Home education numbers have been increasing nationally and across the globe for a number of decades now.
The responsibility of parents to ensure the education of their children is enshrined in the Education Act of 1997, either by regular school attendance ‘or otherwise’. ‘Or otherwise’ generally, although not always, means home education.
Families taking this option might be motivated by push or pull factors or a combination of these. Pull factors might be their own pedagogical ideas and learning philosophies, the desire to spend more time with their children, family lifestyle, happy home-educating friends or memories of their own successful home education.
Push factors are more likely to involve concerns about schools – general ones about school culture, testing regimes, the National Curriculum, academic focus and early starting age. Or they could be more specific, related to their child’s individual experience: bullying, unmet needs, school trauma or refusal.
Then there is the practice of ‘off-rolling’, where schools encourage parents to deregister ‘difficult’ pupils saving schools from having to deal with persistent absences or resource heavy demands.
The whole is contextualised by the generally poor public image of home education and by a policy and media stance that unquestioningly advocates school as the proper location for education.
Matters have come to something of a head in recent months over the proposed compulsory register of home educated children. For families who have taken their children out of school as a last option or for those who felt forced out of school when they would really rather have stayed, the register adds insult to injury.
For those who have actively chosen to home-educate because they want to be with their children and fully involved in their education and childhoods, it feels like a disrespectful mistrust and unwarranted intervention.
It is time to start moving the issue to more productive ground and to get honest about both home education and school and perhaps most importantly on the ground in between the two.
Whilst Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza insists that all children are better off in school and Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS president, argues that a register of home educators will protect children, the lived reality for many families is that school is neither a good nor safe experience for their children.
The organisation Square Peg and its membership group Not Fine in School, was set up to help the growing number of children struggling with school attendance and currently stands at over 12,000 members.
Underlying issues include bullying, physical and mental health difficulties and unmet SEND needs. But the result is always the same - untold unhappiness for the children affected and their families as school becomes an endless and debilitating struggle.
Some of these children may be deregistered by parents able to home educate, others may have to struggle on, others may be off rolled by schools, wrestling themselves with the demands made of them and the lack of recognition of this type of problem.
Instead of blanket assumptions about school experiences, families and schools need to work together in productive ways.
Recognising the value of flexi-schooling and making this option easier would be a useful place to start. Children struggling with school attendance could move to tailor made hybrid options that might ease the stress and pressure of full-time schooling.
Schools could be given the resources to reach out to home educated children, offering sports or social opportunities and bridging the divide between the two forms of education.
Home educating candidates have suffered from lack of venues and support in public examinations – schools, with an understanding of this issue, could fill that gap and even open up revision or exam preparation classes to independent child candidates.
There is a rich world of possibility and support that lies beyond the demarcations of home and school that are being enforced by policies of suspicion and mistrust.
Home educators are crying out for better understanding and more productive ways to work together in their rejection of the compulsory register. It would be an enlightened mark of progress for education in all its forms if schools could step forward with them on this issue.
Harriet Pattison, author and Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool Hope University.