Why I am doing a UMA (Unschooled Master of Arts).

After 6 years of informal study around the subjects of parenting theory and culture, childhood, children’s rights, and systems of education, through a personal, social, political, historical, feminist, social justice lens, I have decided to take a more formal approach for a period of time, in the form of a masters programme. I have a taught undergraduate degree from the University of St. Andrews in Modern History – which focused on social history, including women’s history, the history of medicine and mental illness, the history of midwifery, the civil rights movement, and the transatlantic slave trade with a dissertation on Jewish resistance to the Holocaust. A postgraduate degree feels like the appropriate next step.

My first idea was to investigate whether a suitable masters programme existed at a UK university that suited my areas of interest: the theory that the key to transformative social change is found via shifting parent/child education/child dynamics to a human rights model. I came across the Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights MA offered by the Institute of Education at UCL, which looks like a close match.

However, I hit three stumbling blocks that woke me up to an opportunity.

Firstly, the cost of the course. The full time one year MA currently costs £7,145 (£15,525 for students from overseas). There would of course be the additional costs of commuting into central London. The only way to cover the cost, would be to take some kind of loan or pay by credit card. At the moment our budget does not allow for saving for this kind of ‘luxury’ – our finances are totally accounted for in the day to day essentials of living. So straight off the cost is a big barrier to my learning and participation in the course.

Secondly, my existing commitments. As a children’s rights orientated person, my time is very much committed to facilitating an unschooling environment for my children,  contributing to our local home educating community, and writing on children’s rights issues for my blog, our local newspaper and other publications. I also have the commitment of a part-time job in a supermarket which is essential for our financial sustainability.

Thirdly – potential limitations of the course. For my theories to be explored, I need to take an agile cross discipline approach that is not in keeping with the traditional higher education format. I don’t want my studies to be limited by the siloing of knowledge – sociology vs. history vs. psychology etc, and I also want to keep it tightly focused on my particular area of interest. I was concerned that I might find the IOE masters programme restrictive or some parts less relevant to my direction of study.

I realised that there was a simple solution to the situation, and one that I am familiar with exactly because of my areas of interest: I should unschool the masters.

Here are the benefits I realised I would experience by taking an unschooling approach:

  1. My desire to learn and deepen my studies would not render myself and my family in thousands of pounds worth of debt.
  2. I could manage my study time around my other commitments, also avoiding the ‘lost’ time (and cost) associated with commuting to central London for the course.
  3. I could uniquely tailor the course to align with my specific areas of interest – I get to be the course creator as well as the course follower.
  4. The act of doing the masters programme by unschooling would also act as a hypothesis test for my own theories about education, learners and learning – I would be practicing what I preach in a very tangible and measurable way.
  5. I could bridge the gap between public and private spaces for learning – rather than conduct my studies within a closed institution, I could conduct them in public sharing every step of the course and my work via a free blog platform.

I realise that by doing the Masters independently, I will be missing out on certain things that studying with an institution offers. However I believe there are creative ways to address that.

Using the IOE course as inspiration, over the next weeks, months (and possibly years), I am going to be constructing my cross discipline UMA – Unschooled Master of Arts – in Children’s Rights, Parenthood and Education. I will be drawing up the course content, designing the core modules and their accompanying written assignments, and completing them. I intend to read, watch and listen to lectures and other resources, and participate in and create opportunities for debate and discussion. I will seek mentors, and I will self assess and self accredit. If anyone is interested in participating with me in any aspect of this, you are very welcome.

I will be blogging every step, with a view that sharing my research might be of interest to others who wish to explore this area, and that my approach might empower others to forgo debt and construct their own rigorous UMAs, sharing their experiences and writings with others for free.

This UMA is my social justice minded, progressive education hack of formal learning and higher education. Wish me luck!


26 thoughts on “Why I am doing a UMA (Unschooled Master of Arts).

  1. I have a masters in educational sociology and would be happy to help. I am personally interested in the children’s rights aspect of the UMA since that is not something I have studied at length during my time in formal university. Sincerely, Anna


  2. Wow – what an inspiration you are. I love what you have written here and have just discovered your blog too. I am thrilled that you are blogging your journey with this UMA – thank you. I am a home educator and passionate children’s rights activist and am delighted to find your clear thoughts and passionate views. I have not yet started to blog about it – seem to have a bit of a block with writing stuff down but you are another inspiration to get going.

    I wish you the very best of luck with your UMA and hope that I might participate in some of it with you – what a great invitation.
    Best wishes, Jo


    1. Hi Jo – thank you so much for your supportive comments! Do you have an email address that I could contact you on re: participation? Would be great to build a list of people who are interested. If you can find time to write, go for it! Big Magic by Liz Gilbert is a really inspirational book. Best wishes, Sophie


  3. Love this – i was thinking along exactly the same line, I completed my masters last year and was looking for a phd – but have the same principle concerns as you, finance, unschooling my son. i realised it wasnt the qualification that was important but the research and progression of ideas. My subject is mindful arts and creative meditation as a means to self actualisation and personal empowerment. I will really look forward to your blogs – Helen


    1. Hi Helen, thanks for posting! Unschooling your PHD – what a great idea 🙂 Your subject matter is so interesting, and important work. Thank you for your supportive words, and wishing you all the best in return. Sophie x


  4. Hi Sophie, I run The Garden, an autonomous education project in Bristol, and have been thinking about doing something similar to this, so it’s definitely an idea whose time has come. I’d love to join you in your studies. I have a feeling this could turn into something quite special! Thank you for your inspiration.


    1. Hi Emma! Lovely to see your comment here 🙂 that is so awesome that you have been thinking along the same lines – supporting each other is the way forward! Will contact you via FB for your email address. xxx


  5. This sounds awesome! I’ve been taking ‘Future Learn’ courses around my areas of interest and find the way they use group chats as a way for students to discuss ideas and share other resources really good. Is that the sot of model you’ll be using so others can get involved? I’d definitely be interested.


    1. Hi Sheena – thank you that is really great advice. What is your email address and I will add you to the list of people interested in participating. I think group chats are a really smart way to facilitate a UMA. Best, Sophie


  6. Hi Sophie, What a brilliant idea! I’m an advocate for autonomous learning and equal dignity in Germany and enabling it as far as possible for our kids here (unschooling is not permitted under German law but there are alternatives). Our kids attend an alternative school here that is about as close as you can get to unschooling within the law. I started a blog about our autonomous learning experiences but only in German so far. I had been thinking about some kind of formal course but only online. The other constraints you list also apply ;-). I’d be really interested in participating in your UMA in whatever way possible. So inspiring and what a great way to experience unschooling and the kind of autonomous learning we want to enable for our kids firsthand. Thanks so much for sharing!


    1. Hi Karen – so great to hear from you! I would be really interested to know more about the unschooling school you have found in Germany – I’m involved with the democratic ed movement here in the UK and always interested in seeing what is being created in other places. Why not start your own UMA? I’ve just finished writing about my initially planning stage which you might find useful although I am sure you would find it common sense. I am going to be setting up a discussion group for my UMA, probably via Facebook group – if you would like to be involved I would appreciate it massively!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Sophie, Thanks, I’d love to share experiences and am also keen to learn more about UK-based projects. How is the best way to connect? I’m on Facebook and yes, I would love to be involved in the UMA group. As for starting my own UMA, well you certainly have got me thinking! 😄


  7. Oh this sounds fantastic Sophie! I’d love to get involved if possible. I’m a lawyer and legal researcher by training so I’d be happy to help with the rights aspect if that’s needed.


    1. Hi Suzanne! Thank you so much for commenting and for your support – your offer of help is gratefully received! I am planning on creating a Facebook group to facilitate this type of thing, I will let you know when it is in action and if it works for you as a model then would be brilliant to have you involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh this sounds wonderful Sophie. I’m a lawyer and legal researcher by training so I’d be happy to help with the rights aspect if that would be useful.


  9. Hi Sophie,
    I have learned so much from your blogs already, and so interested in child rights and the intersection of patriarchy, parenting, and healing the inner child. I unschool in the US with my family. The UMA idea is blowing my mind, thanks so much for your writing and sharing! Really looking forward to learning more.


    1. Hi Katie – it is so great to hear from you. Healing the inner child – you are so spot on with that. I’m beginning to realise more and more how central and essential that is to all of this. All love to you and your family in your unschooling, and thanks again for making contact. Sophie xxx


  10. This initiative is very inspiring! I would love to make a small contribution drawn from my teaching experience and current work as a Residential Child Care Worker for a local authority.


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