Home Truths: the Rise of Home Education

What’s been said?

“The recent growth in the number of children being educated at home is a cause of concern for some, yet many parents say they have little choice but to take their children out of school, and that the fears critics have are often based on ignorance and prejudice.”

Dave Speck uses these words to introduce his nicely illustrated piece “Home Truths: the rise of home education” in the Tes Magazine on 1 Feb. (Only available in print or via a subscription paywall.)

A sensitively explored case study featuring single parent Julie and her autistic son Harry constitutes a significant proportion of the article. Speck is careful to include not just the fact that Harry eventually had to be withdrawn from school due to lack of provision, but he also addresses with integrity solutions and ongoing issues faced by the family. Information follows about the charity The Red Balloon (whose distance learning course Harry is now using for GCSE preparation), plus significant comment from its founder, Dr Carrie Herbert.

Other positive aspects include reference to families pooling their skills and working co-operatively to give all their children a wider range of educational experiences. There are observations too from Mike Wood of HE-UK website explaining why he does not support registration and monitoring, along with details of Wendy Charles-Warner’s “very careful research” into HE children and risk.

Views from Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman and NSPCC’s Head of Policy Almudena Lara, both of whom are pressing for registration and monitoring, are also cited.

Two further case studies give insight into the varied world of HE, one featuring Mark from Oldham whose family prioritise quality time and relationships and the other highlighting Sharon’s felt need for reassurance that she’s “doing the right thing” educationally, having removed her daughter Rebeccca from school in Year 9 due to “lack of support for her chronic fatigue and anxiety.”

Speck rounds off his balanced and thought-provoking article with three key points:

  • schools’ SEND provision should be better resourced;
  • it cannot and should not be assumed that parents are hiding their children just because they HE;
  • more children would benefit if effort were re-directed from unnecessary policing of HE families into improving schools.

Why does it matter?

Thorough investigative journalism on the topic of HE and associated issues is a rare thing. In recent months we have seen many examples of agenda-driven, politicised reporting which have done a big dis-service to a fair and balanced consideration of the HE debate in the public domain. The public have not been given access to the full range of relevant factors or research and their take-away impression of HE has been shaped by lobbyists and opinion-formers, many of whom openly regard HE as suspect – a “problem” in need of a solution.

With increasing numbers of parents withdrawing their children from schools for a variety of reasons, the HE scene has changed significantly in recent years. There are no slick answers, and the DfE need particular wisdom not to be drawn into knee-jerk reactions either to the growing number of children outside school or to sustained pressure from the registration & monitoring lobby. We all know that hard cases make bad law.

So the fact that Dave Speck has done his homework carefully is to be appreciated. Home Truths illustrates the realities faced by parents whose children refuse to attend school or are poorly served when they are there, as well as presenting a range of views about how best to handle the issue of home education, which looks as if it is here to stay.

What can I do?

Try to access this article and read it carefully.

Consider writing to the Tes editor to thank them for another balanced contribution to the current HE debate, including brief comments of your own if you wish.

If you have friends or family who are dubious about HE or whose opinion has been negatively influenced by such things as the recent Dispatches report, show them this article by Dave Speck, pointing out the key issues that rarely see the light of day.