What’s been said?
Home educators began to sense something was up with the BBC on Wednesday 25 April 2018 when a theme began to emerge, across the country, of home educators being contacted for interviews on radio stations the following day.
The reason soon became clear – on Thursday 26 April 2018, a BBC headline read: “Home-schooling in the UK increases 40% over three years”
The BBC report was based on figures they’d received from 177 councils in England, Wales and Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Department of Education, with 164 reporting an increase in the number of home educators.
According to this report, approximately 48,000 children were being home educated in 2016-17 – a substantial increase on the figure of 34,000 in 2014-15. The report cites mental health issues and avoiding exclusion as two reasons parents gave for removing children from classrooms, and highlighted the government’s plan to publish new guidance due to perceived concerns about the quality of the education being provided, as well as “safeguarding” issues.
None of this is news to established home educators who are adding new members to their groups at unprecedented rates and hearing many stories of how children are being failed by the system, sometimes devastatingly, resulting in parents making the decision to “vote with their feet”.
The BBC quoted Dr Carrie Herbert, founder of Red Balloon charity, as saying that the rise in home education suggested “something quite tragic about the state of the education system”.
Across the home nations, as home education was being discussed on radio stations everywhere, it was as if there were two conversations going on, where one party was not listening to the other. On the one hand, parents were ringing in, or being interviewed, sharing about the benefits of home education for their children, despite the sacrifices families had made, explaining how busy and sociable home educated children are, how their children were now in university, or progressing well. And on the other hand, the same old well-worn misconceptions were trotted out, without the slightest intention of taking a moment to examine the actual evidence.
A prize example can be heard (until 24 May 2018) on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire, at the end of the segment starting approximately 1 hour 8 mins into the programme. It features a discussion between Paul Donaldson, a local school teacher, and Dr Helen Lees, Reader in Alternative Education Studies at Newman University. The myth of social interaction was raised, yet again, and the failure to grasp the essence of home education is painfully evident:
In response to Donaldson’s question about who home educated children socialise with, Dr Lees explained that home educated children socialise differently, that they have other home educated children to mix with, but also socialise with the entirety of society, and with people of different ages.
Donaldson: If you’re being home-schooled and not having daily interaction.
Lees: How’s that possible? They’re out in the community!
Donaldson: If they’re out in the community, they’re not being schooled?
Lees: Exactly! And that’s the good thing!
Why does it matter?
On a positive note, it seems that the reason for the increase in home educator numbers is now becoming more evident to others. Failures within the education system need to be addressed, rather than penalising families for choosing to home educate. If the education system was doing a better job of meeting the needs of children, parents would not be put into a position where they feel they have no other option.
What can I do?
Talk with others about the tremendous strain the education system is under and encourage them to write to their MPs to raise their concerns. Help to shift the focus back to where it should be – holding the State accountable for meeting the needs of children in schools. Continue to challenge misconceptions wherever you encounter them.