With public outrage arising against government policies for education at all levels, evidence suggests that the number of UK parents choosing to educate their children at home may be rising dramatically. Current estimates put the number of home schooled children in the UK between 50,000 and 80,000, but statistics obtained by Channel 4 from Local Education Authorities confirmed that in most areas the practice is on the rise.
UK law actually makes it remarkably easier to choose to home school children than in many other countries across the world. In Germany, for example, home schooling is illegal, and many other countries have strict regulations for its control and assessment, but in Britain the only requirement is that a child receives “an education”. Local Education Authorities have the right to request an annual written report on how a child is being educated and a writing sample, but they have no right to meet the child or visit the home and no formal standards are set to monitor the child’s progress.
So is this a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the many benefits of teaching our children at home, or a risky and irresponsibly relaxed policy that is allowing a damaging practice to become ever more widespread and jeopardising the education of thousands of children?
Parents who choose to home school their children cite many reasons, with the most popular being a genuine belief that they can give their child a better education at home than they would receive at school. With the intensive one-to-one attention a child receives from their parents and the opportunity this provides for specific concentration on the child’s interests and weaknesses, it is unsurprising that studies show home schooled students perform significantly higher than their peers in standardised tests.
A study conducted by Raymond and Dorothy Moore in the 1970s showed startling differences between home schooled children and their peers, leading them to conclude that early school attendance may actually inhibit childhood development. They suggested that being under the influence of warm, loving parents and allowed to learn through exploration was infinitely more successful at an age when the brain is not sufficiently developed to benefit from the strict regimen of formal school classes and rules.
Amongst religious reasons and the ability to concentrate on children with special needs, one of the most common reasons parents give for home schooling is a refusal to release their children to what they believe are sub-standard schools for their education. Whether they object to the school curriculum, feel that the local school is particularly bad or that the teachers do not give their child adequate attention, complaints about state education are soaring, and many parents are beginning to seriously consider home schooling as a viable alternative.
But what are the disadvantages of being kept out of mainstream schools? The potential for social problems and difficulty integrating into society is enormous, though home schooling parents argue that their child receives a great deal of interaction with other children, and more adult attention and conversation than many children in full-time education receive. There are fears that home schooled children may find it much harder to share and interact with others when they mature, having never experienced team games or a classroom or playground environment, and that they may be more reluctant to yield their opinion or compromise with others.
Academically too, although some studies have suggested that home schooled children on average perform 30% higher than their peers in testing, there are clear risks as well that parents simply may not be able to provide the high standard of expertise necessary to fully educate a child in all subjects of the curriculum, particularly if home schooling continues at GCSE and A level. Resources are also likely to be an issue; for though many standardised text books may be purchased online, a home schooled child has no access to school facilities like science laboratories or sports equipment.
Another potential problem is the jump from home school to higher education, with most universities requiring A level and GCSE grades for admission, though home school children can enter into these examinations privately.
Yet in spite of the obvious fears for their social development, a 2003 study carried out in the US showed that 71% of home school graduates are active in their communities and participate in community projects such as coaching a local team or volunteering at school, compared to just 37% of the general population. They were more engaged and active in politics too, with 76% using their vote compared to just 29% of the corresponding US populace. Perhaps most importantly of all, 59% of home schooled adults reported that they were “very happy” with their lives compared to just 28% of the general US population.
More and more parents are becoming convinced that taking on the responsibility of educating their children at home will help them achieve the highest results and get the best start in life. With the government’s violent shake-up of education at all levels and the emphasis on ‘free schools’ being run by parents with no educational experience necessary, they might just be right.