Needed: A Sympathetic and Understanding Approach to Home Education Regulation
by Beverley Paine
The situation in New South Wales with the change in registration requirements is naturally giving rise to discussion about what is appropriate, with some people defending past and current practice by the authority. This happens every time a state or territory authority seeks to amend or adjust its home education regulation guidelines or legislation.
In a thread on Homeschool Australia recently several posts attributed problems parents faced in obtaining approval to home educate on lack of preparation or confidence on the part of parents, or because of their attitude during the interview and application process. I accept that some families are unprepared, and others with a different philosophy on the role and responsibility of the state in the education of their children, can present problems during the application process. As can being upset about the educational and welfare issues being neglected by the school the child is leaving. It definitely does help if the parent is calm and confident and strives to be objective and professional while applying for home education registration.
However, even that doesn't guarantee smooth sailing. Sadly I've also come across incidences where personal views and issues of the person assessing the application come into play, clear cases of unprofessional behaviour.
It took me a few years of home educating and networking with others (producing a newsletter and organising group activities and excursions) to realise that not everyone had the same kind of application and renewal experience that I did, or that if theirs was stressful or unsuccessful it was because of something they did or didn't do. I slowly came to see that a huge part of the problem was inconsistency of treatment and application of the policy/guidelines by the staff assessing application. That was twenty years ago and I'm still coming across the same stories, only more so because there are more families home educating.
And it's not just home education where this kind of thing happens: it seems to be a standard issue wherever we need to deal with any kind of bureaucracy (either government or private).
Having confidence in yourself as a home educator will go a long way to helping you navigate the application process. So much so that I tell people to bluff that confidence - because most of us simply don't have it - and it will take us a year or two to get it and some of us continue to have doubts about home education for many years but plod on, hoping we're doing the right thing by our children. As an educational alternative home education is still the new kid on the block.
In Western Australia you get three months to experience home education and put your learning program together before it and you are assessed. In this time you can meet with other families, talk to home educating families on support networks like this or the state association, try out a few resources and get to know your child's learning style, etc. By the time you are interviewed your confidence will have grown considerably, though the process of being assessed is still naturally stressful and is still usually intimidating for most families.
Not all Australian states demand that you produce a home education learning plan while your children are still at school and before you take them out: some states recognise that it will take you time to adjust and get settled. One state recognises that having made the decision to home educate you will do the best by your children and will only seek to assess you if a reason to do so subsequently occurs. Another state offers a reasonable level of support through its regulatory system and includes access to experienced home educators. Home education has been successful for many families for many years in these states using these sympathetic and understanding regulatory approaches.
There is a lot that can and is being done to help home educators become established and to enhance their confidence, either before or during the assessment process. The need to be confident home educators before we start home educating is desirable but usually not achievable.
Consider, for example, the reluctant home educator, pulling a child from school exasperated by the continued unaddressed bullying of their child. A system of regulation which gives three months to sort out an educational program while the child is safe and recovering makes sense. Such a parent would naturally be angry at the school, at the education system, would find it hard not to get emotive during an interview that demands that she is already a confident, knowledgeable home educator.
Groups like Homeschool Australia and Unschool Australia exist to encourage and support all home educators, including the ones that have encountered problems with the registration process. No matter what my personal view about what the registration guidelines should cover or assess, I want to be here for families, sympathetically listening, trying to work out what they need and what will help them move beyond their present difficulty.
I have met mothers with borderline literacy and numeracy whose special needs children are continually being suspended or who are falling further behind who struggle in the first few years of home education but who eventually, because home education is different from school education, and because the home is generally a naturally socialising environment and lacks the competitive and negative peer experiences of school, find their children leaping ahead academically, with improved behaviour and increased self-esteem.
I don't want to judge those mothers as incompetent because they were inexperienced when they first applied, or send their children back to an environment that wasn't educationally successful for them. I don't want some government agency or department to judge these parents using arbitrary guidelines by people unfamiliar with the nature of home education and how it differs from school education.
I want a system that supports parents find the best educational approach and solutions for their children. We, as a society, can do it, but it requires a sympathetic and helpful rather than judgmental attitude.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment 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. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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