HED0458

Written evidence submitted by Kate Pearce

 

 

I am a fully qualified teacher and a full time home educator of my two young children. My written evidence will highlight the following.

 

 

  1. Educating your child at home is still treated with suspicion. It is believed that children can only learn appropriately and be successful contributors to society, if they are directed by a teacher and are within a formal school setting for the majority of their childhood. Any acknowledgement of home education is very closely followed by the disadvantages. Schools are not presented in the same way and are still perceived as the only, truly valid option available. This undermines the thousands of children who successfully learn away from formal schooling. This review, is an important step in establishing a more positive approach to the essence of home education and to recognise it as a justified and viable option for the education of children in the 21st century.

 

  1. Clearly there are serious concerns for the welfare of some children in this country, both inside and outside school. Off rolling, illegal educational settings and safeguarding are extremely valid fears and policies and procedures need reviewed in light of these. But these issues are not exclusive to the realms of home education, yet they completely overshadow and dominate the limited discourse and feed the dialogue of deviance we endure in the home educating community. Barely any time is dedicated to acknowledging the success stories of home education thus rendering it completely misunderstood and utterly devalued in society.

 

  1. Home educating parents face scepticism and criticism from family, friends and often members of the public. This is certainly fuelled by the dialogue surrounding home education which always focusses on the “danger” children face being away from school. It never focuses on the vast majority of parents who choose to home educate out of love and the knowledge that it is the right choice for their child and family. These parents are often pioneers in new and transformative ways to facilitate their children’s learning. But credit is not given, due to the need to “deal with the problem” of home education, rather than seek to further understand its benefits.

 

  1. There are a multitude of valid reasons why parents and children may seek alternatives to school. Recently there have been key questions asked about the long term effect of schooling in its current form and the limitations it has for some. You cannot fully support home educated children without acknowledging the challenges posed by schools and without actively seeking the positives home education offers.

 

  1. If the government fear a rise in home education, especially post Covid-19, then they need to focus much more time in reflecting on why it is rising. Any review of why home education is on the increase, should go hand-in-hand with a review of how schools operate in the 21st-century. How can you propose to “regulate” something, which you do not fully understand? The government need to be more open minded to the transformations needed within education. More research needs to be commissioned into learning away from school and better relationships need to be built with the home educating community. Home education should not be merely viewed as an act of defiance. Home education and self-directed learning are key allies in educational change for all children.
  2. The childhood experience has changed exponentially in recent years, yet our approach to education has not. We are holding on tighter, pushing children harder, controlling and testing more. Children and families deserve more options in how and where they learn. Children need more time to discover their passions. There should not be a one size fits all approach.

 

  1. Many people continue to believe it is impossible, even immoral for children to learn away from school/LA control. Home educators spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with direct attacks on their choices from people threatened by this challenge to the norm or people who are so “schooled” themselves that they feel emphatically that all children need to follow traditional standardised schooling. What is the government/LA doing to dispel these myths or do they, too, still believe them?

 

  1. The prevailing message from the government is that children need to be in a school. Parents are deemed to be ill equipped, inadequate and misguided. Covid-19 has further fuelled discrimination towards home educators, with the government stating on twitter that schools are the safest and best places to be, not just for children’s education, but for their wellbeing” (31/10/20). Home education is plagued by stereotypes and misunderstanding and statements such as these, further fuel negative opinions of home education. Suggesting, by default, that learning away from school is rarely good enough and is even damaging to a child’s wellbeing.

 

  1. During lockdown 2020, some families saw a change in their child’s approach to learning and witnessed positive impacts on their mental health and have subsequently, deregistered them from school. Many parents have gained the confidence they needed to make the leap away from the norm and explore a different path. It would be very easy and convenient to try and explain this away by stating it is mostly due to parental fear of Covid-19. This would be naïve. Changes in formal education are gaining popularity across the globe. John Holt, Sir Ken Robinson, psychologist Peter Gray and Kerry MacDonald, for example, have advocated the power of self-directed learning and revolutionising how we perceive and undertake education, especially the power of home learning. The Government should be at the cutting edge of these new and transformative dialogues.

 

  1. Most people feel reassured that I am a teacher and therefore I am “qualified” to teach my children yet some of the most inspiring home educators in our community are not teachers. Home educating communities are a powerful resource. They offer a support network internationally, nationally and locally; offering advice and a wide variety of opportunities to enrich learning. These networks exist without LA intervention and are very much the main port of call for the majority of new home educators. They are created by the community and for the community. Most people do not realise that a growing home education community exists. Perhaps post Covid-19, this awareness will improve. Home education needs to be actively acknowledged as a positive opportunity for those willing to undertake it appropriately (as stated in the conclusions of the 2012 review). More time needs to be invested in alternatives to traditional schooling. Home educating families do not feel empowered by government.

 

  1. How can home education be rightly validated if the government do not actively seek to understand and learn from this community? As grateful as I am for the platform to speak of the positives of home education, the very fact that this call for evidence asks to highlight these, demonstrates very clearly that not enough is known at the highest levels to establish this thus far.

 

  1. Home education is a continuation of a child’s essential, natural love of informal learning.
  2. Learning is entirely personalised and based on passions.
  3. The power of dialogue and questioning is fully utilised, allowing significant cross subject learning and accessible learning “on the go”.
  4. There is power to their voice. Children have significantly more control over their day to day learning, physical and emotional needs.
  5. More is achievable and a greater depth of learning occurs in a shorter space of time due to parents/tutor/child ratio.
  6. Freedom to tailor a child’s day to fit in with their needs and when they learn best.
  7. Children are not forced into mastering skills when they are not ready and do not feel judged or held back by the performance of their peers.
  8. Learning at a pace and at a level which entirely suits the child.
  9. Inherent flexibility with a broader recognition of a child’s individuality.
  10. Discovering a learning style which fully suits the individual.
  11. Exploring relevant learning opportunities as and when they happen rather than being restricted by what is “next” on the curriculum or timetable. 
  12. Freedom to discover, explore and indulge their passions.
  13. Harness the power of learning through play beyond the early years.
  14. Children maintain a spirit of adventure and are willing to take more risks
  15. Significantly more time spent with family, learning alongside each other. Children see that learning is life long and not compartmentalised.
  16. Learning from other children of varying ages rather than just adults.
  17. Learning within and through society, rather than separated from it. 
  18. Freedom to experience more of the wonders and variety of life through trips, visits and travel. Learning through experience and reality.
  19. Freedom to learn both in/outdoors and to create a learning environment suitable for your child’s needs.
  20. Wide variety of opportunities to connect with other families through groups and extracurricular clubs.
  21. Global learning and skill sharing through 21st Century technological advances.
  22. Opportunities to undertake formal qualifications via tutors, distance learning or at learning centres (although currently limited), at a stage which suits the individual.
  23. The mastery of self-directed study and reliance upon themselves as information finders, means that learning is something they do for themselves not what is done to them.
  24. Learning has clear purpose and relevance.
  25. Learning and life are not separate entities

 

  1. The stigma of the Government/LA role in home education sadly still remains. Words such as “inspection” and “registration” again feed this dialogue of deviance. It is not appropriate to subcontract the LA with its school hat on, to come and tick box families who are tailoring an educational experience for their children, often utilising progressive means to facilitate their child’s learning. If the only way you know how to judge education, is how well it reflects the processes of school, then you are going to struggle to assess the learning outside the classroom which is often purposely facilitated differently.

 

  1. If the state is inspecting a school it is because the parents and the state have entrusted that establishment to provide for the children in its care. Similarly, I agree, if an establishment is taking responsibility for the vast majority of a child’s education away from school, they too should be answerable to authorities. But the state have not entrusted me with my children. So to then deem that I also need “inspected” is not a useful term. Assuming the worst yet not fully acknowledging, advocating or supporting the good. Should all families of schooled children expect home visits to establish whether the values of their schooling are being upheld in the home? The potential statutory register and inspection seem to go hand in hand yet the review of 2012 rightly acknowledged the “heavy handedness” of this approach. Both of these terms contribute to the continued dialogue of deviance.

 

  1. Some families including my own, have chosen to exercise their current right to not involve in the LA in the education of their children. My children were never registered at school, but both have birth registrations and see medical professionals regularly. We are not “unseen” and we are not deviant. The general consensus I have ascertained through personal connections and online home education networks, is that the “support” offered by LA continues to be underfunded, varied in its involvement, often still school focussed and a stress inducing connection rather than a fruitful one. Is this an appealing prospect for those of us who have chosen to not register?  What do you actually currently gain from informing the LA that you home educate? If the LA offered a huge positive benefit to families, then more would be keen to engage or at least appreciate the option to. The majority of families have nothing to hide, yet due to lack of investment, understanding and actual positive involvement, they feel they have plenty to fear.

 

  1. All loving parents want their children to be educated but some do not see it necessary to be schooled. But those outside of the school system face having to over justify their life to a LA in a way that schooled families do not. When parents realise that school is not suitable for their child, not all are comfortable to be entirely alone. They would very much value external support that validated their choices. Even for those who manage very successfully, it feels as though you are set up for inevitable failure because you dared to think and act differently. You live with the threat of being inspected, regulated and checked by the authorities yet not offered anything positive, proactive or useful in return. Robert Halfon MP stated that this review was to ensure that “disadvantaged children are not disadvantaged further still by the system”; yet all home educated children are disadvantaged by default because the current view point is school is the gold standard and the LA are just waiting for you to realise this. The school attendance order is lauded over home educators by LA as their ultimate power to wield. We cannot continue to view education in such limited terms.

 

  1. I am extremely grateful to live in a country where the government rightly continue to recognise the right to home educate, but the need to protect the image of schooling means that the validity of home education based on choice, is not given the credit it is owed. The LA need to be fully equipped to not merely police the problem but to actively promote the possibilities.

 

  1. Any discussions on a register, or review of the LA role, should be preceded by a huge investment in understanding why children are educated otherwise and how children learn away from school. There should be a very clear message that the government see the benefits of home education and it being a viable option for families who are willing and able to sacrifice the time and dedication needed to fully support their child. Cambridgeshire County Council for example, have published updated guidance in September 2020 stating that they “recognise that there are many diverse and varied, yet equally valid approaches” to educating otherwise and want to “promote mutual understanding and trust”. How powerful this could be if it was a national acknowledgement?

 

  1. The classic negative response to home education are issues surrounding socialisation. I am unsure whether there is an actual agreement about what this means and whether school, even, fulfils this need. It is a myth which presides and seeks to undermine the overwhelming positives of home education and the classic criticism home educator’s face. The vast majority of home educated children spend significant amounts of time within society and interact with a range of individuals of different ages. There are a multitude of groups and activities available for children and home educating parents spend much more time creating these diverse social opportunities for their children than many schooled families would. Our education is not in fact often “at home”. It was a huge negative blow for this significant aspect of our education to be halted by covid-19 restrictions.

 

  1. However, the biggest negative of home education in this country continues to be its lack of positive and informed recognition at both government and societal level. The Covid-19 situation showed that there are a diverse range of learning tools and educational programmes available, allowing education to take place away from traditional settings. Until now, most working partnerships have been forged by home educators through hard work and dedication or by forward thinking education teams. Post lockdown, many more organisations have created home learning links and experiences which is a huge positive. But we have only scratched the surface of its possibilities. Is there an inclination to pursue this further? Do the government fear that any formal accolade for home education, lays bare the inadequacies in some schools?

 

  1. Covid-19 lockdown showed that it is entirely possible for the government to commission educational media, content and connections to further benefit learning away from the classroom, yet this again was not explored to its full potential. The home schooling during this time was, of course, very different from our reality. We need to think outside of the box on how education is delivered and tested in this country. Recognising that not all children thrive in a school environment and not all parents want their children in a school full time. It would be hypocritical to cast a judgmental eye and raise concerns about the education of children outside of school yet not seek out ways to fully understand it and enrich the lives of these children. If the government are so concerned about the provision for these children, what are they offering in terms of genuine support?

 

  1. I am encouraged by this review and very grateful for the opportunity to offer my opinion. I am not naïve to the issues posed by educating otherwise but the balance of discourse needs to be reset. If the government rightly continue to recognise that it is the duty of the parent to educate their child and it is the right of the parent to choose how their child is educated; they should change the dialogue to reflect this right. It must dramatically shift from focusing on problems and panic to exploring and validating this approach to learning; actively seeking out the positive impact its principles have and could have on educating all children.


    November 2020