South Australian Media Interview with Beverley Paine, 2011
1. What are some of the most common reasons why parents choose homeschooling? Have these changed in recent years?
Some parents home educate for idealogical reasons, to provide an education that better reflects their family values or lifestyle choices. Among these, religion features prominently and parents consider home education as an alternative to private school enrollment. Of this group some parents have been so involved with their children's education from birth they see home education as a natural progression.
Other parents home educate because, for one reason or another, schools have been unable to cater to their children's individual needs. Gifted and talented children fall into this category, as do children with learning difficulties or special needs. The number of home educating children diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, particularly with Aspergers Syndrome has really increased in the last few years.
It is my perception that there has been an increase in the number of children beginning home education in their teen years, from age 14 to 16 especially. I'm not sure why, but I think that a lot of young people feel a bit lost and aren't doing well at school and that their parents can see that they aren't getting anywhere at school, perhaps developing unwanted attitudes or habits. Depression is a word that is being used more too, particularly if the child has other health issues.
And in recent years I've had contact from a great many families who are frustrated that nothing is done to rectify bullying problems at school. Most of these families turn to home education as a last resort after trying really hard to resolve the issues through the school. By then the children often have other problems such as physical stress-related illnesses or mental health issues to deal with too.
Not all children who home educate because of bullying at school stay home educated - quite a few parents I've spoken to over the years are happy for their children to go back to school once they have had a reasonable respite, their self-confidence is regained, or they have become more resilient. A break from school - rather than changing schools which often precedes the decision to homeschool - seems to work wonders for these kids. I think that going through the process of 'registering' as a home educating family also empowers the parents to be better and more effective spokespersons for their children.
2. Is the school environment and / or teacher standards a concern for parents? Thinking bullying, teacher expertise for students with disabilities etc....I've largely answered that question in the answer above.
Teaching standards is becoming quite a concern. It is a complex issue and probably won't be fixed by standardised testing such as NAPLAN, or reporting results on MySchool, or with the adoption of the National Curriculum.
I think that the school system is seen by most home educating parents as unaccountable: it is never the school's fault that the child is not learning. Yet so many children are failing to learn the basics and are beginning adult life with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills. The parents who home educate really care and worry about their children's future.
3. Figures from DECS show a slight increase in the number of families and children being homeschooled over the past 10 years (about 200 extra kids) - is it an increasing trend?
I personally think it correlates with the move to private education overall, both here and in the UK and USA. I think it says more about the state of public education, or the perception of the state of public education, than it does about home education.
Society is definitely becoming more focussed on 'user-pays systems' and if people aren't happy with what they are getting they are looking elsewhere. One thing, though, home education almost always means the loss of the second income, which is a huge financial sacrifice. It could be that families are opting for home education because a private school education is too expensive. This has always been the case with alternative education models such as Montessori and Steiner (Waldorf).
Another thing that may be having an impact on increasing numbers of home educated students is the fact that we have many home educated 'graduates' - young adults who are moving about in sociey, happy to declare that they were home educated, and who have obviously not been 'damaged' by the experience. Ordinary people living ordinary lives. There is no longer the perception that home education is weird or dangerous to society or children. Everyone seems to know someone who is home educating. That is very different to how it was when I began in 1986.
4. Is it difficult to negotiate homeschool arrangements with the education department and / or schools? Do parents feel encouraged or deterred by DECS?In most cases, no. Some parents experience difficulty. There can be many reasons for this.
When the Department engage new home education officers who are not familiar with the difference between homeschool and school education I seem to experience more complaints. I believe these stem from unrealistic expectations and demands from the new DECs officers. This inconsistency of approach has caused a lot of problems over the years. I think it is caused by a lack of training - it occurs in other states too, but some states have developed policies and approaches that seem to work really well for both parties.
Sometimes parents who have had unhappy experiences with the school (usually due to unresolved incidences of bullying or an inability to negotiate suitable learning programs for their children) are defensive and protective during the exemption process and this can get everyone off-side.
The ethos of the Dept (which runs public schooling in SA and not private education, which home education essentially is) is that home education isn't recognised as a legitimate alternative - it is not mentioned in the Education Act. For some reason it is still considered as deviating from the desired norm, and home educated families are subjected to interviews which seem more determined to vet the parents suitability to parent than the actual education program proposed for the children.
5. Do you know if some parents don't register their children at all to avoid the public system altogether?
There is considerable confusion about what is required to home educate legally across Australia. Families moving between states often don't understand what is required. Here in SA we are required to enrol our children in a school and they are exempted from attending. This is very different to other states. Parents don't need to 'register' in SA, the process is one of obtaining exemption from attending school. If parents are homeschooling without this, I think it would probably be due to ignorance or confusion about what is required. The introduction to home education information page on the DECs website refers to distance education through the Open Access College as much as it does home education.
6. Do parents have to choose either homeschool or public system - not a combination of the two? Is this a problem?Unlike Victoria and the ACT, in South Australia home educators can't enroll in public school part-time if they are home educating. I am being asked more often about this by SA home educators, especially by parents moving from interstate or overseas to SA. It is seen as a desirable option for most home educators and seems to work very well in Victoria.
Some private schools accept part-time enrolment, but it is not a common practice among home educators, probably because they don't know they can do it or the fees are too costly.
7. Have advancements in technology made it easier to pursue homeschooling? Will it encourage more to follow this method?The internet and emailing has meant it is much easier to find support for home educating. That has mad a huge difference, perhaps to how many people do it but probably to how many continue to teach their children at home.
Home educators adopt a variety of teaching approaches and styles and most of these are accepted as okay by DECs provided a balanced curriculum is ensured. Families do make use of information technology - enroll in online tutoring programs, use CDs, DVDs, computer games, desktop publishing, social networks, etc. But they also use student workbooks, textbooks, libraries, excursions and field trips, engage tutors for specialist subjects, etc. A lot of practical learning occurs too, through being involved in daily home and community life in real rather than contrived activities.
Some families use homeschool programs that teach and track learning using computer programs or over the internet, so yes, it is having an impact.
I think the availability of information on the internet about home education and the vast amount of resources that we can use is making it easier for families to feel reassured about choosing to home educate.
Although home educated students are enrolled it can be hard to organise transport concession cards. Some states automatically issue registered home educated students with these through the registration process.
Access to Youth Allowance is still hit and miss, largely miss. This is a Centrelink issue, but it results in discrimination against registered home educating students and I believe it partly stems from lack of recognition of home education in legislation.
In Victoria home educated families get a 'back to school' allowance paid to all parents of primary aged students that helps with cost of learning materials, uniforms, etc. Here is SA parents have to sign a declaration that DECs is 'under no obligation to provide local support or resources', even though they have approved of the home education program, require annual reviews (with home visits), and adherence to the state curriculum, and that home education is administered within DECs, not the Independent Schools Board which oversees private education.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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