Saturday, 21 June 2008

Home schooling - the future?

The Financial Times has run a feature - A Class Apart (warning: you may need to register) - which reports on the continuing rise in families opting for home schooling. These statistics caught my eye:
  • 17%: The estimated annual increase in children who are home-schooled in the UK (presently 50,000)
  • 10%: The proportion of home-educating families in the UK who use textbooks on a frequent basis
  • 42%: The proportion of home-educating families in the UK that earn less than the national average wage. Despite perceptions that learning at home is a middle class phenomenon, 17 per cent of families live on incomes of under £10,000 per year
    Source: Mike Fortune-Wood
  • 1.1 million: The lowest estimate of the number of children being home-schooled in the US. (17 US presidents were educated at home.)
    Source: Fraser Institute
In the overall scheme of things 50,000 families may not be huge but given that The Guardian reported just last year (2007) that the figure was 16,000 (which represented a three fold increase since 1999) the growth is not linear. Something that was once regarded as fringe and alternative may rapidly become mainstream.

As the FT reports:
Since there is no legal duty on parents to inform local education authorities that they are home schooling their children, the government has no idea how many children are in this position. Only if a child starts school and is then withdrawn is there an official record. But this misses out the thousands of children who never start school in the first place.

School is not compulsory in the UK - which may come as a surprise to many parents.

Section 7 of The Education Act 1996 (England and Wales) states that: "The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable: (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

This "otherwise" gives us a surprising amount of freedom as the FT summarises:

They don’t have to follow the national curriculum, enter their children for exams, observe school hours, give formal lessons, or mark work. Local authority inspectors can ask annually for written information on how a child is being educated, but they have no right to meet the child or visit the home. Should a local authority decide a child is not receiving a “suitable” education it does have powers to send him or her back to school. In practice, though, courts rarely rule in the authority’s favour.

This, I feel, may open the flood gates. There is growing pressure and dissatisfaction in the education system from all sides - from parents, students, teachers and education professionals. Like the proverbial boiling frog, the temperature is at a level which is already causing real damage to the very foundations of the system.

Research conducted by the University of Durham looked at the motives for home schooling. Top of the list is disappointment with "education", schools, ideology, school bullying, lack of personal attention. But putting negativity aside, when asked what home education meant to them the breakdown of descriptors was as follows:

These descriptions reflect a lot of current thinking around effective learning strategies at all ages, in education and in the workplace. Technology now enables this model to work far more efficiently than ever before. We can have highly individual learning experiences, be geographically dispersed and yet actually maintain a larger, more diverse set of social connections while simultaneously reinforcing family bonds. Interhigh is just one example of an "internet based school" that provides some structure and support for home-schooled kids.

Of course the key to this working is the shape of the family unit, having parents/carers interested and motivated to support children in their learning experiences. Time and money are issues but with increased mobility and flexibility around how we work and learn, the increasing accessibility of technology, and harnessing of our innate desire to self-learn it starts to become practical to stop "schooling" and instead support learning as a constant activity throughout our lives.

The traditional school experience will inevitably undergo radical change - perhaps sooner than we all expect.


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