It's time I owned up. You saw me at the supermarket with my small band of school-age children. 'Pupil free day?' you chirped. I half-nodded and kept moving. At the barbecue, you asked if my kids went to private or state school. 'A small private school,' I murmured, then changed the subject.
The truth is I homeschool. I don't know why I didn't tell you earlier. I love homeschooling. But I also love it when people mistake me for a normal person.
I never meant to homeschool. It just sort of happened. My then eight-year-old daughter was in a situation at school that was causing her constant anxiety. For months, I tried working with her teachers, but things only became much worse.
I decided to homeschool for one year, to give my daughter a chance to recover and to build her confidence. I never expected to fall in love with the lifestyle. Twelve months later, I gave in to my younger son's entreaties and began homeschooling him as well — just for one more year.
Homeschooling has given our family the gifts of time and togetherness. We start our day with breakfast and chores, then traipse out the door for a bike ride. After this, we sit around the table for a few hours, working together or separately. All up, we're usually done with our book work by lunch time.
The afternoon is for cooking, reading, climbing trees, gardening, playing music, knitting, researching topics of interest, and jumping on the trampoline. Later in the day, they might go to scouts, swimming lessons, dinner with grandparents, sports, or an after-school kids club. On Mondays, we meet with other homeschooling families to learn subjects that work well in a group setting, like science, art and dance.
People often ask about assessment. How do I know if my children are up to standard? When I first started, this worried me too. After all, school teachers work hard to keep track of their students' progress. But, of course, school teachers have 30 new children each year. Keeping track of a small group of students with whom you live, and in whom you are intensely interested, is second nature.
There's no need for tests and portfolios. I already know my nine-year-old has a sharp mind for maths and devours books like a maniac, but needs encouragement to express himself in writing. I'm already planning fine-motor activities for my five-year-old, who has plenty to write about, but needs help forming her letters.
"There is no evidence to support claims that homeschooled students are 'at risk'. If the government wanted to stop children from falling through the cracks, they should pour resources into the mainstream education system where this is actually a problem."
Across Australia, it's estimated that more than 15,000 families homeschool. And that number is steadily growing. Regulations differ greatly between states. In NSW and Queensland, where registration is a complicated process, many homeschoolers opt out. Indeed, it's been estimated that as many as 85 per cent of homeschooling families in Queensland remain unregistered.
In Victoria, the registration process is simple and straightforward. It is not surprising, then, that Victoria has the highest number of registered homeschoolers. But this may soon change. Under the proposed regulations, new homeschoolers would be required to submit a comprehensive full-year's plan. Homeschooling would be prohibited until this plan is approved, with a $70 fine imposed for each day of unauthorised homeschooling.
These changes are needlessly bureaucratic and aggressively punitive. While a family might set long term goals for their homeschool curriculum, they would be ill-advised to plan the entire year in detail. School teachers are not expected to do this: it does not account for the changing needs of the students. These regulations would only result in an increased workload for conscientious parents, while forcing others underground.
It is worth noting that the Home Education Network (HEN) went to great lengths to determine what regulations would best serve the homeschooling community. HEN, however, was never consulted by the government when drafting this legislation. Indeed, it is unclear whether any homeschoolers were consulted.
And it's unclear what the point of all this red tape is. Studies conducted in the US have shown that government control over homeschooling has no impact on performance. Moreover, homeschoolers have been shown in many studies to consistently outperform their peers. For whatever reason, on the whole, homeschoolers tend to thrive. There is simply no evidence to support claims that homeschooled students are an 'at risk' group. If the government wanted to stop children from falling through the cracks, they should pour resources into the mainstream education system where this is actually a problem.
This is not some 'no child left behind' policy. This is a bid to discourage families from homeschooling. And this anti-homeschool bias is not unique to Victoria. In 2014, the NSW government launched a parliamentary inquiry into homeschooling. Before publication, over 100 paragraphs worth of submissions, containing many reports of school failure and homeschooling success, were curiously omitted.
Homeschooling parents are not afraid of accountability, but we object to a regulation that creates unnecessary work that helps nobody and achieves nothing. We object to a regulation created without consultation. Above all, we object to the insinuation that parents are dangerous and untrustworthy.
These days, my daughter attends secondary school and ran the gamut of exams and interviews to get into the advanced class. She has transformed into a confident, articulate young woman with a strong sense of self and a wicked sense of humour. She very quickly made friends and remains a self-motivated learner.
It's my fourth year of homeschooling. I now have three children in my small private school. We still take it one year at a time, but, so far, each year is better than the last.
Kate Moriarty is a freelance writer. She writes the 'Home Truths' column at Australian Catholics and blogs at Laptop on the Ironing Board.
Cartoon by Chris Johnston
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
01 May 2017
Your "small private school" sounds wonderfully normal, Kate. I particularly like the afternoon activities and I'm sure they're very popular. For many families, where both parents have full-time or part-time jobs, homeschooling may not be an option. However, for those who commit to homeschooling, regulations need to be flexible and not draconian. Self-motivated learners are what the education system aims to produce whether from formal schooling or homeschooling.
01 May 2017
Thank you Kate for another informative, interesting and and well researched article. Your little school sounds like a perfect place for learning and finding a child's place in this world. Keep up the good work!
02 May 2017
unfortunately there really are families who take children out of school and call it home schooling but don't bother to school them and take them out because they just don't want to bother.. really harsh to say... but there are some where the children are falling through the cracks of neglect...
02 May 2017
Thanks Kate for a good article drawing attention to the need for parents to defend the right to home school, which is protected by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 (3). Apart from which, parents have the God given responsibility to raise their children (also God given) rightly. The post Christian scene in state schools doesn't necessarily mean poorer academic outcomes but it certainly does mean parents who wish their children to grow spiritually and morally may have to act independently of state sanctioned schooling, at least as far as these core values issues are concerned. Parents are always ultimately the supreme arbiters of how their kids grow up either by hands on intervention or by just trusting their kids to others. Don't give up!
02 May 2017
They want to brainwash your kids, you know! They don't want independent thinkers.
02 May 2017
The term ‘Home schooling’ is generally taken to mean ‘home-only schooling; i,e., with out any attendance at a formal school. But if Australia is to keep up with the rest of the highly competitive world with proficiency in learning, school learning, in many cases, needs to be supplemented with some degree of home-schooling, or supervised ‘home-work‘. I’ve been surprised recently, to find that even toddlers in some pre-schools are being given ’homework’ to be done. Certainly children, whose parents who take an active interest in their children’s learning, make better and faster progress than those whose parents leave it all to the school. Home schooling can tend to give a child all the answers without helping them to understand the questions or what precisely are the problems. Formal schooling also helps children develop the social skill that are always a necessary part of life.
02 May 2017
Congratulations obviously no indoctrination so the powers that be get upset keep up the good work
02 May 2017
Thanks Kate. Wonderful article - for the research, and personal story. As a father with a 3 year old, this was extremely relevant to our family's journey. Thanks again.
02 May 2017
Well argued, Kate; thank you for bringing this into the public forum and making the discussion more readily accessible, from your own experience and via the embedded links.
02 May 2017
What a marvellous article so well explained with a delightful sense of levity. I found it very interesting to read about a subject I know little about. I feel I now can look at Homeschooling in a different light. What a shame I didn't have a teacher like Kate.
03 May 2017
I was a primary school teacher and I'd have loved to have home-schooled. What a joyful family experience! Sole parents can only dream.
Bless you.?? Kate.
03 May 2017
Hi Kate, I am concerned about what you are proposing here. Teachers spend years developing their skills at university to be the very best facilitators of students' learning. I have friends in the United States who were victims of home schooling that developed into 'unschooling'. As adults, they now can't access university and are miserable. Home schooling can easily be an excuse for school refusal for parents who don't care about education. This is why we have good Government restrictions in Australia. The restrictions (or as I like to call them, 'standards') protect kids. Teachers have to submit teaching plans, write report cards, develop resources and are credible because of their on-going professional development. If people want to home school their kids, it would be fair and reasonable to expect these same standards to be expected of your 'small private school'.
16 May 2017
I'm from California, and you are so right! Here in the US, the word "homeschooled" is very desirable on college applications. Most people I encounter as a homeschool mom start explaining why they can't homeschool or don't feel worthy, usually indicating that they feel that homeschooling is the very best form of education. This is a drastically different enviroment than it was 30 years ago when homeschooling was largely underground. I respect other people's personal educational choices, but I am thrilled that homeschooling is finally accepted and valued as it ought to be! I hope this happens soon for all the homeschool families in Australia, too! :)
22 May 2017
Seems like you haven't read Kate's post, James. As Kate said, no regular teacher is expected to submit an entire year's program. But under the Vic impending legislation, home schoolers are.
26 May 2017
Kate writes “If the government wanted to stop children from falling through the cracks, they should pour resources into the mainstream education system where this is actually a problem.”
There may be some merit to this, provided the government can succeed in diverting some of the misplaced funding to wealthier private and Catholic schools to the areas of concern.
Kate writes “we object to the insinuation that parents are dangerous and untrustworthy”.
It may not be so extreme: it may be rather that they worry a significant number of home-schooling parents may be simply incompetent. Either way the public good of our children’s welfare is central: we cannot formulate public policy on a contestable doctrine that parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children, or that even if they were, they were capable of doing so.
27 May 2017
Articulate and well researched! Great article Kate!