Home learning: be careful

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Parents have a legal right to educate their children at home. But they may find it difficult to convince their local education authority they can do so effectively and efficiently, John McAllion, Labour MP for Dundee East, warned the first conference of Schoolhouse Home Education Association's in Dundee last week.

Relationships between home education and local authorities were "not clearly defined". Nor had every authority shown a willingness "to engage in a debate about home education," Mr McAllion said. The result was many inquiries to Schoolhouse from all over Scotland "provoked by crisis situations and misunderstandings".

But political correctness was on the side of home educators. "The Government is committed to developing a more inclusive society, but recognises there is no single universal answer to ensuring how this can be achieved." Mr McAllion said: "Diversity should be celebrated rather than feared."

Colin Moodie, senior legal adviser to the Scottish Child Law Centre, said that since the Education (Scotland) Act of 1980 allowed for "efficient" home education, local authorities were obliged to consider the views of parents.

However, it was best for home educators to co-operate with local authority advisers, as case law had demonstrated. There was no statutory obligation to follow a national curriculum or set of guidelines. But in the event of a dispute, the closer parents had stuck to "what was happening in schools", the easier it would be to convince a court the education they were providing was efficient, Mr Moodie said.

Roland Meighan, professor of special education at Nottingham University, said that home educators were "reluctant heretics" who had "stumbled on the "next learning system". It was a system to be used like libraries, relying on "invitation and encouragement" and not on a prescriptive national curriculum. "Librarians don't say you're eight, it's time to learn the Romans. They say, what are you interested in?" The national curriculum south of the border had to be ditched, with its "absurd" key stages, Professor Meighan said. "Personal learning plans don't operate on that logic. They are based on what is important now."

In the "next learning system" teachers ought to operate like "learning travel agents", using information technology to draw up contracts for personal learning. "That is a real professional task. What I was trained in as a teacher was the sub-professional task of crowd control."

But there were dangers in the the new learning if "an unholy alliance of Walt Disney, Robert Murdoch and Microsoft" were allowed to dominate information systems. Values in these systems should be agreed upon democratically, Professor Meighan urged.

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