What’s been said?
Home schooling more than doubles to “size of a small secondary school” is the rather sensational headline of a report by Molly Williams in the Sheffield Telegraph on 4 July.
Below some further words of explanation, “More children than ever are being home schooled in Sheffield, after figures more than doubled in the past six years,” Williams reveals that Cllr Mohammed Mahroof (Lib Dem, Crookes & Crosspool Ward) had asked for the figures at a full council meeting and commented as above.
The majority of the article consists of observations from Mahroof, referring to different reasons why people elect to home educate and contrasting “the national average increase in home schooling [being] 40 per cent, compared to 100 per cent in Sheffield.”
The latter part of the article features more conciliatory comments from Cllr Abtisam Mohamed, cabinet member for Education & Skills, and concludes with home schooling figures in Sheffield for each year from 2013-14 which detail a rise from two hundred and sixty-eight to six hundred at the present time.
Why does it matter?
Most home educators are used to spotting bias and reading past prejudiced statements to get at the facts of the matter when it comes to reports about HE. That is not automatically so for the general public however. We have spoken many times of the creation of a hostile environment around HE, and of the negative image created by media coverage over recent years.
As noted above, Mahroof did cite some interesting reasons why the number of parents electing to home educate had risen in his home city. He pointed out that though some parents are within the catchment area of the school they want their child to attend, their child is not offered a place because the school is full, which leads to them having “to think of alternative ways of schooling them.”
He also referenced the “lack of SEND provision [which] is moving people towards home schooling,” and was honest enough to recognise that this was “out of necessity, not out of choice.” This matter, of course, features regularly in reports from all over the country, another recent example being Islington parents pull their children out of classrooms (28 June).
Cllr Mohamed, on the other hand, was at pains to point out that “97 per cent of families get a place at their preferred schools,” which statistic has been “above the national average for a number of years.” She stated that the council was addressing the growth in HE numbers and spoke of contact being made with families as they move into HE, offering them “support, including a visit and supportive conversation around whether home education is the right move.” They also have access to the EHE Advisor for “advice, information and signposting,” she added.
Unfortunately though, the prevailing tone of this article is shaped by Mahroof’s passing comments, which only serve to reinforce the ubiquitous negative stereotype and prejudice. [Emphasis added in all cases]:
“People are getting concerned [at the rising numbers], quite rightly.”
“It’s an alarming number and it will be interesting to know what the authority is actually doing about regulating this.
“I would prefer children to be at school because of the wider educational experiences that they get.”
Mahroof also spoke of a “worrying sign for the city” – the number of officers “going around checking home schooling” being most probably inadequate, thereby demonstrating that he has little trust in parents’ innate desire to do what is best for their own children and create a learning environment which is right for them.
He offers no justification for his confidence in the “wider educational experience” gained in school. Readers can no doubt come up with their own examples to refute this assumption – HE may differ from school, but it certainly offers many opportunities for learning in and through life in a wide variety of settings.
How sad it is that some people can only see HE as a problem, something to be worried about, regulated and corralled. Fear of the unfamiliar can so easily lead to scaremongering or pressure to clamp down on what is assumed to be a problem.
What can I do?
Once again, we come back to the constant need to re-educate people about what home education is and what it is not. Twelve year old Lilian Hardy had got the point when she told her mother, “I think we need to educate people on home education.”
If you happen to live in Sheffield, maybe you could try to address some of the negative attitudes mentioned above by meeting with your local councillor and presenting a positive alternative.