SCHOOL’S OUT FOR EVER!
Experts warn there are still risks with schooling your kids at home, writes Naomi White
The hardest thing for a child to learn is to read
I t’s one of the most controversial decisions a parent can make — and one that can draw outright ridicule from friends and family. Homeschooling remains a tricky topic. Long associated with alternative lifestyles, many people write it off as an option. At the same time, the number of families taking it up is growing across Australia. Just under 2200 families homeschool about 3700 children across the state, according to the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) NSW, with most clustered around greater Sydney, the Hunter, Richmond, Tweed and mid-north coast regions. A further 180 children are homeschooled but have not been registered. Reasons vary on why parents adopt this approach, with NESA listing philosophical choices, religious reasons and parents seeking to tailor teaching for children with special needs. Experts say the support now offered to parents ensures better outcomes for homeschooled children but some still warn of potential pitfalls. Dr David Zyngier, a senior education lecturer at Melbourne’s Monash University, believes most children benefit from a traditional school-based education. “Some homeschooling can be very effective,” Zyngier says. “But the hardest thing for a child to learn ever is to read, which requires experts to teach them. “It’s a huge challenge for some kids and without reading and the ability to read well, further education becomes very problematic, which is why I recommend for the vast majority of kids is to go to a school staffed by professionals.” Zyngier also warns that the importance of socialisation offered by a school environment can’t be overstated. “There is some socialisation going on (for homeschooled children) but generally speaking these children are socialising with people who are like them, which is not what happens in most of our public schools,” he says. “Socialising with children in a multicultural and diverse environment is really what we want to expose our children to if we want them to grow up as well-rounded individuals who can do more than pass a test.” Any parent can choose to homeschool, as no formal teacher training is needed, but they must be approved by NESA through an accreditation process that involves demonstrating how they will follow the standard curriculum and a home visit. Parents must self-fund their child’s education as none of the government funding provided to schools applies in the home. University of Newcastle lecturer David Roy, who is on the homeschooling consultancy group with NESA, says that despite these hurdles the number of children being taught at home is rising. “(We’ve seen) an increase that’s above the population increase; it’s a larger increase than normally you would be expecting, statistically,” he says. Roy believes homeschooling can be successful, saying it’s no barrier to university. He says the accreditation process, criticised by some parents as too strict, is vital for ensuring children meet critical learning outcomes. “The accreditation process is a very useful and powerful thing,” Roy says. “Some homeschooling groups don’t like it but what it creates is a clarity that this is the standard you have to meet, just like a normal school. If you work from that curriculum, children can thrive, and time and time again I hear of thriving children.” Roy says he has found the two main reasons parents opted for homeschooling were they had a feeling their child was not being supported at a mainstream school and bullying. Dr Nikki Brunker from the University of
It was unheard of ... it was quite terrifying
Sydney says as schools become more standardised many parents are increasingly feeling their children aren’t being given enough assistance. She says teachers are in a difficult position with children who aren’t thriving, and there are instances where children need the flexibility of homeschooling and do better when taught one-on-one by an adult rather than learning in a peer group. “It’s pushing teachers into a box as well. It’s really hard with the current requirements on them,” she says. “If they can’t engage a kid in their requirements to teach and the kids are noncompliant and their behaviour policies are not working, teachers have very few options. “We tend to forget parents are the first and primary educators of all children; they’ve already been engaged in educating them for four years. “From a teacher/educator perspective the first step is building a relationship with the child, and parents already have such an intense understanding of their child, they’re already so far ahead of that teacher meeting 25 kids at the start of the year and getting to know what each one needs. It’s a phenomenal load for a teacher to have to do that.” Zyngier says there are times where parents withdraw children for bullying or concerns over teaching, without attempting to reconcile issues with the school. He acknowledges this is not easy for all parents but says bullying, while a major problem, is overstated. “Parents should, in the first instance, see themselves as very important partnersers in in the the education process of their child,” hee says. says. “But while there are many avenuesues for for parents to be able to liaise with a schoolhool and and school teachers, it’s not always easy for for them them to find the pathway to do it. “Families who homeschool pointt to to bullying as an issue because it’s something they want to be able to point out — this is the reason why, but they haven’t often tried to resolve the problem. Schools are committed to resolving the problem. If the child is being bullied at school, parents should firstly contact the school to do something about it. All schools have good procedures to follow. If parents aren’t happy with that, they can go to a regional office or director.”
Lindy Hadges has homeschooled all of her five children — her eldest is 27, the youngest 12. None has spent a day at school.
“I think by the time my daughter was two or three people started having conversations about which preschool she would attend. I just remember thinking: ‘I’ve only just given birth to this child, I’ve barely had any time with them!’ It seemed unnatural, I wanted time to be with them and to be influencing and moulding them. There seemed to be this expectation I’d be giving them away to other people because they were supposedly better experts. I felt something was not right with this way of thinking ... and then I stumbled across homeschooling and it intrigued me. We made the decision to homeschool by the time our daughter was four. It was very new and, particularly back then, quite unheard of and was quite terrifying. I felt very strongly about it so I knew I was going to do it, but I faced a considerable amount of persecution. It’s changed today. Back then it was much harder to get information. I made a lot of my own resources, but nowadays they’re readily available. I’ve seen huge benefits. I think they’re not raised by a peer group the same age, but by a community of adults. I find they’re considerably stronger and more mature than their schoolaged peers. They have more time to explore and expand who they are as ind individuals, and see what their strengt strengths and weaknesses are. T They have time to daydream, reflect and experience things in a slower, m more regulated way an and that’s a very good thing. As a pare parent there’s time to observe who th they are and help t them focus on t that. If they’re in school they are introduced to so many things, there’s not time to w work out who th they are.
Lindy Hadges (below) with her two youngest children, Jacob, 15, and Odette, 12. Picture: Simon Bullard