Home Schooling vs Public Schooling

The term ‘Home Schooling’ is one that is being used more frequently in recent times, as more parents choose to either remove their child from school, or avoid enrolling them once they reach compulsory school age (5 years old, in the UK). The official name for the practice is Elective Home Education (EHE), though this is more commonly shortened to Home Education and is often used by parents who purposely wish to exclude the word ‘school’ from the process.

An infant student writing with a pencil.

It was estimated in 2018 that the number of home-educated children across the UK had risen 40% in three years, from 34,000 to 48,000. It is safe to say that this figure will have increased significantly since those findings (currently estimated to be rising 80% per year).

Although the GOV.UK website gives fairly comprehensive guidelines on the issues surrounding home education, Local Authorities are free, to some extent, to interpret the law as they see fit. This has led to acrimony – and even litigation in some cases – between themselves and the parents in some regions, as battles ensue over the rights each party claims to have.

On the one hand, the parents feel they have the right to raise and educate their child without interference from government bodies or other parties. On the other, the authorities maintain that they have a right to ensure that the child is receiving what they deem a ‘suitable education’, as well as expressing concerns about the safeguarding and welfare of the child in question.

It can be argued that both have equally valid points, but a sensible, sensitive and practical solution has so far proved elusive. This is not to say that there aren’t regions within the UK where the system generally works well. The success – or failure – of the system largely seems to come down to individual Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and the opinions of the staff working within them, as well as their understanding of the guidelines. Parents who choose to home-educate often share their experiences with others via social media, and it has become clear which LEAs are more lenient and understanding, as opposed to those who are more obstructive, inflexible, and rigorous in their pursuit of ‘encouraging’ school attendance rather than EHE.

This is far from being an ideal situation, as Elective Home Education is a legal right of all parents, even though the vast majority of people are unaware of the fact.

So, Should I Home-School My Child?

To gain a better understanding of the problem, it is vital to examine the reasons why parents choose to avoid using state-run or registered independent (usually referred to as a ‘private’) schools. To do this, it is necessary to look at the ‘pros and cons’ of both systems.

Elective Home Education

There are a number of different styles of home education, and many reasons for doing so. For most EHE parents the key word will be ‘freedom’.

The attractions are obvious:

  • No ‘school runs’.
  • No need to wake up early – unless you wish to.
  • Flexibility regarding the subjects – you are not bound by the National
  • More choice as to when to take a holiday – without financial punishment.
  • Flexibility as to the hours of study.
  • The option to take lessons outdoors when you wish, or to make ‘educational’ trips.
  • The benefits of ‘One-to-One’ teaching, allowing you to spend as much time as you need to cover a particular subject.
  • No school uniform or equipment costs.
  • Local support groups for like-minded parents, where children can meet and socialise – if they want to.
  • EHE children are more likely to be taught etiquette and manners.
  • EHE pupils are considered more likely to excel in academic achievement.
  • + Issues, without repercussions.

Generally speaking, children who have experienced school but have subsequently left to engage in EHE are happier and perform better academically, though there will be elements of school life where they may feel they miss out, such as school plays and outings, or simply the sense of companionship of belonging to a class. Those who have never experienced school at all will not have any basis for comparison, but most EHE parents will consider all these things before making the decision. It is never one that is taken lightly by the majority of parents.

It is difficult to provide accurate data on how well home educated children perform, as it is by nature incomplete. The figures stated at the beginning of the article are bound to be inaccurate, as there are parents who, quite legally, have never registered their children, which raises concerns for the Local Authorities. To add to the problem, some parents remove their children from school to avoid fines, or for other equally unacceptable reasons.

Concerns are also frequently raised regarding the social skills of home-educated children. This is an issue that EHE parents appear to find the most irritating. They will most likely point out that the average school-educated child is far less likely to display acceptable social skills than a child educated at home. The difficulty here is being able to measure precisely what constitutes socially acceptable behaviour.

Is The British Education System better than “Home Schooling”?

A neat and empty classroom

The education system in the UK is respected across the world. It has ranked number one in 2018 and 2019 in the list of countries providing the best education, run by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) but this focuses more on provision for higher education than primary and secondary schools.

While it is true that, in general, our schools provide what is recognised as a ‘well-rounded’ education, there are concerns that schools are consistently failing pupils from specific backgrounds in particular – namely, ones from low-wage or disadvantaged families.

From the age of 5, children are provided with the opportunity to receive free education within the state school system. There are four ‘Key Stages’, that introduce them to the basics regarding Mathematics, English Language, History, Geography, and Music, as well as Physical Education. At stage four, these core subjects are added to, with foundation subjects now included, such as Computing, Citizenship, Humanities, Design & Technology, Arts, and Modern Foreign Languages. At age 16, the pupil can then decide whether to continue in full-time education or not.

When compared with other countries, the system is a good one. Overall, exam results are acceptable, showing an upward success rate.

However, there are clear problems that have been highlighted. As mentioned above, some schools are failing pupils that fall into distinct categories, as noted in the Ofsted Annual Report 2018/19. Three specific categories that are the most affected are those which include children with special educational needs and disabilities(SENDS), pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) and those eligible for free school meals (FSM).

In connection with these, the subject of ‘off-rolling’ has been increasingly in the news. Off-rolling occurs when a pupil is removed from a school without using the proper methods of permanent removal, such as expulsion, when it is purely for the benefit of the school rather than the pupil. Ofsted considers this practice to be unacceptable, but the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that the problem is widespread. One study showed that 41,000 pupils ‘disappeared’ from the system over a 5 year period. These children were removed from the schools either because they were likely to lower the overall exam success rate and affect the ‘league table’ standing, or to reduce the school expenditure.

Bullying

Aside from these issues, there are many other considerations, such as the ever-present problem of bullying. A study by the Children’s Society, focusing purely on England, discovered that English schoolchildren were amongst the unhappiest in the world. Around half a million 10 to 12-year-olds stated that they had been bullied, with some 38% having been physically assaulted by classmates in the previous month.

Bullying represented using wooden toys

Whilst it is easy to ask why more is not being done by teachers and staff to tackle this, it needs to be remembered that they themselves are facing considerable pressure in other areas. Their workload alone causes more than enough stress, with many finding they are having to work evenings and weekends to keep up with marking and lesson schedules. The classrooms are often filled to capacity, putting pressure on pupils as well as staff. Teachers are expected to deal with a whole host of situations, including the provision of counselling or pastoral care, and even dealing with the effects of knife crime. Many are seriously worried about Ofsted inspections and changes in education policy. Others fear retribution from angry parents or are fearful of violent pupils. On top of this, in spite of government claims, 2020 will see 80% of schools in a worse position financially than they were in 2015 (source: School Cuts, a coalition of six unions associated with the teaching profession)

A recent article by the Huffington Post suggested that around 40% of current teaching staff are planning to leave the profession by 2024 due to the ‘unreasonable conditions’.

And all this is before you add the subject of Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) that place added pressure on teachers and pupils alike.

Putting these problems aside, though, there are schools that are proving successful and where any issues and challenges are being managed. Overall, the school environment can provide a decent education in a safe and nurturing environment. There are thousands of dedicated, qualified teachers who excel in their roles and who are making the best of an education system that is literally in crisis.

What is being done to support Elective Home Education?

In 2009, Ed Balls (then Secretary of State for Schools) commissioned a review into EHE, conducted by Graham Badman, the former Director of Children’s Services at Kent County Council. The premise of this review was based on home education being used as a screen by which to cover up abuses against children, including the practice of forced marriage. The findings of the Badman Review were seen as being flawed, disproportionate and unjustified, which angered the majority of home-educating parents.

More recently, in April 2019, another consultation was undertaken, this time to explore the possibility of a system of registration for ‘Children Not In School’. The consultation closed in June 2019 and the results are awaited, having been overshadowed by other, more pressing, political matters. At face value, it offers a pragmatic but fair view; a system of registration for all home-educated children, but with the understanding that the parents can expect help and support in their choice. The actual results may present a different outcome, and EHE parents are understandably wary.

The whole issue of home education is an emotive and sensitive one, with those on each side stressing the argument that they are protecting the interests of the child.

Conclusion

In spite of the misgivings of professional teaching staff and Local Authorities, Elective Home Education is on the rise and is providing the majority of pupils with an excellent start in life. The benefits are obvious to see, especially when weighed against a state education system rife with problems and which is in severe crisis.

Home educated children are not invisible, and few, if any, are at risk. There are well over 10 million pupils currently in our schools, which puts EHE pupils in an exceedingly small minority. Emphasis should surely be placed on fixing the broken and failing state education system before directing focus, as well as funding, on a method that is proving effective and turning out well-educated, well-mannered and well-adjusted young people, who are better prepared to face the challenges of the future than their school-educated counterparts.


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