The more articulate home educators in this country are very good at citing various faraway places as showing why the situation in this country with regard to home education should never change. We saw this here recently, when somebody brought up New Zealand as a knockdown argument against the routine monitoring of home education. I suspect that those using the case of New Zealand in this way actually know very well why it is not comparable with this country, but for the benefit of those who genuinely do not, let’s have a look at why the cases of this country and New Zealand are wholly dissimilar when it comes to home education.
In England, any parent wishing to educate a child at home must do one of two things. The first option is, as in my own case, to do nothing at all; that is to say just not sending the child to school at the age of five. The second is if the child is attending school, writing to the Head and saying that you are taking your child out of the school. That’s it. No seeking permission, no registration; nothing at all. It is this state of affairs that many militant home educators are determined to maintain at all costs. Where does New Zealand fit into all this? Some people in this country are concerned that children being educated at home might not be receiving a good education. New Zealand, until a few years ago, used to monitor home education pretty closely and found that 95% of children being educated in this way were getting an acceptable education. This appeared to remain the case even when routine monitoring was stopped. Therefore, so the argument goes, it would be a waste of time and money to start routine monitoring of home educated children in England.
Assuming that it is true that 95% of home educated children in New Zealand are getting good education, does that tell us anything useful about the current situation in England? Not in the slightest. This is because parents in New Zealand are not allowed to educate their children at home until they have fulfilled certain conditions. The law there is very clear. The 1989 Education Act says that permission to educate a child at home will only be granted if it can be shown that the child, ‘will be taught as regularly and as well’ as if he were at school. Note that; home educated children in New Zealand must be taught and not only that, taught as much as children at school and to at least as high a standard. Of course, some children in this country are getting this at home; many are not. There are an awful lot of parents here who do not approve of regular teaching, certainly not as frequently as it is given in schools. These would be breaking the law in New Zealand.
In order to home educate in New Zealand, one must ask for permission from the Ministry of Education. No nonsense here about just dealing with a local authority! Permission is not always granted. There are two reasons for this. One is that if a child about whom there is anxiety is taken from school, the school will contact the Ministry of Education and explain why they think why home education is a bad idea. Secondly, to gain permission anyway, called being granted an exemption, parents must fill out a very detailed outline of the type of teaching which they mean to undertake. Teaching, remember, not just allowing the child to learn autonomously. Here is a very abbreviated version of the sort of thing parents would need to be setting out in detail before they could even be considered for permission to teach their child at home:
1. Special Education Needs
If enrolled in a registered school, would your child be likely to need special education, forexample in a special class or clinic or by a special service? If yes, how do you plan to meet your child’s special educational needs?
2. Knowledge and understanding
Describe your knowledge and understanding of the broad curriculum areas you intend to cover as you educate your child.
Describe your curriculum or programme. Detail what you intend to cover with your child in different areas of your stated curriculum. The National Curriculum Framework may serve as a guide but use of this is not compulsory. It lists seven essential learning areas and eight grouipings of essential skills. These are listed below for your information should you wish to use the National Curriculum Framework as a guide.
4. The National Curriculum
Essential Learning Areas
Language and Languages
Health and Well-Being
Self-management and competitive Skills
Social and co-operative Skills
Work and study Skills
Whatever source of curriculum you select, you should be specific about the skills you want your child to learn and you should be clear about matching the learning needs of your child to your programme.
5. Topic Plan
To help the Ministry understand how your curriculum vision translates into practical terms, we ask you to includ one topic of your choosing.
We are looking for the following elements in your statement:
The Topic Title –
The Aim – what you are going to teach your child.
Resources – what materials you would use to teach the topic.
Method – what steps would you take to communicate/teach the material? Please be as
clear as possible.
Evaluation – how you will test/measure the effectiveness of your teaching.
6. Resources and Reference Material
(There is no need to list the titles of books.) Please provide a comprehensive list of all resources and reference material available to you. Also list the type of material you may intend to include in the future. Do not list the titles of every publication.
State how you will use the environment and your community to extend and enrich your child’s education. Please include in this a description of any educational visits you hope to make.
8. Social Contact
Describe how you intend to provide for your child’s need for social contact with other children.
9. Assessment and Evaluation
Explain how you are going to assess and evaluate the progress your child is making. Remember, you will need to have some record of this over the years, eg, if your child wants to enter an apprenticeship, this will be needed.
The legislation requires a commitment to regularity. In explaining your routines, show how you will meet the requirement that your child will be taught at least as regularly as in a registered school. Some parents provide a timetable to meet this request, some describe their integrated approach. You may like to include one of the following:
• Timetable or
• Integrated curriculum description or
• Description of typical routines used.
11. Other Information
Please make any other comments you consider relevant.
There are several consequences of all this. First, the sort of parent in this country who has a row with the head at her child’s school or is anxious about bullying and then dashes off a letter deregistering the kid, is unknown in New Zealand. Applying for an exemption is a serious process which can drag on for ages. It is very common for the Ministry of Education to consider an application and then write back asking for further and fuller details. This alone discourages parents from just taking their children from school in response to some temporary problem. It is one thing to take a child out of school and say that you will ‘de-school’ for six or nine months; quite another to realise that you will be expected to provide fulltime teaching from the word go! Although the majority of applications for an exemption are eventually granted, quite a few are not. These are the cases where the school is worried about the child or the parents seem to be incapable of providing an education. It must be borne in mind too that applications for exemption must be renewed twice a year and can be withdrawn at any time.
I think that readers are now beginning to see why 95% of home educated children in New Zealand might be getting a good education. It is because those who are not prepared to teach their children as much and as well as a school are not allowed to home educate in the first place. Those who do not feel up to the job of teaching to a high standard usually don't bother to apply for an exemption. Trying to draw any comparison between this state of affairs and the case of England, where anybody can take their child from school at the drop of a hat and then announce that the kid will be doing nothing for six months, is absolutely meaningless. I am not at all surprised that the great majority of home educated children in New Zealand are receiving a good education. This would also be the case in this country if we put into place the same system here.
Of course, if those who talk enthusiastically about New Zealand and the high educational standards achieved by home educating parents there are in favour of a rigorous system like the one there being instituted in this country; I would be the first to give my support. Imagine parents in this country being expected to teach their children fulltime to as high a standard as schools! It sounds great to me and I will certainly join in any campaign for this. Until then, it is probably best that English home educators give the subject of New Zealand a wide berth, as it raises more questions for them than it answers.