Wise Words from Down Under

What’s been said?

Published on line in July 2016, a research article entitled “Child-led and interest-inspired learning, home education, learning differences and the impact of regulation” by Giuliana Liberto still has relevance to issues currently being discussed within the HE community.

Liberto is “a home educator who researched the effects of regulatory change on home education practice and children’s learning and well-being.” Her research was “prompted by her experience and observation of the impacts of restrictive and prescriptive regulatory requirements and processes for home education, which were focused more on compliance than on student need.” Her setting is New South Wales, and her research is autoethnographical, reflecting on her family’s personal experience and drawing out wider cultural, political, and social implications in the wake of tighter regulation by the authorities and the imposition of a school-based model of education upon home educating families (Section 1.2).

Why does it matter?

Liberto’s opening statements reflect her own view, “Children with learning differences, who have struggled to learn in schools, often thrive in a more flexible, child-focused learning environment, such as can be provided by home education.” This will chime with the experience of many parents of children with learning difficulties here. She clearly states the negative impact of imposed and impersonal regulation, “Yet, jurisdictions that impose inflexible home education regulations that restrict child-led and interest-inspired approaches compromise children’s learning.”

Her comments carry weight for several reasons. She has personal experience of HE both before and after the regulatory changes. “Autoethnographic research revealed a clear difference in practice and learning outcomes pre- and post-regulatory change. A move from a flexible regulatory process which enabled child-led, interest-inspired learning, to an inflexible, strictly regulated process that restricted the possibilities for such approaches resulted in poorer learning and corroded well-being for learning-differenced students.” She has carefully considered the reasoning behind the changes: “Analysis suggests these changed regulatory processes were founded upon a particular concept of ‘children’s best interests’ which frames all children’s needs as identical and can make individual children’s needs invisible. In this situation, the question of how children’s best interests are defined, and by whom, becomes urgent.”

Liberto also tackles states’ conflicting responsibilities to fulfil differing aspects of their duty under Education Acts and the UNCRoC, concluding (unsurprisingly) that parents’ “micro level” and personalised responses to their own children’s needs are almost always more successful that the “macro level blunt instrument” policies imposed by regulatory bodies. See Commentary Section 2.2.

Her observations are worthy of consideration. She notes that “inflexibly applied policy [can sometimes] obstruct specific children’s best interests.” She urges the importance of research and policy discussion around “the question of what constitutes, and who defines, children’s best interests”. She is fully convinced that “child-led and interest-inspired learning is effective and efficient, particularly in the context of an eclectic home education approach to learning differences.” Her comment, “However, parents’ ability to implement such strategies is vulnerable to regulatory attitude” demonstrates her understanding that the home environment can be adversely affected by tighter regulation, and how such effects are particularly notable in the case of learning-difference children.

What can I do?

Make time to read this article for yourself. Recommend it to policy-makers at both local and national levels, pointing out that we don’t have to fall into the same traps as other people if we are willing to listen to their advice and learn from their mistakes. If you haven’t submitted yet, you could make use of it in your English consultation response.