Historic Distortion of Home Education Facts Down Under

Historic Distortion of Home Education Facts Down Under

“Evidence of home schooling success erased from inquiry report” – Australia, 2014!

What’s been said?

A significant article in the Australian edition of The Conversation from December 2014 has recently been brought to the Byte team’s attention. Despite its age, it relates closely to the theme of a recent article of our own The Truth Always Matters and still makes topical reading for UK home educators.

Entitled “Evidence of home schooling success erased from inquiry report,” the piece was authored by two academics and two PhD candidates from Australian universities. Three of them declared an affiliation with the Home Education Association.

A parliamentary inquiry into home education had been commissioned in New South Wales [NSW], as a result of lobbying by home educators there. The Conversation reports that several states had seen home education enjoying a “massive rise in popularity” in previous years, but home educators from NSW had lobbied for an inquiry because the registration system in their state had become “unnecessarily onerous, punitive, inconsistent and [was] not supporting the best interests of children.”

The inquiry had three public hearings, received several hundred submissions, and looked into a variety of educational approaches. This piece was published shortly after the report from the inquiry was tabled. The report itself runs to over three hundred pages, and may be found here [pdf].

The Conversation is not given to sensationalist reporting. Its Charter speaks of “inform[ing] public debate with knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence.” So the content of this article merits careful consideration, particularly in the light of similar factors observable in the UK and other European countries in recent years.

Why does it matter?

The introductory paragraphs soon identify the root of the problem. Although home education has always been legal in Australia, the authors note that “as an educational approach, it is rarely discussed publicly. This has led to misunderstanding, misinformation and fear.”

A selection of evidence is then cited, much of which may chime with regular Byte readers. Key points include:

  • home education assessors who had no expertise in home education;
  • failure of the regulatory authority to consult with stakeholders;
  • registration requirements beyond the scope of the Education Act;
  • suggestions that the increase in home education was partly due to problems in the school system;
  • evidence that home education enabled children who had been failed at school to recover physically and mentally and to succeed as learners;
  • evidence that having been home educated did not present a barrier to young people gaining access to further education and employment across a wide variety of fields.

The most worrying assertions however are to be found towards the end of the article, under the heading “Report omitted criticism of schools.” The astonishing level of bias and ideological motivation the authors bring to light are such that several extracts are included here: [Emphasis added in all cases]

“The report is as interesting for what it omits as for what it includes. The evidence regarding school failure and home education success was largely missing from the body of the inquiry report.”

These removals appear ideologically driven and fundamentally change the message communicated by the report. It seems that even in a parliamentary inquiry into home schooling it was felt necessary to protect the school system from criticism. One result of this has been media reports suggesting that home education presents a risk to children – despite the committee receiving evidence to the contrary.”

“The processes and results of this inquiry show that education remains an ideological issue – this time with political parties against parents and choice. The minutes also reveal the committee fought long and hard over the idea of altering the Education Act to remove the principle of “education as primarily the responsibility of parents.”

What can I do?

Read the Australian article. Be thankful for the NSW home educators who were willing to invest time and effort into exposing the one-sided way in which the inquiry findings were presented to the general public.

Initial reaction led to determined follow-through. They lobbied for a consultation. They took the time to respond to it. When the consultation report turned out to be unsatisfactory, they shone a light on that by getting their objections into the press.

We can all learn from their strategy and their persistence. It’s not only what we say that matters; how we say it is also important. Measured but firm statements achieve more in the long run than a rant or a lot of unsubstantiated hot air.

Think too about the content of what was written. Compare it with the issues being faced by home educators in England and Wales today. Many aspects highlighted in this article mirror similar attitudes towards HE in the UK today amongst politicians, civil servants and the media.

Think carefully about what the article brings to light, and how that connects with the prevailing narrative about home education here and in other European countries.

Consider your own locality and sphere of influence. Should you encounter half-truths, distortions or significant omissions related to the practice of home education or its outcomes, call them out. Correcting the narrative is something we can all contribute to. It doesn’t have to be on the big national scale or in the mainstream press; push-back at all levels is very worthwhile.

Providing their children with a suitable education remains the responsibility of parents, but there is constant pressure to erode this boundary and transfer the responsibility to the state. Therefore vigilant defence of parents and children to be free to choose what is a suitable education for each and every child continues to be vital!