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The rise of home education in Australia

Parents are turning to home education in record numbers. Photo: HENA

Australian families are increasingly ditching mainstream classrooms to teach their children at home, citing philosophical objections, religious beliefs and a desire for personalised learning as reasons for rejecting formal education.

From humble beginnings as a small movement, families are now switching to home education as a genuine alternative to mainstream schooling, growing to become a motivated, organised and politically-aware community across the spectrum.

NUMBERS ON THE RISE

Recent research has estimated there is currently over 17,000 registered homeschooling students in Australia, and possibly as many as 30,000 unregistered children in total across the country.

Since the turn of the decade, the movement has seen a surge in numbers of students registering for alternative education, with numbers estimated to have risen by 300% since 2011.

In Queensland, home schooling has almost tripled in just five years, withparents citing increased educational needs and a shortage of resources in schools as main reasons to make the switch.

Across the state, numbers of children in home education has increased over the past five years from 1,108 in 2013 to 3,232 in 2018 – a 192% increase.

Further south, Victoria continues to be the state with the largest number of students registered for home education in Australia, with 4,743 registered in 2016. Numbers have grown by an impressive 18% over the two-year period from 2014 to 2016.

The introduction of the ‘Safe Schools’ program by the Victorian government has been a factor in a number of families choosing to homeschool for the first time, with the group being forced to cease programs after backlash from parents across the state.

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New South Wales has experienced a 24% growth between 2014-2016, following a dip after the introduction of new regulations in 2014. At the time, there were 3,327 students registered for homeschooling with the NSW Board of Studies, which has now grown to 4,100 respectively.

Victoria and NSW account for 54% of homeschool registrations nationwide.

The Australian Capital Territory has experienced a rapid growth of 85% over a five-year period from 136 students in 2011 to 252 students in 2016.

Western Australia continues to have an incredibly strong growth rate in the number of students registered for home education, with an 83% increase in numbers from 2011 to 2016.

At the current rate of increase, the number of students registered for home education will exceed 1% of the student population within two years.

South Australia continues to show a steady growth in home education with a 10% growth over the two-year period between 2014 to 2016.

Tasmania also continues to maintain the highest per capita rate of homeschooling, being the only state to have over 1% of students home educated currently.

HOMESCHOOLING 101

Parents may choose homeschooling for a number of reasons, including philosophical or religious beliefs, a belief attending a state or non-state school exposed their child to experiences not consistent with their set of beliefs and values, or that home education was able to cater to their child’s particular educational needs.

About 15 years ago, the majority of homeschooling parents were homeschooling because of Christian convictions.

These days, Christian homeschoolers are only a portion of the total of the homeschooling community. Now many homeschoolers are beginning because of:

  • Dissatisfaction with a particular school.
  • Lack of choice with schools.
  • Bullying or harassment.
  • Educational philosophy, such as a distrust in mass education.
  • Child’s interests.
  • Special needs of a child, such as a disability.

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Home education teaching looks very different to traditional schooling, with the Australian homeschool community establishing a variety of educational methods to address the fluidity needed for individual cases of children that require assistance.

This holistic approach to tailored education has seen the industry increase in quality and size in the last decade, with students now academically performing better than average students in formal education, according to NAPLAN homeschool statistics.

Overseas research has also showed colleges in the United States have sought out homeschooled applicants because they were considered more able to complete a degree.

There is also currently no evidence that homeschooling effects educational outcomes, or that submitting plans or conducting reviews will improve the outcomes of home education – or that the outcomes need improving to begin with.

Despite this, it hasn’t been an easy path for campaigners to get to this point, battling increasing regulations and changes to the system in recent years.

PARENTS FIGHT
REGULATIONS

In recent years, home educating parents have begun campaigning against what they say are attempts by the government – responsible for registering children for homeschooling and making sure the curriculum is being covered – to do so in a more rigid and prescriptive way.

In 2017, we reported on new proposed changes to home education regulations in Victoria, which would require prospective parents to register and submit a learning plan to the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.

It would also give school principals the power to force students to attend classes for 28 days while their parent’s home education application is being considered by “The Authority”.

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Assessing the draft regulations in January, campaigners noted four significant areas of concern, including the vagaries of what a learning plan would consist of, what reviews would entail, who would judge both new plans and reviews and the risk to children during the 28-day approval period.

After a lengthy consultation process, including breaches to data after details of submissions were published online by accident, the Victorian government and related authorities did agree to compromise their plans to crack down on parents.

Susan Wight, coordinator of the Home Education Network (HEN), spoke on the positive outcomes achieved through consultation with the authorities:

“Our over-arching goal was a reasonable legal regime and I believe that, through our campaign, we’ve achieved that objective: a legal framework whereby we can continue home educating in our own way, albeit with some increased accountability.”

The scenes in Victoria were similar to changes introduced in New South Wales in 2014, which saw tougher restrictions on the process of approval and the curriculum used by families at home.

In an attempt to change from previous, non-intrusive requirements, the regulations were formulated with no evidence that there were issues or abuses in the homeschool community.

New South Wales remains the most highly regulated state in regards to homeschooling in Australia.

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace acknowledged the numbers had grown but denied mainstream models of schooling were failing.

“We’re talking about homeschooling representing 0.4 per cent of all the students that attend school here in Queensland,” she said.

Queensland University of Technology education lecturer Rebecca English said Christians and “hippies” who were “always going to home educate” were not behind the increase.

Home education is legal in every state and territory. While not formally recognised in SA, students may be exempted from school attendance.

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RELATED LINKS

Parents turning their backs on mainstream schooling to teach their kids at home | ABC

Homeschooling Statistics: 2011-2016 | Southern Cross Educational Enterprises

Homeschooling in Australia: The Facts | Homeschooling Down Under

Homeschooling Statistics Australia | Homeschooling Down Under

Regulations: The Big Picture | Home Education Victoria

Victorian families fight changes to homeschool regulations | ABC

Australian Homeschoolers Fight Proposed Restrictions | hslda.org

Victoria set to introduce new regulations for homeschooling | TOTTNews.com

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