Homeschooling: A Class Apart? The Wright Stuff – Channel 5

What’s been said?

On 21 March 2018, Matthew Wright chose to tackle home education on his show, “The Wright Stuff” with guests Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and regular panellists Lowri Turner and Christopher Biggins.

By way of introduction, Wright asked why so many children are now being home educated. He used a figure of 80,000 (2018) but did not quote a source for this information. Figures cited elsewhere have been far more conservative – 30,000 in the House of Commons Briefing and 45,000 (2017) quoted by Damian Hinds at the Accountability Hearing 21 March 2018.

The audience was briefed on the current legal status of home education and the guidelines. The recent article about Stacey Solomon was cited, along with some of the benefits and disadvantages regarding her decision to home educate. Regrettably the same, tired old judgements and misconceptions encountered by home educators with wearisome regularity were also voiced.

“Isn’t it a tad arrogant to think that you can do better than professional teachers?” asked Wright, revealing instantly the blinkered view that placing children in an artificial environment, where all are expected to learn the same pre-determined material at a pre-determined rate, and be measured by some pre-determined standard, is an ideal learning environment for every child. Since he also mentioned having seen research revealing that home educated children perform better than children in school, you’d think he’d have had his answer. Unfortunately home educators are all too aware of how unwilling many people are to believe the evidence when it doesn’t fit their own preconceived ideas.

Representing home educators on the show was Kate Malik. She did a commendable job of describing her own home education journey, the benefits to her children (one who went on to Oxford, another currently at university, and the third considering 6th form), and the extent of  the opportunities and support available to home educators in the UK. Kate emphasised that home educated children are not hidden, but out and about, interacting with society.

Questions from the guests centred around the use of the National Curriculum, socialisation and whether only “clever” parents could home educate effectively, and Kate’s articulate responses addressed each concern, stressing the amount of support networks and resources available.

Some calls were taken, but technical problems left callers with little opportunity to participate. One mentioned using a child-led approach. Matthew Wright challenged this, saying (somewhat smugly) that in the animal kingdom, the young are not child-led, but parent-led. If he’d continued with that analogy, however, he would have also had to admit that in the animal kingdom neither do you find the young in a classroom, being taught by another animal!

Why does it matter?

Once again, we see that many people (including those with a high level of education) choose to persist in believing and perpetuating an image of home education that is not supported by evidence. When faced with a clear example of home education success, the response is to attribute this to “clever” or “good” parents and as being the exception rather than the rule.

So often, people don’t ever challenge the views that have been drip-fed to them by the media and society, even when thinking is flawed and cannot withstand scrutiny.

What can I do?

Challenge the way people think about home education by asking questions that will help them to follow through to obvious conclusions. For example:

  • Tell me about your school experience?
  • Did you get on with all your teachers? How did that impact you?
  • How many teachers influenced and inspired you to achieve well?
  • How much of your school learning are you applying today?
  • Did you stop learning when you finished school?
  • How do you learn now? How do you think children learn?
  • Did you need anyone’s help to teach your child to walk, to talk, to dress or to feed themselves? What skills did you require?

This is not to disrespect the education system, but simply to challenge common thinking, and point out that it is not ideal for many children, and that learning happens differently for different people, and in an endless variety of contexts.