solving Skills
Numeracy Skills
Physical Skills
Information Skills
Work and Study Skills
Self-Management and Competitive Skills
Social and Co-operative Skills

Then I would add in a whole bunch of other topics and subjects using
words which make sense to me. For example, what is Social Studies (in
the list above) anyway? I don’t know. So I’ll write down “History”
and “Geography” because they make sense to me, even though they may be
covered in the above subject of Social Studies (though I doubt it):

Home Economics (sewing, cooking)
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French etc
Note Taking
Book Reports
Letter Writing
Essay Writing
Creative Writing
Critical Thinking

Memory Work, etc

That is just a quick list I thought up on the spot. With more
imagination I could come up with more and hopefully some even better
topics. You can probably come up with some really good ones.

Then you think through on every encounter you have had and everything
you have done or read in your home education endeavours over the past
year or two (since your last ERO review, or since you started home
educating) and write it down under the appropriate topic. Most things
will go under a number of topics – that is the nature of home
education and especially unschooling. So think of books you have read
to the children; books your children have read; visitors to your home;
homes you have visited and the uniqueness of these encounters; the
things you have talked about and done; the field trips you have been
on, officially and unofficially; the fun things you have done as a
family, with others or on your own. I hope you are getting the picture
here. Just think of everything that has happened and slot it under
several of the above topics.

For example: A trip to the beach goes under: Science, PE, Mathematics
(you stopped for an ice-cream on the way and worked out the cost and
change), The Arts, Health and Physical Well Being, Communication
skills, Self Management (putting on togs, washing off later) and
Competitive skills (foot racing, ball games on beach, best sand
castle) and some others depending on what you did, who you talked to,

Reading a book about David Livingstone would go under: History,
geography, science, missions, exploration, courage, loyalty, Home
economics, farming, technology, languages, world views, cultures,
medicine, slavery, etc.

Playing the board game “Risk” would go under: geography, maths,
strategy, history, languages, communication, problem solving,
politics, worldviews, etc., and under more things depending on the
discussions you have while playing.

Having a guest around could go under many topics depending on the
guest and what their interests are where they have travelled, etc.

This sheet of paper is a mind map. Have it hanging on a wall with easy
access from the moment you hear of your ERO review, and write in
events under the topics as they come to mind, as they will, at odd
times throughout the day.

Now when the ERO come to visit (and preferably that will be in a hall,
library or some such place and not your home) do not show them this
mind map until the very end. All this preparation will arm you with
lots to talk about with the ERO. But talk to them in unschooling terms
not eduspeak. Why? Because this is the language you, as an unschooler,
are familiar with. Again, resist the temptation to do things because
you think that is what they want to hear and see. Remember the wording
from the Exemption Application says you are not required to follow the
National Curriculum Guidelines, but that they want to hear about “what
you intend to cover” and “your curriculum vision”. The key is that you
have a vision and are able to clearly articulate this to the ERO,
whatever it may be.

Explain to them all the wonderful things your children have been
learning. You don’t have to show them heaps of things. It is not
learning outcomes that they are reviewing but how your children have
been “taught as regularly and as well as in a registered school.” So
be very clear on your philosophy and how to explain it to the ERO. If
necessary write some quotes or phrases that you want to get across to
the ERO on paper to prompt you when talking to the ERO. The review
should mostly consist of you talking with the ERO and not the ERO
talking to your children.

When we had our last review, we prepared a huge mind map in just the
way described above. When the Reviewer arrived for our review (in a
church hall), I straight away told him that Jeremiah at 10 1/2 was not
reading, writing or doing any formal maths. Further, I said I had not
started to do these things when we knew this ERO review was coming up.
Yes, Jeremiah knew how to read; it’s just that he found it such a
laborious task that he wasn’t doing it, nor were we forcing him. He
knew how to draw the letters and string them phonetically into words,
but since that too was nearly impossible for him to do for more than
60 seconds at a stretch, we were not insisting that he do any. And
yes, he was doing arithmetical work in practical ways all the time,
but pencil and paper activities with him were out of the question. We
then talked about our philosophy, our assessment of Jeremiah’s
capabilities and developmental delays and why he wasn’t doing these
things and how we planned to tackle them in the future and what we
were doing to sort of compensate in the meantime….and we passed the
review with flying colours. The Reviewer’s (correct) evaluation of our
situation was that we had the matter in hand and were working with
Jeremiah’s personal and unique characteristics to maximize his
potential. (By the way, today at age 13, Jeremiah is an avid reader of
normal print-sized chapter books, staying up late at nights to finish
off the next chapter! His handwriting is looking better than average,
he is happy to write thank-you letters to relations and remonstrances
to politicians and requests for information to companies, making
expert use of computer spell-checkers and email.)

We are in a pioneering time still in some areas of home education.
Training the MOE and ERO on unschooling is one of these areas. This
may always be a pioneering area because the MOE and ERO officers keep
changing, necessitating that we train up the new batch. Although
awkward, the main time for doing this training is when applying for an
exemption or during a live ERO Review.

Always check to make sure that they find your home educating “as
regular and as well as in a registered school” before they leave. Ask
that before you show your mind map so you can pull it out as extra,
compelling evidence in a form of “eduspeak” the reviewer may be more
personally comfortable with. (Of course, if the review is already
going really well, you may not have to show the mind map at all.) This
mind map and the preparation it represents plus all your other
preparation for the Review should ensure it goes really well. 95% of
reviews are really positive experiences for all concerned. Again, the
key is being prepared, knowing what you’re about and explaining and
demonstrating this during a review in such a way that you simply drip
with confidence, competence and enthusiasm.

1st edition appeared on RUA in 2005

Reprinted and revised in:
Keystone Magazine
May 2005
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389