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October 26, 2013

Home Education Thrives in Australia's Largest State

Submitted by Homeschool WA

Western Australia’s registered home educated population grew an impressive 17% from 1,889 students in 2012 to 2,211 students in 2013.

This compares with an annual average increase of 5.2% over the last fourteen years. 1,079 students were registered in 1999.

The earliest figures that can be found were obtained from the WA Department of Education’s 1993 annual report, where there was a rough estimate of 300 students registered for home education in that year.

During the 1990’s the majority of families did not register. A number of government registration officials had reputations of being heavy-handed and insensitive towards home schooling families. Furthermore, during this period there was community suspicion and even hostility towards those who chose not to send their children to school. Gradually this perception changed and more families enrolled, as home schooling acceptance improved.

The population of Western Australia is currently about 2.5 million and around 384,000 children attend school. This means registered home-educated students are about 0.57% of the school population. Only Tasmania, the smallest state in Australia, has a higher rate at 0.83% of the school population.

Surfing lessons
Three students doing surfing lessons with Homeschool WA

Western Australia is recognised as a boom state with a population growth rate of 3.4% per year. If WA was a country rather than a state it would be the fourth fastest growing country in the world after Qatar, Zimbabwe and Niger.

Perth is the capital of Western Australia and is the most isolated city in the world, where the nearest city with a population of over 50,000 is Adelaide, a distance of 2139km away.

Western Australia is vast, being 2.5 million square kilometres in area, and has had a long history of distance education. The first correspondence school was established in 1918. The school began to teach lessons via radio in 1940 and became part of Australian folklore being known as the School of the Air.

The history of state distance education has helped overcome the socialisation question that has long been laid at the feet of home educators.

Home education in WA has been well supported by the peak body Home Based Learning Network, which has fought hard to protect the rights of home educators.

In 1999 public meetings were held to discuss changes to the WA Education Act. The home school community came out in force and dominated question time at every meeting.

Although home educators argued hard against the need for formal registration, the government legislated that every child of school age had to be either attending school or registered for home education.

Though the battle for registration was lost, the war was won and home education was officially recognised as legal in the 1999 Education Act. (In the Australian Constitution the States have responsibility for Education, not the Commonwealth.)

The higher-than-usual rate of growth in registered numbers over the last year can be explained by three factors:

  • The first is that the government has lowered the compulsory age for schooling by 6 months so that children who are 4 years and 6 months at the start of the year must now attend school or be home educated. This means children must be registered at an earlier age. (This age is to be lowered by another 6 months at the start of 2014.)
  • Secondly, a new home school provider, Homeschool WA, which commenced in 2012, has quickly become the fastest growing home schooling organisation in Australia. Homeschool WA, which receives no government funding, now has nearly 300 students and 14 staff. Female students aged 13–16 are the largest cohort; the majority of these girls have been bullied in schools.
  • Thirdly, WA continues to have a well-organised and very active home schooling community with numerous groups meeting regularly for activities and encouragement. There are classes ranging from robotics, drama, ballet, Latin, surfing and much more. It is relatively easy for home educators to find a group and make friends who are like-minded.

These support networks are vital in supporting new families who may struggle with reluctant teenagers or who may only have started because of a crisis at school or in their personal life.

Information about these groups are advertised on Perth Home Educators Network, various Facebook home schooling sites, through the HBLN website and newsletter, and various home schooling forums such as Perth Homeschoolers Forum.

Media reports about home education tend to be positive news stories, which focus on the advantages and reasons for home education.

Nevertheless, there is concern in the WA home schooling community that registration compliance requirements will become more onerous and less flexible in 2015 with the compulsory implementation of the new, highly prescriptive Australian Curriculum.

There is also concern that some of the recent ham-fisted tactics used by the Board of Studies in NSW, Australia’s most populous state, maybe adopted by the WA State government.

On a positive note, home educators network extremely well, and the bush telegraph passes on news quickly when any bureaucratic trend becomes evident.

Western Australia is known for its pioneer spirit and disdain for edicts from the Eastern States. This spirit is exemplified by home educators in WA who have a history of mobilising effectively when threatened, because they know that their children’s education, health and values are worth fighting for.

Stuart Chapman is the director of Homeschool WA, the only Australian based homeschool organisation to offer full teacher support, social events and home visits. He was also the Australian representative and speaker at the Global Home Education Conference in Germany 2012.

 More Information

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Australia page