Home schooling used to be a choice made out of necessity or for negative reasons. That’s changing.
As far as I can tell, parents find home schooling rewarding. But I don’t often hear positive reasons for choosing it. It’s as though it’s not a preferred option. I wonder if that’s going to change because the opportunity to home school is greater than it has ever been.
Parents who home school their children usually do so out of necessity or as a reaction to a negative experience.
The sense of necessity includes reasons such as;
- Their child may be in ill health or have complex SEN needs,
- The family may have a philosophical or religious reason for not wanting their children to mix,
- They may live in a remote area, too far for practical travel to school,
- Their child may be developing a specialist sporting or artistic talent whose time demands render a standard school timetable unworkable.
While the negative experiences include;
- Bullying at school, or the wrong company,
- Problems mixing and “fitting in”, they have an unhappy child,
- Their child is underperforming for whatever reason,
- Disagreement with the school about levels of support,
- Dissatisfaction with the curriculum, exams and testing.
In December 2015 a BBC report suggested that maybe 72,000 children in the UK were schooled at home. That’s 0.8% of the school age population. The number was based on a count of 36,609 children in home schooling who had previously been registered with a school. In addition, they estimated a similar number who had never registered for formal schooling. And that count is up 65% on 2009.
Home schooling and the law
You don’t have to register your child with the authorities for starting formal schooling. If you have registered, and your child attends school, you can withdraw them at any time. All you need to do is write a formal letter to the headteacher. They cannot refuse you if you are planning to provide full time home schooling. Though they can if you are hoping for a part time arrangement. It is binary; you’re either in or out.
After that, you’re on your own, nearly. The council has the right to make an ‘informal enquiry’ to check the quality of your home schooling. Furthermore, they can serve a school attendance order if they think your provision isn’t good enough.
The relevant section of the 1996 Education Act tells you all you need to know now, well, sort of.
“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient, full time education, suitable; to his age, ability, and aptitude, and to any special needs he may have, either by regular school attendance or otherwise.”
As a home schooling parent you are “otherwise”. But you still have to educate your child between the ages of 5 and 16. Or specifically, from the first school term following your child’s fifth birthday to the last Friday in June of the academic year in which they reach sixteen.
Now the fun starts. “Efficient”, “full time” and “suitable” are open to interpretation.
Let’s start with “full time”. The typical school week is 22 to 25 hours long for 38 weeks. But, local authorities are not going to enforce that you follow the typical school term, hours or weeks. After all, that’s partly the point of home schooling. And there’s a lot of downtime in formal school lessons. But they will check that the hours your child spends in home schooling are sufficient to make sufficient “progress”. Progress is defined by “efficient” and “suitable”.
“Efficient” means an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”. Which means giving a rationale to your curriculum. “Suitable” means an education that “prepares children for life in a modern civilised society and will enable them to reach their full potential”. There is considerable latitude within this definition. The state is looking for a curriculum with mainstream subjects, nothing deviant or cult-like. Nothing that will harm or warp a child’s outlook or ability to take an active role in society.
As for curriculum, there is no obligation to follow a national curriculum, or take national exams such as GCSEs. Though a parent needs to consider the importance of qualifications on future employment prospects.
As for you, you don’t have to be a qualified teacher. You’re a parent.
Positive reasons for home schooling
There are three reasons why I think home schooling will continue to increase in popularity. Firstly, increasing dissatisfaction with formal schooling. Secondly, the increasing number of people working independently, remotely or flexibly. And thirdly, the increasing availability of teaching resources. Here are five advantages for the intrepid;
- Teaching times are flexible since you’re not tied to timetable. Though a routine isn’t a bad idea. You can take holidays outside the normal school term times. You’re not shackled to the stress and downtime of the school run, school day or subjects you consider less useful.
- Teach what you and your child think best. You decide the curriculum, what you include and what you exclude. You know what enthuses your child and what doesn’t. If you think there should be more creative writing, or maths, or science and engineering, or music, great! Though maths and English are advisable in a “suitable” curriculum.
- The internet is a wonderful resource, making home schooling easier. You don’t have to make up the lessons or the courses. There are curriculum and study aid websites galore. Some even offer online tutoring to your child, but they can be expensive. One even claims to get your child an A or A* in whatever GCSEs. Access to tutors is probably not what home schooling parents have in mind. But they are there if you’re having difficulty teaching, say, French or physics.
- A city is a wonderful resource; libraries, museums, interest groups, sports and arts activities. They break up and add variety to the day, as well as providing social interaction. Most schools offer clubs that are run by external agencies anyway. Why not go straight to the source!
- Support network. You’re not alone. There’s plenty of home schooling websites and bloggers with tips, experience and encouragement. Someone, somewhere will know.
Challenges for home schooling
While never insurmountable, there are, however, challenges for home schooling which need to be considered.
- Particularly with regards to fulfilling a job or career. Getting the balance is a challenge.
- Teaching isn’t easy. And thinking of interesting ways or places to keep your child enthused can be taxing. As for arts and crafts…
- Social aspects. This is the biggest potential drawback with home schooling. Children do learn life lessons from mixing with their peers. And let’s face it, the home schooling football team is going to be pretty rubbish.