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How Many Home Educated Students in Australia?

by Beverley Paine, Feb 2013

This is a question that is frequently asked by journalists writing stories about home education. In 2012 home educator Stuart Chapman phoned all the state and territory home education registration authorities as well as looking up statistics in Education Department Annual Reports and came up with the following numbers:
ACT: 136
NSW: 2315; 128 exempt
NT: 60 (approximately)
Qld: 772
SA: 891
TAS: 603; 319 families;
VIC: 3300 (approximately)
WA: 1806

This comes to approximately 10,000 students. It doesn't take into account the number of home educating families "flying under the radar", the colloquial term for not being registered (or exempted from attending school in SA). Neither does it include the number of students enrolled in distance education programs specifically set up to accommodate home education, a figure Stuart Chapman estimates to be about 4,000. Or the large number of families with children aged 4 and 5 who are not eligible for home education registration status but whose peers are already at school and whose parents consider them to be already home educating.

Estimating the number of unregistered students has been attempted many times over the years.

Home educating advocates running support groups have for many years claimed that for every registered home educating family there are probably three or four choosing not to register. Ian Townsend, ABC reporter in a program for Background Briefing estimated 50,000 students were being illegally home educated across Australia using school enrollment and population figures from the latest Census.

If Mr Townsend's figure is reasonably accurate 60,000 home educated students is a considerable cohort of students, enough to possibly fill 100 new schools, and represents a massive saving to State and Federal government budgets every year.

It is my perception that the number of non-registered home educating students is gradually and naturally decreasing.

A great many older non-registered families now have teens or young adults and this will also work to diminish those numbers.

There is a huge increase in the number of families with children under compulsory school age investigating home education. I expect the numbers of both registered and unregistered home educating students to grow fairly rapidly over the coming years.

It is a lot easier to source accurate information about registering as well as support from existing home educating families and groups. Families are feeling more empowered and confident about their choice. All states and territories have published reasonably clear guidelines online for families considering home education.

Another compelling reason for new families to register is the home education exemption from the activity test for Centrelink recipients.

The education tax rebate and School Bonus both required evidence of home education registration (in theory but not always in practice) and that is also cited as a reason for registering.

By and large it seems that it is much easier to be approved as a home educating family although funding for the offices that oversee registrations hasn't kept pace with the demand. I feel this is because the authorities responsible for home education (with a few notable exceptions) are more familiar with the concept and that there is more general acceptance as an alternative in the wider community. In many instances assessing officers (approved person, moderator, home education officer, etc) have been in the job for a while and understands the nature of home education and how it differs from school-based education. There has been a shift in the tone of posts on forums and chit chat in groups over the years: people are sharing how less intimidating it was than expected, though still complain that it is intrusive and unnecessarily onerous.

Stories of negative experiences with the education authorities do have an effect of dissuading families from registration. I think that if the support group a family first encounters is generally anti-registration then they'll be less likely to register.

A few things which seem to complicate the registration process and which I believe generate negative stories are:

a) single parent families still seem to be given a harder time than couples - apart from the other parent's signature needed on the paperwork, which is a real issue at the moment and causing considerable grief to a small number of families annually, I wonder if the current emphasis on the economy (a 'working' Australia rather than a 'parenting' Australia) adds a negative bias to the application and interview process. The prejudice against single parent families in our society is subtle but significant.

b) families with children with special needs seem to need to jump through more hoops when they register. Not sure why this would be so because the government and schools save so much money when these children are home educated - you'd think they'd be encouraging families to 'go it alone'. However, individual schools do lose additional funding when a special needs child leaves the school, so the school may be applying pressure for a negative registration outcome.

c) and there are still officers (APs, moderators, etc) who are ignorant about the nature of home ed, or who bring their personal prejudices to work (for example, not giving approval because the teen is a 'goth', asking for incredibly detailed learning programs not required from other families, etc).

Families withdrawing children from schools are compelled to register to avoid being followed up by the truancy section of the Education Department (not sure what happens if the child is enrolled in a private school). The advent of the internet and information and communication technologies means different authorities communicate and pass on information more efficiently.

Basically the only families who now begin home educating without registering are those that have children who have never started school or where the family have moved house at the time of removing their children from school, or those who have moved without supplying the registering authority a forwarding address.

Many families believe that the state has no right to demand registration or impose the state or national curriculum on their children. They feel the education of their children is their responsibility rather than bureaucracy's. Many families resent the time and energy taken away from the education of their children to comply with registration requirements and reporting.

Advantages to registration include compliance with legislation and in some states, access to a very limited number of resources. Many families find the contact with the authority useful and helpful, offering some guidance and reassurance to the experience of home education. The ability to confidently and directly lobby politicians for legislative or regulation change is another advantage cited by registered home educators. As the number of registered home educators increase the more mainstream it appears and it is featured more in the media, meaning a greater number of families in need are made aware of the option.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

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 supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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