The Rise of Home Schooling
Are we seeing more children homeschooled?
As part of a Freedom of Information request, the Guardian has found that ‘numbers [of homeschooled children] are rising’. ‘Nobody knows’ the exact number since parents whose children are homeschooled from the beginning of their education are, in fact, under no obligation to tell anybody! But apparently, 85% of local authorities claimed to have seen a rise in their reported amount between 2011 and 2015, even to the point of doubling in some places.
Deciding to keep your kids at home is a huge decision and one that carries a lot of stigmas. But is it a good idea? And what’s motivating more and more parents to take the leap?
Is homeschooling a good idea?
There are positives to homeschooling your child: otherwise, why would anybody bother?
First off, homeschooling gives you better oversight of your child’s education and life in general. This brings to mind the idea of the ‘helicopter parents’ who won’t let their children have a life of their own. But this is an excellent option for many parents- children with physical or mental disabilities, for instance, like ADD, can benefit from care and education at home in an environment they’re more comfortable with.
Homeschooling also lets you get closer to your kids. These days everybody seems more distant, and that’s in no small part to long work or school hours and technology building boundaries between us. Homeschooling is an excellent opportunity to form stronger bonds together- make sure you set proper boundaries and teach your child instead of spending all day playing with a Frisbee in the park.
On the flip side, everyone knows the stereotype of the awkward and unsociable homeschooled kid- the one who never learned to socialise with other kids because they spent all their time at home with their parents instead. You can probably imagine the ugly polo shirt and straight bowl cut quite easily. Of course, this is a stereotype and an oversimplification; this whole situation can be mitigated at least a little through actively encouraging your child to socialise through local clubs, Scout meetings, or some other way if they’re older. On the positive side- a homeschooled child won’t experience the peer pressure and bullying that many experience at school. But there’s no replacement for spending five days a week around others your age, and it will take special effort to help them make friends and get outside with other kids.
All that being said, parents have known about the benefits and drawbacks of homeschooling for years. So what’s pushing more and more people to teach their kids at home now?
Why are parents taking their children out of the system?
There are a surprising number of reasons that parents increasingly find factor in a decision to home-school their children. One chief cause is undoubtedly the ever-increasing politicisation of education. An example from only a few days ago was the government’s dramatic climb-down from their decision to force through the entire school system’s ‘academisation’. Whether schools should be under the control of a local authority or not is a deeply divisive issue. Many believe that using education as a political weapon in this way underlines their deepest fears: that the school system isn’t about education anymore.
This is only the most recent political wrangling over schools. Over the past few years, there has been such uncertainty over testing- particularly at the GCSE level- that parents and children alike have been bemused. January and March exams were done away with, resits were discouraged, new league table systems were introduced, and grading systems were changed. On the face of it, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing- but with polls increasingly suggesting that Labour will be back in power come the next election, the system will undoubtedly be changed yet again. This uncertainty has eroded trust in schools and the school system. In the information provided by councils in response to the Guardian’s freedom of information request, 9.3% of homeschooling parents do so because they are dissatisfied with their local school.
A BBC article on the topic points to Dr Helen Lees- an expert on ‘alternative education’- who has written extensively on homeschooling. The chief motivator for homeschooling parents is a lack of belief and trust in the tests and assessments meted out so regularly at school. The fact is that testing is, in all likelihood, not as effective an educational tool as we like to think. The ASCD- an international association for the advancement of practical and innovative teaching- has called testing about as useful as ‘measuring temperature with a tablespoon’ and useless for judging the quality of education. Again, this is a divisive opinion but a more common one in the face of ever-changing examinations. Many parents would prefer that their child learns for the sake of it rather than study solely to pass a test.
According to the same freedom of information request, the top of the list of reasons that parents have given was simply a ‘difference of philosophy or lifestyle’, the reasoning of 13.4% of homeschooling parents. Also featured heavily were cultural or religious reasons, bullying, special needs and medical problems and even just not getting your child into your preferred school. These are just a couple of reasons, and a parent could take their child out of the system because of any of them (or because of something completely different).
The take-home message here really is that you can’t abide by stereotypes. Homeschooling can be either a good or a bad thing and is not a step to be taken lightly. But more and more parents are taking that giant step, and for reasons that we can all sympathise with, and with yet more political wrangling over education on the horizon, likely, this trend is not stopping any time soon.
On numbers of children homeschooled: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/apr/12/home-schooling-parents-education-children-england; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35133119.
On academies: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13274090
On GCSE changes: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11046160/GCSE-reforms-explained.html
On the efficacy of testing: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar99/vol56/num06/Why-Standardized-Tests-Don’t-Measure-Educational-Quality.aspx