The trouble with schools is that not everyone wants their child to go to them.
In 2019 when I was writing my book (let me get the plug out of the way) “A Head Full OF Ethos”, I quoted a Government statistic that reported in 2018 roughly 52,770 children in England were being educated at home. I also highlighted some of the main reasons for this number:
- A dissatisfaction with the school or school system
- Ideological or philosophical views and religious or cultural beliefs
- Special educational needs provision
- Perceived bullying
- Health reasons, particularly mental health
- The rise in online learning platforms
- School closures
The 2nd – 6th of these reasons all stem from the first bullet above. Before 2019 the rate was steadily growing, however during and following the school closures due to our responses to the Covid 19 virus the number of children home educated in England at the beginning of this year was around 80,000 give or take 2000, according to a UK Government research paper published March 2022. This represents just short of 0.9% of the school population in England. The same paper estimates that there is now around a 20% rise per annum in those being home educated. Please note, these figures do not include those who have not yet returned to school for other reasons.
It’s obvious that the school closures had a huge impact on this rate of increase (in 2018 the annual rate of increase was around 2 – 8%). However, there was an upwards trend before the Covid crisis and although the rate may decrease slightly from 20%, it is likely to remain high.
The Government is obviously concerned and is attempting to tackle the issue through the new Schools Bill currently being proposed, in a somewhat clumsy, uncompromising way. There are tighter registration procedures being imposed which I think is a good thing, but my interpretation of the bill also suggests a very strict control of curriculum content and the quality of its delivery. For me, this raises very deep questions regarding the purpose of education and the role parents have in bringing up their children.
As parents we entrust our children to schools almost every day for up to 14 years of the most formative years of their lives. We place our trust in schools because they are run and led by professionals. I did an MA dissertation many years ago on the nature of professionalism and discussed how the training professions must go through, and the regulating bodies which hold them to account, both contribute to us being able to place our trust in them. Things can begin to go wrong when Governments begin to challenge this professional status.
This challenge (on those educating their children not in schools), if it is not the result of widespread consultation and professional discussion, will result in what we are seeing now; parents electing to educate their children at home because they do not trust or do not agree with the system dictating the contents of the curriculum and the way it is delivered. I accept that this raises serious issues for governments and local authorities, as some children can be open to abuse or harmful indoctrination and so I think their ought to be regular inspection, but to force a strict curriculum on home educators is a different matter.
Governments that manage a national curriculum have their reasons for the contents. Their prime interest is the future prosperity of the nation and therefore want to ensure a well-trained capable, resilient workforce. I would possibly compromise and accept this if the curriculum in England did a good job of preparing young people for the world of work, however it falls short on achieving this. (This interesting report by the CBI outlines the shortfalls and proposes recommendations to prepare young people for the world of work).
Not only does it fall short, but it does not give parity to all the other aspects of a child’s development which will enable that child to grow and go on to flourish in life. I have communicated with parents and read many opinions of those who choose to educate their children at home and these alternative aspects of education and development (such as creativity, relationships, curiosity, mindfulness, critical thinking and mental & physical health) are some of the aspects missing in education that encouraged them to choose this path. (It’s interesting that the CBI points out that Creative subjects are not part of the English Baccalaureate).
I touched on this in my blog dated April 29th 2022 when I when I put forward the notion that we are not preparing our children for this new world we are stumbling along in. If my children were still of school age, I think I would want something different for them. Yes, schools prepare pupils well for exams, there is no doubting that, but what if we are assessing the wrong things? Literacy and numeracy definitely, but after that there is room for healthy debate.
I always seem to be pushing/supporting the new curriculum for Wales, because I genuinely think it could be and amazing curriculum. I worry however that the way the Welsh Government chooses to assess this curriculum will end up stifling it and forcing schools (and the professionals withing them) down certain routes which allow no room for some of the aspects of education I mentioned above and contained in the blog link above. We will see.
Back to England. I don’t understand why the Government, if it has the wherewithal to monitor the welfare of young people being educated at home, can’t have faith in that child finding their way in life and contributing meaningfully to the society in which they live. We need more creatives, crafters, innovative thinkers. I’m not saying schools can’t achieve this, it’s just that they are given little room to develop this, especially at a personal level. Home schooling gives parents the opportunity to do this for their children.
BUT, that is not to say I am in favour of home schooling. I think we all need a sense of belonging in our communities if we are to develop empathy for the lives of others around us and the willingness to help and support the society we live in. Schools can (and many do) create that sense of belonging as described in “A Head Full Of Ethos” (apologies for yet another shameful plug). Schools can be a hub not only of learning but social activity; a place where young people can learn about and appreciate what life can offer them (spiritual and physical), where meaningful relationships are developed, and aspirations raised.
So, my message to Mr Johnson and his colleagues is this: Listen to the worries, concerns and needs of those who are choosing to educate their children at home, before trying to make their lives difficult. Listen to them and then sit down, be brave and design a curriculum that really does meet the needs of every young person in this country, so that they can reshape and rebuild our fragile society and world. There are many (including myself!) who would be happy to help.
  David Foster and Shadi Danechi, Home Education in England. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No. 5108 (2019), p. 16. Available at: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn05108.