Learners in a class of their own

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Educating children at home is undeniably successful yet parents receive no support and are actively discouraged, says Alison Preuss

hen I say my children are home educated, why is there always that same shock-horror reaction from those who have no qualms about offloading their own offspring at the local day-prison? And why do I find myself answering the same old questions even before they are asked? Yes, it's legal. No, my children are not social isolates. No, I'm not a qualified teacher. Yes, they can read, write, count, surf the Internet, and have even passed exams.

The popular perception of home educators seems to be that we are either hothousing parents preparing our brilliant children for early Oxbridge entry; or else we are hippie types who lead alternative, tree-hugging lifestyles. In fact the reality is very different for most of us. Our children may have been driven out of school because of bullying, have unmet special needs, or simply be free spirits who hate being forced into learning things that other people have decided are "for their own good".

Many parents feel they are incapable of educating their children, but most tend to confuse "education" with "schooling" - the two are far from synonymous. Indeed all the evidence points to the benefits of keeping children out of the system, and a new study from Durham University has found that children do disproportionately better at home if they come from poorer working-class backgrounds. Which brings me to a burning question of my own: why is there no proper support for home education when it is so undeniably successful? Too many vested interests in the schooling industry, perhaps?

It is a parental legal obligation to ensure that children are educated during the compulsory years - but that fact is remarkably concealed. The Scottish Consumer Council has found that parents seeking to remove their children from state schools in Scotland are routnely obstructed by local authorities.

Unlike in England and Wales, where children must be deregistered from school on demand, the "privilege" of exercising the same legal right in Scotland depends on parents obtaining council consent. Claims during the passage of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act that this represented a "safeguard" for children have already been exposed as bogus because the rules are easily circumvented by those who move areas or can afford to transfer children temporarily to independent schools. Besides, if parents never send their children to school, the local authority need never become aware of their home educating status.

The "welfare" issue regularly rears its ugly head, but "socialisation" is probably the biggest red herring of all. Home-educated children are socialised in the community, and they have friends and acquaintances of all ages and backgrounds. They do not need the artificial creation of real-life experiences because they never leave the real world. Why waste time with "mock" modern studies when you can be talking to real politicians about your concerns as young citizens?

Learning can be done anywhere, anyhow, anytime, especially now that the Internet is available as a tool. Working from home has become commonplace and learning from home is a natural progression.

Homogenisation, not education, is the real name of the schooling game, of course. If school is truly such a wonderful experience, why have compulsory attendance? The evidence is incontrovertible - home education works. And as the movement continues to grow, it is clear that home educators in Scotland are no longer prepared to tolerate interference from vested-interest professionals whose own system is on the road to obsolescence.

Alison Preuss is co-founder of Schoolhouse, the Dundee-based home education support group, and home educator of three children. The views are personal.

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