I could write lots of articles with numerous examples of real families and how the school system has let them down, and how much better they've done at home. I could also give lots of example of kids who have been homeschooled for many years and then entered the school system where they've been incredibly successful. There's little point, though, in playing games of tit for tat. If you do want to read some homeschool success stories, though, start HERE.
And if you want to know more about how home education programmes are currently monitored, see HERE
- This article was not a surprise to us. NCHENZ and I were aware it was in the works the week prior, and the gist of it, though not the exact content. And it was also inevitable that something like this would come up with the recent growth in home education, which has taken most of the state sector by surprise.
- All they're really calling for in the article is a return of routine ERO reviews. You can read more about the history of those reviews HERE
Would a return to regular ERO reviews be a bad thing? Not necessarily. Some kind of accountability is, generally speaking, a good thing - all of us tend to lift our game when we know we're accountable to someone. For example, a few years ago I decided to set a personal goal to grow 1000kg of produce in my back yard within 12 months. I set up a blog in which to share progress reports and photos and updates because I know myself well enough to know that when I tell people about what I'm trying to achieve, I will do better at making a consistent effort towards it. While nothing bad was going to happen to me if I did not reach my goal, just having that outside "scrutiny" helped motivate me to keep going when it got tough.
However, there are a few things wrong with ERO reviews as they stand in terms of their usefulness in improving outcomes for our children, which is, after all, the main point:
- The way reviews are currently structured is that they result in a report that you are or are not "teaching your child at least as regularly and well as..". That report goes to the Ministry, who, in theory, can, if the outcome was "are not", summarily revoke your exemption. Not that they always do - there is space to discuss how you will improve things and be allowed to keep going. However, the mere fact that this can happen, makes the whole process very intimidating, which does not bring out the best in anyone, and may result folk being unable to present themselves as well or accurately as they would under other circumstances.
- ERO's reviews of schools have a different focus - they are deliberately intended these days to help schools find areas where they need to improve, and then giving them space and support to do so. The wording on the website is: "Reviews of schools are focused on continuous improvement through strengthening the capability of schools in identifying priority areas for improvement, including the effectiveness of engagement with whānau, Iwi and the wider communities." Schools are not under threat that one bad review will close the school. This means that schools and home educators are not being reviewed on an equal basis.
- Currently, reviews of home educators only happen on a complaints basis - so they're going in because there is, theoretically, a problem. This naturally adds tension and a degree of bias to the review.
- Because so few reviews happen each year, most reviewers are very unfamiliar with home education as a whole, though the ones I've spoken to are supportive in general. Years ago when reviews were first routine, it took quite some time until the few reviewers who focused on home education reviews became familiar with home education in all it's shapes and sizes - they ultimately became some our biggest advocates. We lost that when we lost routine reviews.
- The questions that ERO use to guide their review are, in some degree, not as useful as they could be, as many of them are not written in terms that are meaningful in the home education context, or even make a lot of sense to homeschooling parents who don't speak "teacher-ese."
That said, there may be other ways we can help ourselves and each other, that will benefit our children, and not be too burdensome or stressful for busy parents who need to focus on the day to day teaching and guiding of their children. And, maybe, there would also be something in this space that would provide additional assurance to the Ministry that the children are doing ok.
One of the downsides, it must be understood, of the Ministry having little or no information on the on-going programmes and progress of our children is that it increases concern and pressure at the front end, which is directly responsible (in large part) for the increasingly demanding expectations of staff members who are processing exemption applications.
So yes, I think we can find other ways to hold ourselves accountable in a way that actually benefits our families, while also helping to calm government sector concerns.
These matters are being worked on on a number of fronts behind the scenes, including by the NCHENZ executive and other key people within the home education sector. It's all still in the discussion and brainstorming stage.
- There is planning being done to have a meeting with key staff to give them an opportunity to express their concerns, so we can listen, and consider those when making suggestions down the track.
- There is work being done on making suggestions for improvements to ERO's review questions, and also considering how some similar questions could help families consider their own progress and next steps periodically.
- There is work being done on considering what data we may be able to share with ERO in respect of the survey they're currently conducting, which may better inform them.
- And there is brainstorming being done, for experienced home educators coming up with ideas which could then be put to the wider home education community around how they might self-review for their own benefit and also provide some appropriate degree of accountability that would help ensure better outcomes for all students, while also relieving concerns.
Please don't be distressed by articles like this. And don't engage in speculative rumours about what might happen, and what the Ministry thinks and so on. Do take a moment to ask yourself "How do I personally monitor my own children's progress and achievements? Is there anything I could do better? Would I like any further resources and ideas to help with that?" Whatever your answers to yourself, write them down. This will help you act on them, and will also be helpful when we get to the stage of calling for ideas from the wider home education community.
Know that national representatives of the home education sector and those who work closely with families are working together to find answers, temper concerns, and come up with workable outcomes and ways forward that will be beneficial to families and impose as little as reasonably possible on time and freedoms. We are all volunteers in this space though. We cannot promise to make certain things happen - but we can say we are doing our level best to work for the benefit of the wider home education community.