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April 20, 2015

Homeschoolers Speak Out Against Parliamentary Report

By the Christian Homeschool Academy

Harsh criticism has followed a 305-page report entitled “Homeschooling in New South Wales”, released by the legislative council in New South Wales (NSW) in December 2014. The report resulted from the parliamentary inquiry into homeschooling, and it is the first time that any State or Commonwealth government in Australia has looked at home education in such detail.  For history on the inquiry and the petition by homeschoolers that led to this government response, see previous articles here.

While a small number of the 24 recommendations were positive, Australian homeschool leader Stuart Chapman indicated that quite a few of the statements were grossly offensive to the homeschooling community.    

The most shocking was the recommendation that “The Department of Family and Community Services review their policies and systems, with the objective of identifying and improving the collection and reporting of data related to child protection matters within the home schooling population” (Recommendation 17).

The explanatory notes for Recommendation 17 include a statement that the committee “supports home visits [to homeschooling students] by Authorised Persons and Assessment and Support Officers,” with the reasoning: “Whilst many home schooling students also interact with other adults and possibly mandatory reporters, it is less guaranteed, simply by virtue of the nature of home schooling.”

Chapman said, “This is an outrageous attack on home educators.  The committee wants home educated children to be targeted and investigated for possible child abuse and insists on home inspections with children present without any police warrant for this very purpose.  This is a huge insult to families and reveals an unjustified prejudice against the home schooling community.” 

This recommendation, as well as the others, was made even after the committee heard and acknowledged, “There is insufficient evidence to suggest that home schooled students are more at risk, in terms of their safety and wellbeing, when compared to their school counterparts.” 

Previous studies in Australia support the lack of evidence of abuse. In particular, the 2003 Queensland Review of Home Schooling included this strong language: “There is no evidence, reputable research or judicial data” to support the position that home schooled children are more at risk than children in schools because of perceived social isolation.

Despite these findings, there was further cause for alarm when the committee used pejorative language to imply that parents choose to home school so as to hide children from people who might identify them as abused.  Article 7.131 states, “It is realistic to conclude that abusive parents will adopt strategies that limit access by children to important ‘others.’”

Chapman states that these assumptions deeply offend the homeschooling community in Australia and that the “guilty until proved innocent” attitude should offend every parent. 
“The committee has invented non-existent abusers of which they found no evidence,” said Chapman, “and has used this imaginary scenario to slur every single home educator in NSW.  It is an appalling affront based on ignorance and prejudice.” 

The committee also expressed concerned that homeschooling may exacerbate social disconnection from other children: “The committee is also concerned that such children, such as GLBTI and gender questioning teenagers, may suffer even greater levels of isolation when home schooled. Such isolation is a significant precursor to self-harm.”

Chapman responded, “The committee is just making things up. They are living in fantasyland.  These statements are a thinly veiled attack on Christians, Muslims and others with conservative views. The next logical step is for the government to say that a child who disagrees with his parent’s views on religion, politics, permissible friends or even parenting techniques would be repressed. The committee was clearly implying, without any evidence whatsoever to support their views, that homeschooled children are in significant danger of severe depression and potential suicide.”

Chapman contrasts the committee’s supposed reality with the experiences that he and other homeschool leaders in Australia consistently encounter.

“What we do know,” explains Chapman, “is that many parents who choose to start homeschooling and join our support groups, do so because their children have been brutally bullied in school for being different in some way.  Sadly, quite a few of these children had already started self-harming and had even attempted suicide.  Our experience is that home education greatly improves the mental health and confidence of these students and that long-term home educated children develop good social skills.” 

Of further concern was the attitude of the NSW Teachers Federation representative who argued that removing children from school due to bullying may not teach the child conflict resolution skills: “We have anti-bullying programs. To just remove a child whenever there is some sort of conflict is not teaching those lifelong skills of conflict resolution and dispute resolution that will enhance that child's ability to cope later in life with any sort of anxiety or social phobia.”

Chapman draws attention to the fact that this attitude—that bullying builds resilience—is inconsistent with the Department’s “No Tolerance” to bullying policy. 

“On the one hand, the Teachers Federation says it has anti-bullying programs, but on the other hand it believes homeschooled children who do not get bullied maybe be missing out on important training for adulthood,” Chapman concludes.  This is truly bizarre.  It is also consistent with the scandalous figure of 30% of children reporting that they have been bullied in the last two years of school.  Any private company, which had such a culture, would face crippling compensation claims, public disgrace and would most likely become bankrupt.  Nevertheless, the NSW Education Department funding continues to grow each year and NSW Teachers Federation accepts no responsibility for allowing this totally unacceptable situation to continue.”    

One positive to come out of the report was that committee chairman MP Paul Green of the Christian Democrats admitted, "Recent changes to the registration requirements [in NSW] were implemented without comprehensive consultation with the home schooling community.  It is my concern that if the government … continues to miss opportunities to engage with the homeschooling community, it will only be to the detriment of educational outcomes for our children."

Stuart Chapman is the Director of the Homeschool Christian Academy, a homeschool provider serving families in Australia and around the world.  A full article commenting on all 24 recommendations can be viewed here.

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Australia page.