Road School

Learning through exploration and experience

By: Sue Cowley


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Size: 234 x 156mm
Pages : 240
ISBN : 9781785831140
Format: Paperback
Published: November 2016

Frustrated by a regime of statutory testing, and keen for a midlife adventure, Sue Cowley and her partner decided to step out of the system, and set off on the educational adventure of a lifetime with their children. Road School is the story of their family’s adventures around Europe and across China, and what they learned along the way. Part comedy travelogue, part parenting guide, part educational philosophy, Road School asks you to consider what ‘an education’ really means and offers tips for anyone planning their own learning adventure.

As a parent in the UK, you must make sure that your child has a full time education, once they are of compulsory school age. However, this education does not have to take place in a school. A growing number of parents are finding that home educating, or ‘unschooling’, either permanently or on a short term basis, is a viable and attractive option. The national curriculum, benchmark tests and exams serve to reinforce the idea that there is a specific set of knowledge which equates to ‘an education’. However, when you are home educating, it is entirely up to you what and how you wish to teach your children. Or, rather, what and how you wish your children to learn. You might choose to include part or everything that is in the national curriculum, or you might not. Sue’s family found that one of the best things about Road School was the freedom to follow their interests. Sue offers plenty of advice based on the lessons her family learned on their Road School adventure, such as:

• Take into account how learning can happen simply by visiting a place and exploring it. Don’t feel that you always have to formalise your visit by turning it into a ‘lesson’. The experience of going somewhere can be memorable and educational in its own right.

• Much of what your children will learn on the road is social and emotional rather than intellectual. They learn how to cope, how to adapt, how to be resilient and how to be brave. The challenges and difficulties that you face on the road will teach them all these things without any direct ‘teaching’ needed at all.

• Involve your children in making decisions about the content of their curriculum, particularly when it comes to choosing topics or themes. What would they most like to study during your learning journey together? You can teach subjects such as English or history through cross-curricular ‘themes’ rather than as discrete lessons. Ask your children to decide which topics interest them the most and capitalise on those.

• One of the great things about educating your child yourself is that you get to learn alongside them. Not only do you provide a model of lifelong learning, but it’s also very liberating to learn new things as an adult.

• Remember that teaching is not the same thing as learning. You don’t have to teach your children directly for a set number of hours each day in order to educate them. Learning can take place all the time, and anywhere, rather than just during ‘school’ hours. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or day of the week it is – if there is learning happening, then your child is being educated.

Contents include:


English Lessons

Stepping Out of the System

The Netherlands

Dutch Lessons

The Practicalities


German Lessons

Cultural Literacy


Italian Lessons

An Education


Portuguese Lessons

Travelling with Children


French Lessons

Pussycat Parenting


Chinese Lessons

A Road School Curriculum

Click here to read the review of ‘Road School’ on pages 10 and 11 in Personalised Education Now.

Picture for author Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley is a writer, presenter and teacher trainer, and the author of more than 25 books on education, including How to Survive your First Year in Teaching. Her international bestseller, Getting the Buggers to Behave, is a fixture on university lists, and has been translated into ten different languages. After training as an early years teacher, Sue taught English and drama in secondary schools in the UK and overseas, and she also worked as a supply teacher. She now spends her time writing educational books and articles and is a columnist for Teach Nursery, Teach Primary and Nursery World magazines. Sue works internationally as a teacher trainer, as well as volunteering in primary classrooms and helping to run her local preschool.

Click here to listen in on Sue's podcast with Pivotal Education 'How to fix education'.

Click here to read Sue's article in TeachTalks magazine 'Learning: Beyond the Walls' (p.20).

Click here to read Sue's article in TES 'What evidence does Amanda Speilman have to suggest nurseries don't teach nursery rhymes'.

Click here to read Sue Cowley’s blog.


  1. Road School - The story of a family who pulled their kids out of school for a home education adventure, back-packing across Europe and China Frustrated by a school regime of statutory testing, and keen for a mid-life adventure, bestselling author Sue Cowley and her partner took their children out of school to educate them on the road.

    Part comedy travelogue, part parenting guide, part educational philosophy, Road School asks you to consider what -˜an education' really means. In a world where schooling is increasingly being standardised, and where government testing puts ever more pressure on our youngest learners, Road School is the story of how one family stepped out of the system, and set off on the educational adventure of a lifetime.

    On their journey they experienced awesome historical sites, diverse cuisines and fantastic geographical phenomena. They also experienced whining kids, satnav disasters, and dodgy accommodation.

    This book is not about being the perfect parent - quite the opposite - it is about helping children to experience real life, warts and all, to broaden their horizons and widen their outlook on the world. There may be better ways to learn than tests, tests, tests and then some exams.

    With a merry philosophy of education and parenting that offers an attractive contrast to the mainstream focus on conformity and targeted achievement, Road School could be the invitation you've been waiting for!

    Sue is the author of some of the bestselling education books of all time. Her books offer a combination of stories, tips, ideas and strategies, written in an easily accessible and amusing way. Road School sees her branching out into advice for parents, as well as for educators.

    Sue is also an experienced teacher and subject co-ordinator. After training as an early years teacher, she taught English and drama in secondary schools in the UK and overseas, and she also worked as a supply teacher.

    She now spends her time writing educational books and articles, and she is a regular columnist forTeach Nursery, Teach Primary and Nursery World magazines as well as writing articles and columns for a number of other teaching publications, including theTES, Child Education, Junior Education andTeacher magazine.
  2. It's rare to find a book about education that is completely unique, but Sue Cowley's Road School is. Part travel guide, part memoir, part schooling discourse, it is a tale of one family's journey through Europe and China in search of an alternative educational experience for their children.

    Funny and self-deprecating, the book is a heart-warming glimpse into life on the road with this lovable family. Dad, Frank, quickly became a favourite character. His grumpy nature made for an entertaining read, particularly when you realised the only things that put a smile back on his face were spreadsheets, beer and the nights he didn't have to share a bedroom with his kids! Plus, anyone who's ever taken children on an educational trip will find Alfie and Edith's joy at the seagull eating the pigeon, while they were supposed to be appreciating St Mark's Basilica, both hilarious and instantly recognisable!

    As well as being entertaining, Cowley raises some important questions about the forms and purposes of education. Reading about her children visiting Anne Frank's house, seeing The Last Supper in person and being exposed to new places, cultures and ideas, it's not hard to see Cowley's point that education is much broader than the classroom. The book is also very practical. Each section ends with a summary of what the family learned in that particular country and some ideas about how to maximise the educational opportunities that come with travel. My favourite tip came from the China section: “There is no point in visiting another country and getting cross because people don't behave in the same way that people do back home.”

    All the way through the book, I kept thinking about the lasting memories that Alfie and Edith would have from their trip. There is something about travel that has a significant impact on you. When I was growing up, Ski Sunday would come on the TV and every week, without fail, my Dad would say, “I've been there.” We teased him mercilessly, of course, but his trip as a teenager had made him feel connected. He was proud to belong to a world bigger than his own country and has been to many other places since then. Likewise, my own travels have broadened my thinking and forced me into more nuanced understandings of people from different cultures.

    Forging a strong, personal affinity with other places seems like one of the most powerful antidotes we have against the current climate of nationalism and sweeping generalisations. We need to come face to face with the humanity of those who are different to us because we've been to where they are, talked to them, seen the amazing things they have offered the world. In Road School, Cowley offers people the opportunity to do this with and for their children. I hope they take her up on it.
  3. "I want to go travelling," and with that statement Sue convinces her family to embark on a six-month road trip around Europe and across to China before the children start their secondary school lives 

    Road School is a wonderful, personalised road diary, where famous sights and places are encountered and described through the eyes and experiences of the individual family members rather than a guide book. Many of Sue's humorous anecdotes will be recognisable to anyone who has travelled any distance with children.

    The book contains advice and guidance together with many useful tips for home-schooling on the road and in general. Curricular guidance and advice about experiential learning are woven in throughout the narrative as well as some useful general guidance when travelling with kids for any length of time!

    The underlying educational philosophy that one learns through doing and experience is always present. Sue also explores subjective issues such as cultural literacy, something that seems to be sadly lacking in much of the UK theses days. 

    This educational road trip is a great antidote to much of the current turgid research and polarised debate about what is and isn't learning. It is rather timely because it offers a challenge to the current perceived wisdom of the politicians, councils and schools who argue that every day of missed schooling disadvantages a child by 'x' amount. These folk (who feel threatened enough to take the 'school holidays issue' to the Supreme Court) may see many of the shortcomings of the current system highlighted by Sue's alternative vision.

    I have no hesitation recommending this book to all parents and teachers. It provides an alternative view and I'm sure it will broaden the mind.

    You can read the review here.
  4. The number of parents home-schooling their children has increased 65 per cent over the past six years.

    Sue Cowley's Road School meets these parents and interested educationists and, under a wandering star, offers them warmth, wit and practical tips on getting their adventures underway.

    Cowley writes an honest, funny and heart-warming account of the adventures she, her partner and their children enjoy as they take a few months off school to experience life on the road. It is a manifesto for the power of knowing your own children, establishing yourself as your child's first teacher and witnessing deep learning in the face of real experiences.

    Cowley's style is conversational and the accounts have the familiar resonance of any family meal, holiday or gathering. There are no rose-coloured specs regarding the reality of educating your own children or spending that much time in close quarters - we see the arguments, the tears and the laughter - yet the learning experiences they all enjoy are palpable.

    Fostering the intrinsic motivation to learn is writ large and evidenced again and again in the touching “aha” moments experienced by the children. When, for example, the family visit Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, the emotion is raw, for Sue in particular. Yet, it isn't until months later, on their return to the UK, that her daughter Edith takes Frank's diary from the bookshelf: “As she turned the final few pages, tears began to pour down her face. Her small body was wracked with sobs. She was inconsolable with grief for Anne.”

    We have all had children in our classrooms with an enthusiasm for something.

    The thread, which covers Edith's passion for Leonardo da Vinci, is a particularly interesting one for the teachers among us. As the family make a cross-sea, cross-land dash to deliver Edith to her all-time favourite painting, The Last Supper, we are reminded what gifts lie in the pursuit of our passions. In front of the painting Edith's jaw drops and one gets the impression that this wish fulfilled has made real for her the connection between dreams and their manifestation.

    No grand or carefully orchestrated plan is described in Road School. Instead it is a slightly haphazard, loosely organised yet purposeful path through Europe and beyond.

    Likewise, the short chapters comprise several moments that bear witness to learning opportunities, with helpful interspersed sections of practical tips on navigating the country explored. Each is followed by a section of support and information about the practicalities of home schooling, including details of the legal framework and parental responsibilities.

    In one of the sections in which Cowley makes her views on the education system plain, she points out that it is “pretty much unheard of for a three-year-old to be disaffected with education, but it is perfectly normal to talk about a thirteen-year-old feeling this way”. It is clear that the beliefs underpinning the book are that curiosity and engagement through experiential learning need to regain territory in the face of testing regimes and a disembodied national curriculum.

    The teacher in me didn't find in Road School an answer to how to bring learning through exploration and experience to bear in my school. Admittedly Cowley doesn't set out to provide these answers, but this teacher couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that I couldn't do more with the insights she provides.

    In some ways Road School is a lyrical piece, celebrating everything that the typical school experience fails to fulfil, and that can be a hard read. That said, the parent in me thoroughly enjoyed the book.

    I felt that I had just read a love letter to family life, to reconnecting with loved ones and to time well spent. A letter that made me want to pack my bags and, little one in tow, get learning.

    Click here to read the review on the Schools Week website.
  5. Road School is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Sue Cowley takes you on a journey with her family in a book that is not only educational but humourous and entertaining. Road School will encourage you to grab your back-pack and take off on your own family adventure -¦ but don't forget the kids. Life is an education and it is easy to forget that family time is one of the most important educational moments of our childhood.

    Road School has a great mixture of handy tips and tricks for going abroad with children, mixed in with interesting, and often very funny stories, about their family experiences exploring Europe.

    Entertain The Kids highly recommends Road School.

    Click here to read the review on the Entertain The Kids website.
  6. The sense of wonder and adventure in Sue Cowley's engaging account is palpable. Travel is one of the great educators and there is no more exciting and effective way of learning than through experience. At a time when ministers would have our children do little more than sit in a classroom, Road School suggests an alternative which is every bit as valid and powerful as conventional learning.
  7. Cowley's Road School is an entertaining, accessible and practical guide to home education on the road.
  8. Road School is an inspirational and lyrical journey, offering the reader a unique approach to home schooling on the road. Crossing continents with her partner and children, Sue describes how it is possible to offer an exciting and enriching curriculum, which eclipses conventional schooling by travelling and exploring the world. Any parent or teacher who reads this book will find themselves imagining life on the road with their children and many will adopt this approach. It is a magnificent book which will start an educational revolution, mirroring Sue's awe-inspiring angle on education.
  9. Road School is a rip-roaring romp through Europe and China. It is not only the story of a family, which kept me chuckling out loud, but also a reflection on both parenting and education and politics today.

    Anyone who teaches, and anyone who has a family of their own, will enjoy this book - not just for the entertainment value, but also for Sue's insights into what is really important when you work, and live, with children.

    This book is an inspiration. I might not be off for six months, but I am certainly eyeing my suitcases with a glint in my eye and a bit more bravery.

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