When parents opt to home-school their children, it is often seen as a “lifestyle” choice by observers. Rarely do people consider that it may be a choice parents are forced into because their child has special educational needs.
Unfortunately, this is often the case. Under the law, children with SEND have an equal right to be educated at home as other children. Most parents of children with SEND are not against the idea of school, but they start to consider home education owing to concerns about how their child’s individual needs are being met. A number of parents also report that their child being bullied is a big factor in their decision.
Major implications for families
The choice to home-educate can have major implications for children with SEND and their families. When children are home-schooled, one parent, usually the mother, often gives up work to educate the child. This, of course, has a massive impact on the family income. The situation is made worse for families pushed into home schooling who have had little time to prepare financially.
Home-schooling also has the potential to isolate the family in their communities and may put pressure on families to find the resources and information they need to educate their child at home, which can be challenging for non-specialists.
So how should schools react to a parent bringing up the topic of home-schooling their child?
First, they need to ask parents whether they feel that they are making an active and positive choice to home school or whether they are making a forced choice. In other words, are they jumping or do they feel pushed?
Teachers should ask parents what factors are influencing their decisions about home-schooling. Is bullying a factor? Or do the parents feel that the school and wider education system is not meeting their child’s learning needs?
These factors can often be overcome with interventions within schools that can help to take the pressure off parents. Identify these strategies and have an open conversation with parents.
If the choice is not connected to any unhappiness in the schooling system, then that’s fine – all children have the right to be home-schooled. But they should not be pushed by circumstances that could be avoided with the right support and a whole-school commitment to inclusion.
Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is senior research fellow in disability studies and psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.