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Homeschool Grad Critiques Government Report on Homeschooling
Review of the New South Wales parliamentary enquiry into homeschooling
By Rebbecca Devitt
The New South Wales Government has recently concluded a parliamentary enquiry into homeschooling. This enquiry will directly affect the whole population of homeschoolers in NSW and perhaps have some flow on effects to other states and territories around Australia. After requesting submissions from the general public (of which more than 270 were presented), a 300–page report was then published.[i] The report has 24 recommendations. I will be addressing the most relevant in this article.
Although the requested submissions were mostly positive, the committee’s overall response to the homeschooling was not. In fact, the committee had a negative response to homeschooling and omitted criticism of the government school system. Homeschooling experts also felt the committee’s acceptance of information for the final report was “ideologically driven.” Education lecturer Rebecca English, and her colleagues, who gave evidence at the meetings noted:
The evidence regarding school failure and home education success was largely missing from the body of the inquiry report. Minutes of committee meetings…show over 100 paragraphs were deleted from the draft report. Most of these deletions contained evidence of problems within schools and/or evidence of successful home education outcomes…These removals appear ideologically driven and fundamentally change the message communicated by the report. It seems that even in a parliamentary inquiry into home schooling it was felt necessary to protect the school system from criticism. One result of this has been media reports suggesting that home education presents a risk to children—despite the committee receiving evidence to the contrary.[ii]
The committee doesn’t appear to have grasped that homeschooling is not school at home. School is an institution where 20+ children are taught by one teacher using a (usually) government approved curriculum. Homeschooling is often one–on–one teaching where the curriculum is mostly parent–led (bar the absolute basics). The committee shows that they do not understand that homeschooling is not school at home by saying the government will change the definition of ‘homeschooling’ to ‘home education’ in order to recognise the fact that homeschooling is not ‘school at home.’ The government plans to encourage homeschooling families in standardised school testing (NAPLAN testing)—just like schools. The government still believes homeschoolers will be badly educated without school–like training and testing.
NAPLAN[iii] testing is the focus of recommendation 5. Standardised government testing doesn’t usually sit well with many homeschooling parents as it goes against many of the reasons they chose to homeschool in the first place. For instance, many want to escape worrying their children about having to live up to an unhelpful comparative standard.
Recommendation 17 demonstrates the committee’s lack of faith in homeschooling parents. The committee wants to monitor homeschooling populations more closely in order to “identify and improve the collection and reporting of data related to child protection matters.” While states should be concerned about protecting children, some have suggested it would be more reasonable to spend the time monitoring families with a track record of child abuse (and stop these abusive families from homeschooling). Recommendation 17 implies that homeschoolers are more prone to abusing their children than other families—a conclusion that has no evidence behind it.[ix]
Another aspect of government control that alarms many homeschool parents is inspections. Even though evidence doesn’t show homeschoolers monitored by inspectors do better than homeschoolers without inspectors, the committee has recommended the continuation of visits, despite the presence of inspectors at times presenting a barrier to homeschooling registration (something the committee expressly wanted to avoid). Other parents feel judged and undermined by inspectors. They find their visits are stressful and disruptive. [v]
Not all parents find an inspector’s visit unhelpful or stressful. Some have not encountered issues with inspectors. These parents feel the inspector’s goals are that children are educated and that inspectors give a lot of leeway for parents to make their own goals, so long as they are working towards the educational goals.[iv]
Inspectors have also been introduced in order to police child abuse. But, this monitoring is done effectively by homeschooling groups—something the committee has recognised. They have recommended the Board of Studies find out how to promote the membership of homeschoolers into homeschooling organisations.[vi] This measure aims to increase a child’s social skills and broaden their engagement with the community in order to ensure their wellbeing and safety. It also aims to encourage collaborative learning and socialisation.[vii]
The committee also promotes another government organiser for homeschoolers. A new position of Assessment and Support Officer will be created. Its purpose is to provide support and guidance to homeschooling applicants. This role will be in addition to the inspector role. They will aim to ensure students have an educational program that meets the government’s syllabus requirements.
But, homeschoolers want to meet their own needs (avoiding bullying, medical reasons, ideological reasons and employment opportunity reasons)—not those of the government. Therefore, a support officer—who wants to ensure syllabus requirements are adhered to—is just another glorified inspector.
In addition, parents who homeschool are generally unimpressed with the government’s advice and support methods. This is why they start homeschooling. The creation of this position may lead to lead to further non–registration, and the government is disappointed in the number of non–registrants already. The trust between the government and homeschool parents appears to be waning in NSW.
Nevertheless, the committee made some advances. For instance, committee members recommended further training for inspectors with homeschooling representatives able to have an input. [x] Homeschooling parents will be represented as members of a consultative group that writes policy and oversees the relationship between BOSTES (the government’s educational standards board) and the homeschooling population.[xi] The information package given to prospective homeschool parents will then be reviewed in consultation with key stakeholders.[xii]
Another step forward for the homeschooling community has been the recognition of para–academic educational experiences. The committee has decided to recognise educational experiences that occur outside of the home—experiences that can be incorporated into the educational program and syllabus i.e. work experience or flying lessons.[xiii] The committee has also decided that homeschooling organisations should be encouraged to develop and implement strategies that promote increased support for homeschooling families.[xvii]
Also, the committee has agreed to write and implement policies which ensure homeschoolers have access and participation rights in Hospital School Programs.[xiv] This measure is to address the reality that some programs that are accessible to high school students are inaccessible to homeschoolers. Some parents feel this lack of access puts their homeschooled children at a disadvantage. The committee has also recommended BOSTES find ways to increase access/give resources to homeschoolers. This will be done in consultations with homeschooling families.[xv]
Other barriers potentially being torn down relate the Higher School Certificate. The government has decided to investigate homeschoolers’ access to the HSC. The committee however did not recommend changes to the current situation that bars homeschool graduates from receiving the certificate, but it is hoped they will find ways award the HSC to students who wish to be so credited.[xvi]
Thankfully, there are many ways to enter tertiary studies in Australia. Universities sometimes allow students to undertake a few units of the course at full charge and then allow them in, provided they achieve satisfactory marks. There is also an international certificate that homeschoolers can aspire to that gives entry globally to universities. Aspiring students don’t need HSC scores to advance their education.
BOSTES has also agreed to provide information to homeschooling applicants about the options that exist for financial assistance.[xviii] This is not to say they will give homeschoolers money. This position is sad because homeschooling is an inexpensive option for the government compared to public school. Given that every public school student costs the government far more than homeschool students, funding is a valid request (at present, the only financial help the committee has agreed to is a student card [xix]). Guy Tebbutt, former president of Australia’s Home Education Association, put it this way in his submission to the committee:
Based on these figures [xx], home educated families are missing out on between $3,300 to $13,600 of funding per student. The government invests billions into schools, but $0 into home education, except for the costs of legislation and regulation. This represents a significant shortfall that home educators deal with on a 4 of 9 daily basis. The average home educating family must forego the income of one parent to enable that parent to stay home and school the children.[xxi]
As an answer to the committees questions on financial assistance, Tebbutt says,
“Given that the government currently pays people to be unemployed, it seems logical and reasonable that it would be a better investment to support home educators that are actively raising and educating children to be quality members of our society.” [xxii]
The committee also raised concern over unschooling families. Unschooling families are families that allow their children as much freedom as the parents can possibly bear (i.e. children can drive their own education and parents are only there as a tutor or resource). Unschooling families have been described by some as “unparenting” families. These children have no direction, unlike homeschooling, and can do whatever they wish, including pick their bedtime, the type of food they eat and the activities they do. Unschooling families, they felt, may be at risk of child abuse by educational neglect. [xxiii] Whether these concerns are valid, the writer does not know. However, unschooling families appeared to raise quite an alarm among the committee. Some of the alarm surrounding educational neglect probably flavoured the committee’s attitude toward homeschooling in general.
It is hoped the parliamentary inquiry will bring about change for the better in both homeschooling practice and the stigma associated with homeschooling. All homeschooling families are very different from one another. Therefore, an inquiry into homeschooling will only ever bring out generalisations. Many of the measures used to beneficially regulate unschoolers and neglectful homeschoolers will hurt or constrain genuine parents who wish to provide and outstanding learning environment for their children.
Rebbecca Devitt is an Australian homeschool graduate. She has authored a book on homeschooling and maintains a blog on Christian homeschooling.
[ii] Karleen Gribble et al. ‘Evidence of home schooling success erased from inquiry report’ (2014) The Conversation <http://theconversation.com/evidence-of-home-schooling-success-erased-from-inquiry-report-35087>
[iii] National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy.
[iv] See Recommendation 8 and 11.
[v] Brian Ray, ‘Academic Achievements and Demographic Traits of Homeschool Students’ (2010) Home National Home Education Research Institute 8 (1) <http://www.nheri.org/AcademicAchievementAndDemographicTraitsOfHomeschoolStudentsRay2010.pdf>. Also see Slatter cited in Johnnie Seago ‘A Third Reason to Home School: Leadership Development’ Volume 28, No. 1, 2012, p. 1–7. Statistics clearly show higher degrees of regulation produce no better results among homeschooled children. States which required parents to send results to education board and who required professional evaluation of their homeschool programs scored in the 87th percentile. Scoring exactly the same mark were states that required no, or very low regulation for students.
[vi] Recommendation 16.
[vii] Select Committee on Homeschooling ‘Homeschooling in New South Wales’ Parliamentary Inquiry Report (2015) Parliament of NSW: Legislative Council [7.25–7.26] <http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Prod/Parlment/committee.nsf/0/3a5b892ff6c728b6ca257da50019b2d0/
[viii] Recommendation 9.
[ix] See article and comments section, ‘Evidence of home schooling success erased from inquiry report.’
[x] Recommendation 10.
[xi] Recommendation 12. ‘Membership of the consultative group to include at least four home schooling representatives and at least four others nominated by BOSTES for their knowledge and expertise in primary and secondary education and the education of children with disabilities.’
[xii] Recommendation 14
[xiii] Recommendation 15
[xiv] Recommendation 19
[xv] Recommendation 23.
[xvi] Recommendation 18
[xvii] Recommendation 24.
[xviii] Recommendation 21.
[xix] Recommendation 22.
[xx] AIS ‘Key School Funding Facts’ NSW Parent’s Council <http://parentscouncil.nsw.edu.au/_literature_93221/Key_School_Funding_Facts>.
[xxi] Submission # 68 for the Inquiry into Homeschooling NSW Government <http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/5FD34464E6504CEFCA257D330078CE57>.
[xxii] Guy Tebbutt ‘Answers to Questions on Notice and additional information: Mr Guy Tebbutt’ NSW Parliamentary Enquiry into Homeschooling <http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/502eccac289c2a56ca257d7200083379/
[xxiii] Note recommendation 17 and 20.
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