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Home Education - Who are the Experts?

There can be no doubt that the pandemic has changed our lives. Some form of home learning has been experienced by many families who would never have considered such an option. Home education numbers have increased significantly across Australia, with increases of around 20% in South Australia, Victoria and NSW in 2020, and 25% in Queensland. Of those four, only Queensland has released numbers in 2021 which shows sustained growth in the sector which we expect to see repeated in the other states.

Over recent months in the eastern states, vaccine mandates and back to school orders have seen another surge in families choosing home education. Alongside this, we are also seeing a surge of displaced teachers, seeking to continue teaching outside the educational system and looking to the home education sector to sustain their incomes and careers.

The Home Education Association, Australia’s peak body for home educators, is seeing a corresponding increase in requests for information and support.

Are teachers the experts?

I have a great deal of respect for teachers. Some of my best friends are teachers. They do a hard job, and good teachers can have a significant positive impact in the lives of many children. Teachers are the experts in institutional education. Teacher education is geared towards providing education to groups of about 30 students of the same age at the same time. They are great at crowd control, and facilitating group learning. They understand the school system, and all the jargon contained within syllabus documents. They have strategies to teach and assess groups of students, and experience in doing just that.

But teachers are not the experts in home education. Experienced home educators are the experts in home education. Home education is not school at home. Home education is not the school-online, lockdown learning you might have experienced - that is more like distance education.

Is it home education - or 'school' outside of school?

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck….well, it’s probably a duck.

Increasingly, we are seeing new groups forming, consisting of families and teachers exiting the education system. These groups seem to wish to replicate school outside of school. There is no provision in the Education Acts for this type of education. A group of families who come together to hire teachers to educate their children are more likely to be considered a school than home educators.

While home educators come together in groups for learning opportunities across the curriculum, they do not abdicate the responsibility for their children's education to a teacher. They choose their own resources, plan and deliver learning experiences, and keep their own records of their children’s learning and growth.

A word of caution: it seems unlikely that regulatory bodies will react kindly to what may be viewed as new pseudo-schools that are popping up. It is also possible negative flow-on effects may be experienced by families who register for home education but then participate in this type of group.

Here are some definitions to help you understand the different models of education.

School: education provided in institutions to large groups of students arranged by age, and sometimes also segregated by gender. Generally, schools are run by the State or privately, with some subscribing to a particular philosophy or religion. Teachers plan and deliver educational programs and assess students. Education Acts in each state or territory specify that the government has an obligation to make school education available to all students, and makes provisions for private organisations to also provide school based education.

Distance Education: education provided by institutions (Distance Education Schools) to students outside the institutional location. Teachers plan the education, choose resources and facilitate delivery of learning experiences from a remote location. Teachers are still responsible for a group of students (a class), assessing learning and keeping records. The education generally occurs in the child’s home, and parents are involved in the delivery of the educational program. In most jurisdictions, access to public distance education schools is usually restricted to students who are unable to attend due to geographical or medical reasons. There are private distance education schools in some areas.

Home Education: parents and caregivers take direct responsibility for the education of their child or children. Also known as homeschooling, it is a legal option embracing a wide variety of educational philosophies. While many definitions of home education include a statement like it usually takes place in the child’s home, the HEA believes this is unnecessarily restrictive and not reflective of actual home education practice. Many families home educate while travelling. Many home educating families state that many valuable learning opportunities occur in their communities - at libraries, community halls, parks, sporting and cultural facilities. Home education is a lifestyle choice, where parents and children learn and grow together in relationship.

Do I need a teacher to home educate?

The short answer is no, you don’t. People from a variety of backgrounds and educational levels are successfully home educating children of all ages.

Part of the mission of the HEA is to empower parents to educate their own children. You can do this!

The long answer is this:

Educational experts who have been making statements in the media about exercising caution regarding home education, or saying that children should wear school uniforms while at home, and stick to the same school schedule and similar statements, are clearly experts in school education. Not experts in home education.

Regardless of what you may have been told by well-meaning schools, teachers, family members (and even complete strangers), teachers are not a required element in successful home education. In fact, most teachers who themselves become home educators say that one of the things they discover is that they need to unlearn many of their teacher skills in order to successfully home educate.

The skill set is different. Home educators provide a truly individualised education to their children, they are not required to consider the needs of a large group. Flexibility is more valuable than structure and schedule. Taking advantage of real life learning opportunities is more common than worksheets.

The commitment is different. The students are your babies. There is no one in the world who is more committed to your child than you are. That results in educators who are highly motivated and highly invested in seeing their students succeed.

The responsibility is different. In home education, parents and carers take responsibility for the education of their own children. In school or distance education, teachers take responsibility for the education of a group of children from a variety of families and backgrounds.

The grouping is different. In school or distance education, students are grouped by age and sometimes by gender. In home education, students are grouped by family, interest, ability, location or other factors in a flexible way that adapts to the particular event or circumstance. While in schools it is usual for children to have friends who are within 12 months of their own age, in home education, it is usual to see children playing and learning in multi-age groups. A 12 year old helping a 6 year old to be included in a game is normal in home education groups. A student with a disability being included is normal in home education groups.

I heard home education will be ending soon. Is that true?

No it is not true. This is fake news that has been doing the rounds on social media.

Home Education is legal in every state and territory in Australia. In order for that to change, there would need to be a significant change to the legislation, including the objects of the education act in most states. As the peak body for home educators, the HEA would expect to be notified of any such review, and to be able to make submissions and lobby governments to have appropriate and flexible models of education that include home education.

At the time of writing, we are aware of a minor review to be undertaken in Queensland only. We will keep you apprised of any developments and will be seeking your opinions and input.

If you want to have a voice at government level, join the HEA. We are stronger together.

Where can I get reliable information?

The HEA is a national, not for profit registered charity. We are governed by our constitution and relevant legislation. We are managed by a committee and completely volunteer run. We are all experienced home educators (some of us are teachers too!)

The HEA website is a treasure trove of information. You can find information about:

There are also a variety of recorded webinars available and articles about all things home-education. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

You do not need to be registered as a home educator to become a member of the HEA, and we do not collect that type of information.

Where can I get support?

There are many well intentioned people trying to provide support and information to new home educators at the moment.

Many of them are teachers, with no experience in, or understanding of, home education. We suggest you get support from experienced home educators. People who have lived the experience of home education are best placed to support you as you start home educating.

Some questions to ask the people offering you support:

  • How long have you been home educating?

  • Do you make your income providing goods or services to the home education sector?

  • Who runs this group? Is it a business?

  • What are the goals of this group?

  • How long has the group been operating?

The HEA provides a home education Helpline, a phone service funded by the HEA and staffed by volunteers who are all experienced home educators. You can call 9am-5pm Monday to Friday on 1300 72 9991. The calls are not recorded.

The HEA has also provided Connect Sessions - live, online video group discussions. These will resume in 2022, with free, monthly sessions available. We have private chat groups hosted on our website, and you can connect with us on our socials as well.

Do I need to register? Can I register “just in case”?

The law in every state and territory in Australia requires you to register as a home educator at the time you start home education. In most jurisdictions, registration takes 4 weeks or less. In several states it is virtually immediate. In NSW it can take up to 12 weeks. Nevertheless, please do not register unless you intend to home educate your child. Starting the registration process just in case you need it later simply clogs up the system, meaning that families who really need registration straight away have to wait longer for their application to be processed.

A final thought

When your car breaks down, you take it to the mechanic - because they are the experts in car repair. But when your powerpoint stops working you call the electrician - the expert in electrical repairs.

Education is the same -

If you want information and advice about school education, ask an experienced teacher.
If you want information and advice about home education, ask an experienced home educator.

Karen Chegwidden is the President of the Home Education Association, Inc.

Karen is a mother of three; her two adult children both gained admission to university without ever having been to high school, and without a HSC. Karen lives in the middle of the bush in Northern NSW and works as a midwife. In her spare time, she is the President of the Home Education Association - a voluntary role in a national not for profit organisation dedicated to supporting home educators across Australia. As President of the HEA, Karen has developed skills in networking, advocacy, governance, team building, sales and time management, just to name a few!

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