There's a pattern to the way innovations disrupt apparently immutable markets. First they are seen as some kind of joke or in the case of home education, evidence of an embarrassing failure and a complete irrelevance. Then they are regarded as an illegal threat, before finally being accepted as the way forward. This is what happened with, for example, the on-line distribution of music and videos. The questions for this post are:
- is this what is happening with home education?
- what stage are we at now?
- and will home education ever be widely seen as a positive paradigm for education?
There is almost certainly a recent upsurge in numbers of home educators, but this doesn't mean that home education has moved up into positive paradigm territory. This growth is largely driven by a confluence of failures in the schooling system: a lack of school places at secondary level, cuts to school budgets which mean that there's no money for teachers, teaching assistants and SEND provision, pressures from various government intiatives and Ofsted which means that schools pressure families to remove children who might mess with their Ofsted assessments, more pressure from Ofsted which means that teachers spend their days filling in tick boxes rather than being left alone to devise inspirational lessons, a tedious one size fits all National Curriculum that is being imposed ever more tightly, parents pulling out school phobic children in order to avoid being fined by the LA for unauthorised absences, and a lot of great teachers just throwing in the towel and walking away.
And let's not forget the effect all the above has upon the young people in the system. Two thirds of children are stressed by life at secondary school and you can bet your life that this sort of stress is not the sort of stress that helps you learn! Seriously parents, what are we actually doing here? It seems we are forcing two thirds of young people to attend a place where they are meant to acquire a suitable education but which is actually completely ruinous in terms of achieving that end.
And lets not get in to all the stuff about unaddressed school bullying and the total unremitting boredom of having to sit in a classroom over-stuffed with other young people of varying abilities, all with different needs which must be variously addressed while you stare out the window and wish you could just float out through it and fly away.
However, this growth in numbers of HEors might not just be a matter of a creaking school system. It could also be due to other more positive factors as well. Popular educationalists such as Ken Robinson have been making an argument for HE in very public places and the internet has radically increased the ease with which home education can be undertaken. What with websites such Khan Academy, Duolingo, PLOS, Chrome's Unpaywall, virtual colleges and MOOCs, and all the truly wonderful stuff you can find on YouTube and through Google, we can truly say we live in an age in which information is no longer at a premium. Home educators can also get support and advice on-line and in real life groups far more easily now than only a decade ago, when the internet was more limited and real life HE groups relatively small.
Realistically though, these positive reasons for the growth in HE are probably in the minority. We can only hope that they herald better things to come, but the truth of the matter is that home education is currently moving from the "batty irrelevant" stage, to the "potentially illegal" stage, as evidenced by the fact that the DfE have instigated a Call for Evidence which introduces the prospect of new regulatory control of HE, either in the form of legal change or a harsher in interpretation of current law, Some passages of the superficially anodyne reinterpretation of current law even introduce the prospect of LAs being able to manage an ad hoc elimination of HE altogether, if read in the wrong light, (see s9.4 d on page 25), a point that hasn't been missed by home educators and about which they will be complaining loudly in their consultation responses.
One of the main nominal reasons for a crack-down on home educators, on top of the growth in numbers, has been the assertion by Michael Wilshaw (then head of Ofsted) that there was evidence to suggest that illegal, unregistered schools are using the freedoms afforded to genuine home educators as a cover for
their activities. However, a report undertaken by the Centre for Personalised Learning concluded that whilst Wilshaw's concerns that illegal organisations could exploit home education regulations to avoid closure were indeed potentially valid, this was not a reason to tighten regulation on home education, but rather should lead to strengthening of regulation of
The tarring of home educators as radicalisers of their children has caused a media frenzy over the last few years. It looks as if public sentiment might easily be sufficiently swayed to see home educators as deeply evil subversives who should be put away for ever and a day, and for this reason alone, it would very easy to conclude that are we are currently firmly in the "illegal" phase of a disruptive innovation process.
It is a crucial stage right now which could go either way. Home education for it to retain its value, must not become fettered by government regulation and expectations as to what an education must look like. Many of HEd children have already been failed by an over-centralised view of what every child must learn. Home educators, on the other hand, can personalise their educational provision to genuinely suit the child, which almost invariably proves invaluable for so many children, as Ken has understood when he says that HE has a lot to offer by way of a pedagogy.
As home education, in its new tech inspired iteration, matures, the government would be wise to learn to work with us, rather than against us. We could bolster a creaking school system with new models that do offer genuine support to children who do not thrive in school. If budgets could more easily follow a child through the EOTAs system, or if Red Balloon of the Air and other initiatives with virtual colleges offering a real life support group were given proper funding and support, many more children would receive a suitable education. Other home educators just need to be left alone to get on with it: money would be far better spent on social work departments than in chasing a load of well-functioning but resentful HEors about all over the place, trying to tell them what to do.
We need to go beyond being seen as a threat, and be welcomed as a valuable alternative instead.