Questioning Common Assumptions

Former teacher, now home educating her own children, speaks out against the misinformation and distrust meted out to home educators

What’s been said?

On 30 November Schoolsweek featured an Opinion piece by Anna Dusseau entitled Home-schoolers deserve better than misinformation and distrust.

Triggered by the release of the LGA’s report “Children missing education” on 16 November, Dusseau opens by querying the vastly differing total numbers of children said not to be in school for whatever reason. She also challenges the ongoing confusion between those not in school and those truly missing education.

Now a home educator herself, author and former teacher Dusseau boldly takes on some of the high profile names dubious about EHE. After reflecting on Spielman’s dismissive attitude towards parents, she very much hopes the Education Select Committee will not follow Spielman’s line in its deliberations.

Failures within the school system are also in Dusseau’s sights, together with the shrewd observation that “a far more likely narrative is that parents are withdrawing their children from school due to a collapse of faith in the system itself.”

Humorously noting that this perspective is “naturally unpopular among stakeholders,” she presses home her point by stating that the familiar official assertion that “most children are better off at school” rings somewhat hollow “after a year of disastrous mismanagement.”

Why does it matter?

Dusseau’s own journey from primary school refusnik to GCSE success story, then from teacher to home educating parent make her comments worthy of serious consideration. Her personal conviction is that the best learning takes place when stimulated by a child’s own curiosity to find out more, whilst enforced learning situations can have the undesired effect of shutting down interest and motivation.

On 4 August her story was featured in a Guardian article which included her advice for those contemplating home education from September. Billed as The teacher who decided to ‘unschool’ her own children, she was reported as an advocate of “discovery learning,” who felt that “her son and daughter were being ‘processed’ in school.”

She has also written her own “free range home education handbook” called “The Case for Homeschooling,” published by Hawthorn Press.

Events of this year have kept home education almost continuously in the headlines, but media attention does not always guarantee quality coverage. Dusseau’s careful consideration of some long-standing and important issues, however, make this Schoolsweek article a worthwhile read:

  • “inspection tends to drive education away from its natural, holistic focus on the child, towards a target-oriented, corporate approach;”
  • “children’s achievement, both in the classroom and in other educational settings, is most powerfully shaped by real parental engagement;”
  • “feeding an endless cycle of misinformation and mistrust” [about home education] is counter-productive;
  • “any debate must start from the premise that families long predate our 150-year-old compulsory education and 28-year-old inspectorate.”

What can I do?

Read the Schoolsweek and Guardian pieces, and if you want to further develop your own thinking about the benefits or otherwise of compulsory schooling, try her article in Progressive Education called Going, going, gone. What the sudden rise in home education does (and doesn’t) tell us about the school system.

Take heart from Dusseau’s point about the value of parental engagement, and remind yourself that families were successfully raising children long before the existence of the education system currently regarded as the norm in First World societies like our own.

In fact, in Sweden where day care from the age of one is now the default position for the majority of families and home education is not permitted apart from in “exceptional circumstances”, research with the benefit of hindsight is producing some rather disturbing findings.

So don’t let the tide of anti-HE propaganda undermine your trust in our own natural ability as a parent. You are an expert when it comes to knowing your own children best – and beyond that, you have their interests at heart more than any professional will ever do.