The number of families who are home educating their children has risen significantly since the pandemic began. The number of exempt students as of 1st July 2018 was 6,298; in 2019 it was 6,573, in 2020 it was 7,192 and in 2021 it was 7,749 as of 1st July. By 31st October 2021, the Ministry was reporting that there were 8,253 exempt students, and while I don’t have the current number officially, references have been made to it now sitting around 11,000.
NCHENZ recently completed their annual survey of home educators. Of the 507 families who completed the survey (a statistically significant number), a significant majority indicated they intend to homeschooling until their children finish school, while the number who planned this as only a short term solution was very small. Naturally, some families are as yet undecided, but regardless, I think it is evident that homeschoolers will continue to make up a larger portion of the population than ever before.
ERO conducting a survey
Along with these increases, there is increased interest from various sectors, which is unsurprising. ERO have recently begun conducting a voluntary survey – they are aiming this at a “random selection of parents” who have gained exemptions in the last 3 years. ERO says that “The big picture background is interest in the rising number of requests for exemptions” and “Our interest is in finding out parents’ views on how their home school programmes are going.” (All quotes are directly from ERO's email to me, mentoined below)
Their method is to send an email inviting parents to participate and outlining the four areas of questions, then following this up with a phone call to explain more about how this works, and to conduct the survey over the phone. The questions included in the email are:
- Rationale/Motivation -We are interested in what led you to make an application for home schooling.
- Learning Progress - How is it going? Has the home school programme you set up for [y]our children led to the learning progress you were looking for?
- Support - What support have you been able to access for your home school programme? How useful is the support?
- Duration - Do you have any idea how long you will want your children to continue to be home schooled?
- General question - Overall, what have been the pluses in home schooling? Any minuses?
“In short, all information from parents will be received in confidence, no names will be used in the summary report and the process for collating parents’ answers to the questions will be anonymous. The information received will only be used for research and statistical purposes.…..Once we have talked with those parents who wish to join in the survey, we will prepare a summary report for ERO’s Chief Executive. We hope to have a summary report ready early in term two. That report will be shared with the Ministry of Education and the parents who participate in the survey in the first instance. The Chief Executive may wish to make some of the summary findings public.”
So, should home educators participate in this survey? Ultimately that is a decision for each of you to make for yourselves. I do understand that the Ministry and ERO will have questions in their minds about the rise in home educating families – such as how many are likely to continue home educating in the longer term (which affects the advise they give to schools, decisions around school funding etc), or wondering whether the kids to whom they have given exemptions are in fact doing ok. And therein lies the rub.
Under the law, all parents have the right to apply for an exemption. The exemption application process requires parents to satisfy the Ministry that the child “will be taught at least as regularly and well as” they would be in school; the exemption is only granted once the Ministry is thus satisfied. After it is granted, the only follow up (due, it must be noted, to previous government decisions based on cost) is the 6 monthly declaration, other than in the few instances where a complaints process leads to an ERO review, for which there is funding to review up to 35 students per year (but numbers more typically sit around 10 reviews conducted).
At this current time there is no other way for Ministry staff to “check up on families” or their children’s progress. And ERO has only had the power to enquire into these things when asked to do a review by the Ministry.
So, what are they thinking? Are they merely curious about the state of things for families who have made the change? Are they trying to figure out to what to do with schools affected by the loss of students? Are they looking for areas where they might actually offer further support or resourcing (that would be nice, but the track record suggests this is unlikely), or are they seeking evidence that could be used to justify greater interference in the lives of home educating families? We do not know at this juncture. I have more questions for ERO, and will add updates of answers received in due course.
Another reservation is that these questions are being asked over the phone, which can lead to unguarded, uneditable answers begin given. If they were being answered by email, folk could think about what they really wanted to say, and make changes before hitting send.
And finally, could this set a precedent? “Give them an inch and they take a mile” is a saying often applied to government departments. Now don’t misunderstand me; as a representative of NCHENZ, I have regular contact with key people at ERO and the Ministry, and have high regard for those currently holding the respective roles. I don’t think they have any underhanded motivations. But I know from long experience that specific staff come and go, but actions and outcomes remain, and one thing can be interpreted differently by someone else and lead to something else and so on and so forth. In my role as Government Liaison for NCHENZ, I have to take the long view. If ERO successfully runs a survey now, will they decide to run them regularly? Would this be a good thing, or not? If the survey suggests that families are struggling, what action might they take? Would it be beneficial to the community as a whole, or not, as well as to individual families? Could this voluntary survey morph into something compulsory down the track?
Again, do not misunderstand me – I am all for being able to give feedback to the MoE/ERO about issues such as lack of support in schools leading to the choice to home educate, and opportunities that could lead to better resourcing options etc. The question is, is this the right way for these things to happen? And is there a downside?
Do I have all the answers to the above questions? No, I don’t. Which is why we circle back to, it’s up to each family whether they want to take part in this survey. If you choose to do so, proceed with at least some caution.
The NCHENZ survey collected a lot of useful data, including that related to a number of ERO’s questions. If NCHENZ were to provide ERO with a selection of such data, families personal information would be completely protected. If ERO or Ministry were to seek information about home educators through a representative body such as NCHENZ, that degree of separation would provide a greater layer of privacy and protection, while still furnishing useful information.
ERO have responded to two further questions I sent them:
- What sample size are you aiming for?
- Who originally requested this survey?