There is no such thing as Home Education

The public view (shared by media and politicians) of home education often seems to be that it simultaneously means parents assiduously coaching children to get firsts in maths when they are 14 while simultaneously neglecting their education so they never get any qualifications. The problem is that they expect home education to exist in a way it simply does not.The problem is that home education is not a “thing”. The best definition is that it is every type of education that takes place outside a school and classroom setting. This covers a huge variety. There is variety in approaches, variety in subjects and qualifications, variety in everything.

At one extreme there are online schools which (in the UK, at least) are legally home education but work in almost the same way as a school does: it is just school taken online (as many things have been these days). The only real difference between that and the home schooling we have seen schools doing during lockdown is that the online schools have the advantage of being set up to work that way, and the parents involved want to do it. Personally, I see it as being school education in reality, if not in law.

At the other there is unschooling which is deliberately unstructured. Studies show it works well in practice although I am personally not comfortable with that unstructured an approach.

There is also variety in syllabus and qualifications. Most people in the UK do GCSEs, and IGCSEs (public exams typically taken at 16), but may do them early or late. However, some people do American exams, some do vocational qualifications, and so on. Some do minimal academic qualifications, some do a lot.

There is one thing that the popular view (and media and politicians) get wrong about all these approaches is the expectation that home educated children have worse opportunities for social development. This is entirely wrong: home educated children go to a variety of classes, social events, sports, and so on, meeting a wide range of people in different places: far better socialisation than meeting mostly people of their own age group in one setting.

That aside, “every kind of education outside school”, covers a lot, in addition to the two approaches I already mentioned.

Lets start with what used to be called “private education” (before American influence hijacked the term to mean “non-state schools” – British terminology is too complex to explain here for those unfamiliar with it). This is how the Queen and her siblings were educated: by tutors hired by their family. It still happens, but is obviously restricted to those who can afford it.

The obvious alternative is to send children to tutors, or classes held for home educated children. Again, these days, many classes are held online.

Another approach, just as radical as unschooling in its way, but generally more focused on academic achievement, is self-teaching. A lot of children can teach themselves if provided with textbooks and equipment. A great advantage is that they develop better study skills and self-discipline.

There are some other advantages, common to most, if not all, approaches: flexibility and tailoring education to the child. For example, a wider choice of subjects, taking some exams early (my older daughter did her first IGCSE when she was 11). There also tends to be more room for education that does not lead to qualifications: both my daughters have done online courses on subjects ranging from Dante to Haskell programming.

All these different approaches work, but how they work is very different. Differences in personal and family circumstances and differences in individual talents and personalities, also mean different HE children have very different experiences. They may mostly study by themselves, or mostly do classes, or mostly have one to one tuition. They may do entirely different combinations of subjects. Their parents may be involved in day-to-day education very heavily, or just organise things, pay bills and sign forms.

Add in the variety of exams and qualifications and you get even more variety. Imagine one child doing a variety of GCSEs in academic subjects ranging from classical Greek to computer science, taught one to one by tutors. Imagine another doing the same subjects but mostly self taught with some online courses and parental support. Imagine another doing functional skills exams (a less academic substitute for English and Maths GCSEs) and an online IT BTEC (there is such a thing). Imagine another doing Open University courses. Each may be right for the individual. Each is a very different experience, makes different demands, and has different requirements – and I have not even looked at the variety in their lives other than education.

Home education is not a way of educating, it is every way of educating bar one.

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