I rarely chose to write about political issues but this is one so close to my heart that I need an outlet for my observation and opinion, and I stress that this is just that, personal opinion and observation.
Currently, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Home Schooling community in Wales are in a period of consultation over the future of home schooling in Wales. This is a period of time that has been set aside for communication and discussion to take place.
This is very necessary. It would seem that these opposing armies don’t understand the culture of the other camp.
So where is the battleground? The field that is being fought over is the field of legality. Since 1945, it has been legal in Britain to educate your own children as you, as a parent, see fit. The children have to be in full-time education from the age of 5 onwards. A parent may chose to send their child to school or to educate them “otherwise”. This liberty has given rise to a large, ever growing body of parents who chose to give their children a full-time education within the confines of their own home.
With the rapid growth, in recent years, of more parents opting to home educate the government are starting to notice that they have no say or influence over what goes on in the education of these children. It is for this reason that many parents chose to home educate, as they resent state influence telling them what their children should be learning. Parents often chose to home educate to give children an education specific to their individuality in an environment that encourages self assurance and confidence, with the only competition they encounter being against themselves – the sort of competition that doesn’t knock their self worth. This sense of security fuels effective learning.
I appreciate both sides of the stand off, in that the Welsh Assembly Government want to govern responsibly and so feel the need to make a way of ensuring home schooled children are receiving an education that is fitting to their age and ability, yet I appreciate too that parents don’t want the Welsh Assembly Government dictating the “What” and “What Not” their children should be learning. The whole culture of home educating includes the liberty of the parent to make those choices.
My observation is that both camps don’t understand each other and are to a certain extent afraid of each other. I notice that the voice speaking on behalf of the Government generally doesn’t understand the culture of home education. They don’t seem to understand that it is a viable and effective model of education. But the Universities and Educational Psychologists do. Universities are bending over backwards to offer unconditional places to home educated children. Why? Because these youngsters LOVE learning, have been taught to be self motivated, enquiring individuals who know how to work and take responsibility for their education in a mature way. Beside academic success, I have met home educated individuals who are young entrepreneurs with their own micro businesses.
Do the Welsh Assembly Government understand how fruitful and beneficial home education is? Or do they confuse education issues with welfare issues?
I notice that the Welsh Assembly Government is perturbed by this community of people who they a) don’t know how many of them there are and b) they don’t have any way of quantifying the success of these families. It’s easy to varnish the home schooling community with a “They’re all Hippies” brush and then worry if rebellion and irresponsibility are part of the sheen that reflects off that stereotype. But a close inspection and transparent understanding of the home schooling community will reveal educated, responsible and often professional parents very serious and intent on providing their children with an excellent level of education. Amongst them are teachers, health care officials, barristers, University lecturers, educational psychologists – and that small list is derived from the professions of parents I’ve encountered and could introduce you to.
I think of my own upbringing and I understand the lack of understanding that dilutes the minds of the governing officials. I remember my Primary School Headmaster telling me that it was thought that one day people won’t bother to go to school but will do all their learning at home. My response to that was of shock and horror. “But that’s awful!” I said. I was sixteen at the time and doing two weeks work experience at my old primary school.
I recall too my father’s response when I told him that I intended to home educate his first grandson (who was still a baby at the time). My father was a fantastic Chemistry teacher, having taught in Africa and the UK. The school he was then teaching in was a part of, what some would look to as being, perhaps, one the most elite strata of the British education system. It was a school that was founded to educate boys who failed to academically make it into Eton and Harrow, but who’s parents could afford to pay for an equivalent education. My father’s initial response to my statement was quiet. He thought for a long time before saying “Well, I wouldn’t want my grandchildren to become social recluses.”
This is such a typical response from someone who doesn’t understand the culture of home education. This is a misconception that comes from not being able to think outside the box. This is the effect of generations of following a Greek model of education and assuming it is the only way to educate the democracy.
It’s little wonder the Welsh Assembly Government are confused!
But in the other camp, I’ve noticed parents who home educate seem rather terrified by the “Big Bully” impression they have of the Welsh Assembly Government. I wonder how effective waving “No! Don’t touch us!” placards in their faces is. While a list of signatures has its place and will sing a loud clear chorus to the AMs saying “Listen to us! We’re singing from the very heart and soul of who we are as families”, I personally feel the need for more effective interaction. I think for parents who feel afraid of this big fat legislative body, that they conceive to be so greedy it is even willing to consume the freedom of their children, need to be reminded that AMs are there to represent the people of their constituency. AMs stand or fall off the rickety podium of the public vote. Most AMs I know of haven’t a clue what home education is, let alone have met a family of home educated children.
I can’t help feeling that if home educators were to engage with their local AMs and put a personal face on home education, these AMs would understand a lot better. Not all AMs might have the time, but to invite them into our homes and show them what we do with our children would surely create transparency and build relationship that would be beneficial. They would see, in our children, that home education can produce well educated, well rounded, well behaved, well socialised, responsible individuals.
The proposed legislation is not a foregone conclusion. We have the opportunity to engage in dialogue. My hope is that every home educating family in Wales will indeed do that “engage in dialogue, somehow”, and put a personal face on home education for the Welsh Assembly Government to help them understand, so that their information is drawn from real encounters with real families.