In August 2013, the official Board of Studies home schooling registration package was updated to reflect changes to the NSW curriculum, potentially restricting how and what home schoolers are able to teach. The case will be reviewed in parliament in August, in response to a 10,000-signature petition.
A quick, steady tapping fills the silence in the air. The subject pays her surroundings little heed; there is a novel to be written and it’s not going to write itself. It’s not her first. She’s written four stories already by her estimation and has even participated in NaNoWriMo. An achievement for any author, but as this one is ten years old one may be more than averagely impressed.
The writer is Melanie, a girl whose love of and talent for writing stemmed from her atypical, unrestricted and ever-changing home education. Once she and other home schooled children like her were free to collaborate with their teacher-parents. Education plans were formed around their particular needs, adapted to the child, to the situation or to the moment.
Until August 2013.
For reasons left only to the wilds of the imagination, the NSW Board of Studies tightened its grip on home education. The requirements for homeschool registration were quietly updated to encompass a brand new curriculum containing mandatory ‘outcomes’. Many, many detailed pages of outcomes later, Melanie and other home schooled children must now adapt their education learning to adhere to wordy, overly-specific educational regulations. No longer are home schoolers left to mould education to fit the child – the child must now change to fit the education.
Perhaps this seems an unreasonable complaint; after all children at school face this issue on a daily basis. But many would say this undermines the very reason many choose to home school in the first place. Previous studies have found the most often cited reasons to be religious, philosophical, dissatisfaction with local schools or to better educate a child with special needs.
So it may not be entirely surprising that many are not amused with the excruciatingly comprehensive regulations. Not long after a change.org petition appeared online. The petition proved vital in providing a voice for thousands of unhappy home schoolers; more than ten thousand signatures later, the case was officially recognised and escalated to parliament.
Following the publication of the updated handbook and resulting firestorm, the Board of Studies found a little explanation was necessary. A Q&A “to assist parents” was posted on their website to justify specific complaints and concerns.
In contrast to their new and overly detailed one-size-fits-all curriculum, they explained: “The unique nature of education in the home and the commitment, energy and time home schooling parents give to educate their children continue to be recognised. It is expected that in planning an educational program, a parent will consider his or her child’s individual learning needs and will incorporate specific learning activities and content to address those needs.”
For Melanie’s mother Vicky, at least, the new regulations have their pros and cons. Now the rules of the game have changed, she has had to uproot her long-established education plan and reform her children’s education to the Board of Studies’ strict new regulations.
“I believe that with some prior thought and planning, the current system is workable as an option, both to new home schoolers and to those who may benefit from such guidance in their programming,” she explained. “However, experienced home schoolers often find that the curriculum is not applicable to their children’s needs and abilities.”
For Vicky and her home schooled children, more than 18 years of carefully planned and constructed learning activities have been undermined by the new regulations. “We are still able to go beyond the curriculum, as long as our program is based on the curriculum. We are, however, limited by time, and the need to teach subjects or topics we consider irrelevant or inferior to our own programs may be a poor use of time or lead to student burnout as we strive to cover all bases.”
The President of the Home Education Association (HEA), Tamara Kelly, says support is more conducive than restrictive regulations in aiding home schoolers to provide a quality education.
“Higher levels of regulation and conformation of the teaching content hinders parents in doing their job,” she said.
“Regulation in the form of paperwork and AP visits just makes parents’ lives difficult and puts a lot of people off home schooling because they can’t teach their children, keep a house, go to work and do all the paperwork.
“Support is far more conducive to assisting people to do a good job. Support in the form of funding so they don’t have to work as many hours, providing home school experienced people to assist with the planning rather than simply turning up to judge the parents’ efforts.”
The oppressive regulations have also sparked fears that parents of children with special needs will not be able to meet their educational requirements, while adhering faithfully to the curriculum.
“Many of these children need completely different content and teaching methods but so do neurotypical children,” said Ms Kelly. “They need the flexibility to study what interests them too. It is blindingly obvious that people learn better when they are studying something that interests them, hence what is more important to learn is how to learn.”
Ms Kelly said that in place of one blanket curriculum to cover an entire population of home schoolers, individual needs and learning methods needed to be taken into consideration.
“While schools have always been available, mass education was invented only 200 years ago to rapidly create a literate and numerate population. We have achieved that goal in first world countries and now we can move into the next phase of education which is a tailored, self-directed mode, largely supported with the Internet.”
Meanwhile, 10-year-old Melanie remains on the fence on the controversial new curriculum. “I think the new outcomes are okay… if mum writes them,”she decided.
After a thoughtful pause, she concluded: “I don’t really get the new outcomes, actually.”