More parents in New South Wales (NSW) are choosing to home school their child.
There are now around 10,000 registered children who are home schooled each year in Australia. In NSW, the number has increased by 10% in the last year – this follows the trend of the last few years.
It’s difficult to get a clear state-by-state picture of how home schooling varies across Australia because only NSW provides comprehensive data on this.
There is no legal requirement for parents and carers to inform the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) as to why they have chosen to home school.
Parents across Australia are required to register, but it is thought that over 50% don’t.
No formal support is provided for home schooling other than curriculum documents. But many home school groups are available to offer support.
The gender balance between home-schooled children is fairly equal, with just over 50% being male. But there is a slight increase in numbers of middle primary school children being home schooled. This suggests that some parents choose to home school after having allowed their children to experience formal education.
Reasons for home schooling
The reasons for home schooling are complex. Most who home school do it for ideological and philosophical reasons. This can include the belief that households provide a better environment for children to learn or that formal systems are unable or unwilling to meet the needs of children.
But the research shows that for 40% of households, we don’t know their reason for choosing to home school.
Those who home school argue that it allows a focus on individual student needs – rather than just on grades; offers flexibility in learning; provides a safer learning environment; increases sociability with mixed-aged people, whether in the community or through extended family members and friends; and that this makes home schooling a better choice.
The arguments against home schooling are that it isolates children; means children are usually taught by someone who is not trained to teach; and can limit educational attainment.
But the research on home schooling is neutral; the findings neither confirm nor disprove any such claims.
Home-schooled children appear to do neither worse nor better than those who attend regular school. Their achievements and success after Year 12 are similar. And many home school parents are trained teachers.
However, the data recognises that not all children after Year 10 can be tracked as there is no requirement to register for home schooling after this point.
Many home school parents also choose for their children not to participate in standardised tests, such as NAPLAN, and therefore comparative data is inconclusive.
If home schooling is undertaken in Years 11 and 12, students can complete Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams to receive an ATAR but, due to the internal mark requirement, may not receive an actual HSC certificate.
Rise of home schooling in NSW
Home schooling is more common in certain areas of NSW: the Hunter region, South Coast and Sydney West. There is, however, no specific data as to why these areas have higher registration numbers.
In NSW, children can only be registered for home schooling from the age of six, with the highest number of initial registrations being at eight years old. This is usually after formal schooling has been attempted and perceived as not working. Other states do not publish this data.
NSW has the most comprehensive accreditation system, through required approval visits from BOSTES staff, as well as detailed application information in Australia – and many home school households find it burdensome.
The benefit, however, of the accreditation system is that it offers recognition of a sound education being delivered by households to children through home schooling.
The BOSTES is holding consultation meetings for home school families, to improve the system as best as possible within the guidelines.
Child protection issues
The 2014 NSW parliamentary home school inquiry did raise concerns about child protection issues in home schooling. Its report argued that, unlike formal schools where children are continually observed, there is no ongoing daily oversight of home-schooled children.
Part of the authorised person’s role (the accreditor) is to ensure they view children who are home schooled.
Increasing numbers of parents with a disabled child feel they have to home school because learning needs are not being supported by the public system.
But home schooling should be a choice, and not a last option. Through home schooling, parents hope that the diverse needs of their children will be met, rather than having their child isolated or denied full access to the curriculum as recent research demonstrates has been happening.
No funding for home-schooled children
The school system does not get access to the funding attached to a child who is home schooled. And neither do the parents who do the home schooling.
This means that around 10,000 children potentially have no funding for their education.
This does raise the question that if home school parents can provide an equivalent education without the $15,450 per student the public system receives, and often without a teaching degree, does NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli need to rethink how we educate children?
Through children being home schooled, the money that would have been allocated to them for education essentially disappears. Given the consistent annual increase in home-schooling registrations, and the continual lowering of academic achievement in formal schooling, we can assume home schooling will only continue to increase.
Further research is therefore needed to look at the potential impacts this may have on children and society.
David Roy is affiliated with the BOSTES Home Schooling Consultative Group, although the views expressed in this article are his own and not representative of the BOSTES.