Choice and flexibility: Home Education on the up!

A growth of 65% over a four year period would indicate that this unique personalised learning option is increasing as a serious choice for parents.

Choice is a major theme that transcends all education sectors. Increasingly parents, students and teachers desire a level of personalised learning to engage with often sophisticated concepts. Home Education is no different. This flexible real choice for parents has shown a dramatic rise in participation over the last four years. In NSW alone there has been a 65% surge in registration of home educators. Educational Experience wanted to gain an insight into the reasons for this rapid growth in home education. Is it for the flexibility or displeasure with existing systems?

Educational Experience spoke with highly experienced and passionate advocate of home education, Vivienne Fox. "I’ve have had my 5 children at home for home education from the very beginning," explained Vivienne. "My eldest and only son [aged 19] has moved into further education in the IT sector, completing TAFE and now a degree in IT. There is no limit to the possibilities to what home educated children can do." At the age of 18, Vivienne’s son had completed his degree and now works full time. Also encouraging is the fact that Vivienne’s daughter at the age of 16 has started studying at TAFE and aims to enrol in a nursing degree in the future. "There is such a flexibility to follow their interests," Vivienne says of home education.

Rosalind and Stephen Neander also have five children in home education. They cite the "Freedom to choose what our children learn," as the fundamental difference with schools. As with Vivienne and her children, it is also this freedom to explore education beyond the regimented structures and systems of Government or religious education sectors. "At the beginning, I tried to mirror ‘real ‘school, beginning at 9, with work sheets ready." Now, Vivienne’s teaching and learning style has dramatically changed. "I’ve moved away from that a lot. We spend significant time enrolled in classes via the home education network here on the Central Coast (New South Wales)."

Vivienne’s children now spend many days in collaboration with other home education students, forging real links to other children with similar interests. "There is such a variety of classes available. I like the fact that my children will be with a variety of children from a diverse range of social and cultural backgrounds. The groups are not ranked by age or ability, but are interest driven with a wider range of ages within the classes."

"One thing I really like is that the children can stick with a topic until they really understand it instead of having to move at the same pace as the rest of the herd." Vivienne added, "I like to think that all of life involves learning, not only at home, working on maths in a book, caring for the chickens, or cooking dinner for the family, but also in the activities and classes we do with others in the home education network, or in the wider community."

Thank you to Vivienne Fox for supplying these images. Some of the learning environments available to the home educator.

Vivienne also highlights the value of interest driven focus. "Home education provides the time needed for children to really become lifelong learners; to be active in their pursuit of topics that interest them." Vivienne does stress however that there are barriers for new educators. "The greatest barrier is the ingrained perspectives of others. There is a lack of understanding, even from my own family, despite the success of my children in becoming active and innovative learners."

Often socialisation is cited as a key reason not to home educate. Vivienne disagrees. "We are so community focused. All backgrounds are found in home education and my children are able to experience and really learn about different families." For Vivienne, the lack of social interaction is a myth. "My children are so active and participate in such a wide variety of classes; from writing classes, to workshops with scientists and we do spend a lot of time in the community, learning."  Also, as Rosalind and Stephen explained, ‘There is a fear that their children will miss out or won't be prepared to make it in the 'real' world." Rosalind and Stephen really wanted their children to, "Get to grow up in the real world instead of the artificial environment created by the schooling institutions."

For Vivienne and her children, home education has been a success due to the quality partnerships. "People are my greatest resource. The range of people my children are learning with is the most valuable resource. It is the passionate people of the home education network that are the most important resource in the home education of my children." Rosalind and Stephen approach their teaching and learning with a mixture of parent led and child led learning. Rosalind recommends that in the first year, start by getting to know your kids. "Don't stress about the facts and figures. Learn how to be under the same roof and have fun together." Stephen supports the use of Math-U-See. "We used it right through from primary to secondary and found it to be excellent." Rosalind adds, "The wide variety of resources from educational stores, family and other home education families," is so important.

Within each state and territory it is enshrined in law a right to home educate. Western Australia allows home educators access to dental and nurse care, as well primary aged swimming lessons. Also, Western Australian home educators have access to the school travel allowance. Like the rest of Australia, WA has found that registrations for home education have increased, however, so too have enrolled student numbers. In WA there has been a change to allow pre-primary aged children to be counted, previously only Year One onwards had been counted as being enrolled or registered. Western Australia (April 2012) had 1889 students registered to receive home education.

Queensland recognises that home education provides choice for parents, however, Gabrielle Sinclair, acting Deputy Director Policy and Programs for Queensland’s Department of Education, Training and Employment highlights that the Department neither encourages nor discourages home education. Ms Sinclair believes that there are a wide variety of reasons for parents making the choice for home education. "A parent's desire to follow an education style or philosophy which may not be offered through a school or a school near them," is one of the core reasons for parents to seek home education. According to Ms Sinclair, "Some parents believe that it is their duty to educate their own child and not hand over this responsibility to a school." Also, an interesting factor is a parent’s desire to work through and personally address their child’s learning, behavioural, emotional or social needs.

Ms Sinclair stresses that the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment does not require parents to disclose their reasons for selecting home education when registering with the Department. Significantly, in Queensland the importance of the learning environment is paramount. "Parents applying to be registered for home education must include information about the learning environment and how it supports their child’s education," said Ms Sinclair.

Across the country there are a variety of regulations for Home Education. Please refer to the state or territory based Department of Education for links to information and support groups.

Web resources:

There is also the Home Education Association website, which has listings of support groups, and relevant information for home education Australia-wide.