The Rise of Home Schooling
Are we seeing more children home schooled?
As part of a Freedom of Information request, the Guardian has found that ‘numbers [of home schooled children] are rising’. ‘Nobody knows’ the exact number since parents whose children are home schooled 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 stigma. But is it a good idea? And what’s motivating more and more parents to take the leap?
Is home schooling a good idea?
There are definitely positives to home schooling your child: otherwise, why would anybody bother?
First off, home schooling gives you better oversight of your child’s education and life in general. Now, the first thing that this brings to mind is most likely the idea of the ‘helicopter parents’ who won’t let their child have a life of their own. But this is actually a great 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.
Home schooling 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 as well as technology building boundaries between us. Home schooling is actually a great opportunity to form stronger bonds together- just make sure you set proper boundaries and actually 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 home schooled 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 home schooled 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 to make friends and get outside with other kids.
All that having been said, parents have known about the benefits and drawbacks of home schooling 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 amount of reasons which parents increasingly find factor into a decision to home-school their children. One chief cause is undoubtedly the ever increasing politicization of education. An example from only a few days ago was the government’s dramatic climb-down from their decision to force through the ‘academization’ of the entire school system. Whether schools should be under the control of a local authority or not is a deeply divisive issue, and many believe that using education as a political weapon in this way underlines their deepest fears: that the school system isn’t about education any more.
This is only the most recent political wrangling over schools. Over the past few years there has been such uncertainty over testing- particularly at 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 surely be changed yet again. This uncertainty has eroded trust in schools and the school system. In information provided by councils in response to the Guardian’s freedom of information request, 9.3% of home schooling 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 home schooling. For her the chief motivator for home schooling parents is a lack of belief and trust in the tests and assessments meted out so regularly at school, and 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 effective and innovative teaching- has gone so far as to call 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 rather their child learn for the sake of it rather than study solely to pass a test.
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). According to the same freedom of information request, top of the list of reasons that parents have given was simply a ‘difference of philosophy or lifestyle’, the reasoning of 13.4% of home schooling parents. Also featured heavily were cultural or religious reasons, bullying, special needs and medical problems and even just not being able to get your child into your preferred school.
The take-home message here really is that you can’t abide by stereotypes. Home schooling can be either a good or a bad thing, and is definitely not a step to be taken lightly. But more and more parents are taking that huge step, and for reasons that we can all sympathise with; and with yet more political wrangling over education on the horizon, it’s highly likely that this trend is not stopping any time soon.
On numbers of children home schooled: 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