No need to demonise the homeschoolers

What makes a good parent? We asked the experts, and according to them it's looking after your children and feeding them, giving them advice and encouraging them to do the right thing, keeping them healthy and getting them into sports. But above all, it's caring (Kids Talk, page 46).

So why is it that people get so exercised over the topic of home education? Why are home educators often regarded as cranks? Part of it is suspicion of anything that's different and unease about children being separated from their peers. It may also be seen as a slap in the face, not only to teachers but to the 99.9 per cent of parents who send their children to school - if it's good enough for their children, why is it not good enough for home educators?

It's hard to get precise data for homeschooled children, as there is no official register. The latest figures in Scotland date back to 2009. The main reasons often given for parents educating their children themselves are religious or cultural beliefs, a particular educational or ideological philosophy, and problems at school, such as bullying or additional support needs not being met. The official figures are infinitesimal - 0.1 per cent of the school-age population - but rising steadily (News Focus, pages 12- 15).

Many of the parents who choose to educate their children at home are middle class and well educated, so feel capable of undertaking the task themselves. Some are teachers; one, Jim Conroy, was even dean of education at the University of Glasgow. And they will often send their children to senior school, so they can sit the national SQA exams.

But it's the scandals that hit the headlines, the tragic stories of children like Danielle Reid, 5, whose mother withdrew her from school in Inverness and whose body was found in the Caledonian Canal. Cases like these have led to new strategies for tracking children, for multi-agency working to avoid any falling through the net, and policies such as Getting It Right for Every Child. They have also led to increasing calls for all children to be registered with their local authority.

School leaders and education directors support registration, but the more ardent home education lobbyists see it as an infringement of parents' rights. The Scottish government is resisting a compulsory scheme, while the Welsh government is consulting on plans to tighten up regulation and the Commons Education Select Committee in Westminster is reviewing its policy.

Meanwhile, other parents face jail sentences or fines for their children's absence from school, as local authorities take a heavy line on truancy to drive up school attendance figures (page 5). It's a costly business and one the councils can ill afford. What's more, there's little evidence, we are told, that it works.

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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