Mr Hinds and the Home Learning Environment

What’s been said?

Home education has generally had a rough ride over recent years as far as media reporting goes, being frequently rubbished without proper consideration or dismissed as a no-hope option. Rachel Sylvester’s passing allusion in her Times article of 21st Aug to “vulnerable children… forced out of mainstream education and classified as “home schooled”, meaning they learn little,” is a classic example. It may be that some of the young people whose parents are coerced into home education do “learn little”, but the message the general readership take home from such comments is more universal and detrimental to their perception of HE as a whole.

A more favourable approach to the value of the “home learning environment” at least, prevails in a BBC News report by education and social affairs reporter Hannah Richardson from 31st July entitled, “Pupils unable to read is ‘a scandal’, says minister“. Though the emphasis is on the difficulties faced by schooled children who lag behind their peers in communication and language skills and the cumulative effect of this as they progress through their primary years, the significance of the home learning environment and the value of parental input are referred to in relatively positive terms.

Education Secretary, Damien Hinds, also expressed concern about the impact of poor early communication skills on the future social mobility of pupils.

Why does it matter?

Note the acknowledgement, expressed in various ways, of the huge influence of parental input and of the home, with such a large proportion of a child’s time being spent in that setting. Emphasis added in quotations below:

“Educational researchers have long said that social mobility – or the lack of it – starts at home with what’s known as the home learning environment.”

“The idea is that a home with a lot of books and other early learning materials, plus engaged parents giving their children quality time, talking with them and teaching them how to make letter sounds, for example, provides a good start. But not all parents feel able to offer this kind of home environment or realise the importance of it.”

Mr Hinds’ mention of the home learning environment being possibly “the last taboo in education policy” or his stress on increased social mobility may be a little unnerving, but his overall tone is supportive of what parents bring to the table. “I don’t have interest in lecturing parents here… I know it’s parents who bring up their children, who love them, who invest in them in so many ways, who want the best for their children.”

What are home educating parents to make of such reports? Although some of the content may not be immediately relevant in a HE context, can we take encouragement that the value of the home and parental input is at least acknowledged?

What can I do?

Few of us would choose to see home education under the spotlight as it is, against the backdrop of challenging issues for schools and society as a whole. But that is how things are, and we must act and react as wisely as possible as individuals and as a community.

Like it or not, we are ambassadors for an educational and lifestyle choice which has been pilloried in the media and is little understood by the general public. We have the unenviable task of dismantling prejudice and of responding wisely to those situations such as the off-rolling of “difficult” pupils, where HE is the less than perfect solution.

We can point out to Councillors or MPs that home education builds upon the fundamental value of the home and the significant influence of parents in any child’s life – as educational research bears out, and as is now acknowledged by the powers that be.

Make the most of your own home learning environment. Appreciate its ability to flex with your growing family’s individual needs and development. Be as inspirational as you can for your own children, and where you are aware of gaps, look for other people such as friends or tutors who can help you fill them.