Real Home Educators Heard on the BBC!

Investigative journalism conveys an unusually positive view of home education, as well as addressing several familiar objections

What’s been said?

BBC Radio 4’s “Bringing Up Britain” programmes will be familiar to many. Described by presenter Anjula Mutanda as “the series in which we look at issues facing parents through one family’s dilemma,” series 13 concluded on 3 November with a programme called “Should I Home Educate My Kids?”

In the process of helping parent Sara to decide whether to pull two of her five children out of school and teach them herself, Mutanda sought to “gather information from home education professionals and rip open myths.” She interviewed a range of “experts,” as well as citing perceived advantages of being home educated from one family whose teenaged children have never attended school.

Sara’s stated desire was for her children’s curiosity to be stimulated, for them to “find passion in learning,” and for them to be “the best that they can in whatever they like to be.” She had already identified the potential stigma factor, noting that home educators are “not very well looked upon… either weirdos, or those alternative communities.” She asked for more clarity about the law, and wondered whether HE children are overly shielded, leaving them lacking in life skills they will need later.

Why does it matter?

Mutanda achieved her stated aim very comprehensively in this forty minute presentation, and those she interviewed brought useful comments to the table, addressing issues relevant to HE practitioners.

Sara’s interest in HE stemmed from her own experiences during lockdown, when she was afforded “a more in depth look into just how her children were learning.” Her questions were real and remain topical, so the programme is likely to resonate with listeners for exactly that reason.

Mutanda’s first contributor was Dr Amelia Roberts from University College London’s Centre for Inclusive Education. She felt it was important not to “overly paint a doom and gloom picture” of the lockdown version of home education and was positive about the way some parents successfully “helped children to engage with real learning.”

When home education researcher Dr Helen Lees was asked to explain the legal position in the UK, she immediately highlighted the “huge misunderstanding” which the majority of people are under, believing that “compulsory school attendance is the law.” Lees saw the failure to publicise the equally viable option to home educate as scandalous, calling it a “huge silence.” She was also forthright about the stigma factor, explaining that home education is viewed as strange “because it’s unusual, and people don’t like what is not normal. They find it threatening.”

Alison Sauer from the Centre for Personalised Education stated that up to two thirds of parents currently home educating “do it because there’s trouble at school.” She also referenced the large HE support network which exists, demystified the matter of deregistration and fielded questions about exams, including this year’s débâcle. Next Sauer tackled the “lacking in social skills” allegation, and dispelled the myth of children being clingy due to being with their mothers for too long.

Finally she confronted the prejudice issue head on, asserting that there “hasn’t been a single home educated child who died at the hands of their parents or abused or anything like that, who wasn’t already known to the authorities.” This, she said, affirmed that “the system with social care… with child protection, actually works… we need to stop acting in a prejudicial way towards home educators and [stop] seeing them as something ‘other’ than the rest of society.”

Consultant Educational and Child Psychologist Dr Paul Kelly was well aware of the “scepticisms or questions about home educated children” held by many education professionals. However, he saw this as quite odd seeing that the schooling system as we know it has been around for less that a hundred and fifty years, “and before that most children were educated and trained in the home environment.”

When asked for a key plus about HE, his response, borne out by research, was, “if the child is relaxed, engaged, interested and enjoying their learning… they’re much more likely to make sense of that, understand what they’re doing and recall it later.”

Finally, Mutanda questioned Gordon Harold, Professor of Psychology of Education and Mental Health at Cambridge University about the benefits children get from being at school. In addition to “specific educational benefits,” Harold detailed “an array of influences and positive experiences” which in his view helped to prepare young people for the world outside school. Unsurprisingly, he also noted that risk and any safeguarding issues may be picked up in a school setting.

Harold however did make a useful point about the lack of comparative evidence at a wider societal level about the outcomes of “a home school model” versus a school model. He also stressed the need for young people to experience the wider social world interpersonally, not just digitally – this being true, of course, for all young people, not just the HE cohort.

What can I do?

This programme is available for over a year on BBC Sounds. It’s an easy but very worthwhile listen, so do make time to hear what was said.

Bookmark the link too. It is a helpful item to pass on to others. Some may be interested in HE for the first time. Others may be feeling disheartened by a stream of misinformation or prejudice, and appreciate some encouragement.

If you use social media it is a useful resource to share, as it clearly puts forward the positives of EHE and directly addresses the most commonly rehearsed negatives.