Educating children at home

26th April 2018

BBC Radio Scotland
Call Kaye show

I contributed to a lively phone-in on home schooling today, which centred around the increase in home schooling and was viewed by many of the home schooling lobbyists as a reflection of parents’ dissatisfaction with schools. A recent Oxford University Press study has found a rise of 40% in children being educated at home based on data from 2016 – 2017 from 177 Local Education Authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Interestingly, there seems to be some correlation between higher rates of home schooling in local authorities with a higher proportion of unsatisfactory or failing schools as judged by OFSTED, for example, The Isle of Wight. An article by Mariam Issimdar on The BBC web site summarises this:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42624220
After hearing from various parents and their children about the benefits of home education I was asked to offer a professional Educational Psychologist’s perspective and started by pointing out that the very word ‘education’ derives from the Latin ‘educare’, which means to draw out and that all children have to engage in a process of separation and individuation in order to be drawn out, to develop and to learn. I also said that having spent my career working to identify and support individual children’s needs and abilities I appreciated the fact that some parents might choose the home education option but that in an ideal world schools would be resourced and staffed in such a way that this balance of meeting individual needs and ensuring a child’s full development and of reaching their full potential would be ensured. I also brought up the fact that large-scale studies and their statistical results rarely provided the individual detail of parents and children who had gone down the home schooling route, which was very much needed in order to address the underlying issues.
The reasons for making the choice to home educate that I heard were:

  • a lack of trust in schools to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing, for example, to meet the needs of children with additional emotional needs and also to address bullying and social exclusion amongst their pupils
  • A lack of confidence in schools to provide high quality education, meeting individual needs and abilities
  • An ideological objection to children being educated in large numbers, e.g. 30 to a class
  • A belief that parents know their children best and can therefore provide a better education
    The questions that came up for me were:
  • How can parents/carers offer the professional objectivity and neutrality that is required to ensure clear boundaries, structures and expectations around behaviour, study and socialisation?
  • How can children engage in the psycho-social and emotional separation over time that is necessary for developing the ideal social proficiency, emotional resilience and independence of adulthood if they are educated at home?
  • Can the education at home experience truly expand a child’s world in the way that most schools do?
  • How can parents’ own experience of schools be kept in perspective when they have to consider the individual and unique needs of their children? Some home schooling parents may be actively screening the social world of their child and even, in some cases operating in an isolationist manner
  • What resources and experience are necessary to ensure an appropriate education and are some parents distinctly advantaged with respect to this? In addition, is the home education option only available to some parents? In other words is it fair?
  • How can schools individualise children’s learning experiences and respond flexibly to children’s interests at the same time as providing a broad, balanced, relevant curriculum
    The current situation in law is that it falls to parents to ensure their child has full-time education from the age of five years and there is no mandate for the child to follow the National Curriculum. In addition, if a child has Special Educational Needs these are only of legal significance if the child has gone through the process of statutory assessment and has an Education, Health and Care (EHC)Plan. The local council of the local authority in which the child is resident can make an ‘informal enquiry’ about the suitability of the child’s educational arrangements but has few powers in law with regard to this unless it decides to make a ‘School Attendance Order’ against the parent/carer. The Department for Education in England is consulting schools with regards to their rights and responsibilities in order to issue guidance on quality of education and safeguarding issues. In addition a bill to make provision for local authorities to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education, and for connected purposes is being proposed. One of its stipulations is that the child must, in law, receive educational input on reading, writing and numeracy appropriate to their age and needs. This has resulted primarily from councils wanting more monitoring rights and The Association of Directors of Social Services (ADCS) in England pushing for parents to be obligated to register their children as home-educated. At present The Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill [HL] 2017-19 is going through the House of Lords, has just had a second reading and is at committee stage.
    Some final thoughts
    All children receive home education, however most have education at school as well.
    On balance, I think this is a healthy and effective way of supporting children’s development and learning. However, as I said in the programme, schools, just like homes and parents, are not perfect and constantly need to be developing and evolving to meet all their children’s needs better. I think that key to this is good communication between home and school. Right from the start parents need to be consulted on their expectations, values and concerns and they should feel confident and comfortable to ask questions of the school. Schools have to make more explicit their intent and their arrangements to ensure children’s wellbeing and safety as well as engaging in the continued thrust to raise standards and attainment. They also need to keep the holy grail of multi-professionalism in their sights and ensure multi-agency communication/liaison and collaboration with public services such as the police, social services, health and community organisations. I am not suggesting, as most of the home educators who contacted the programme seemed to be doing, that it is a question of either/or. There are always likely to be some particular situations and children who will do best with home education and that option is viable as long as it is appropriately monitored by Local Authorities.

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