Fears homeschool can't make grade

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 05/07/2012

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A lack of checks on home-schooled children raises questions about the quality of their education, Nelson principals say.

They say it is too easy for parents to home-school their children, and once they do, there is no accountability, since the Education Review Office only conducts reviews when asked to do so by the secretary for education.

In 2009, the reviews were deemed "too low-risk to the education priorities of the Government", with only a very small proportion of reviews resulting in a "below threshold" result.

However, those in the home-school community said only those who were passionate about their children's education would home-school their children, and their children received a more personalised education than they would at a school.

Hampden Street School principal Don McLean said parents should be subject to the same checks and balances that schools were, through the ERO, National Standards reporting, and annual reporting and audits.

Home-schooling could also lead to children with gaps in their education, he said.

"Most parents would have little knowledge of the skills needed to truly teach reading to get them to NCEA level 1 stage."

A lack of social interaction for home-schooled students could lead to a narrow world view, particularly for those home-schooled for religious reasons, he said.

"There is no exposure to cultures, children with special needs, bicultural issues or beliefs, even just children with different views on life than themselves. How do these students cope with society when they go out into the workforce?"

Nelson Christian Academy principal Chris George said he would like to see the home-school policy reviewed because it was not consistent with the rest of education policy.

"I myself had to spend four years training to do what I do, yet parents can just make the call? I am aware of parents who have trained, and I feel that is okay, as long as a consistent approach to accountability is set out."

He knew of one family who home-schooled for nine years and were never reviewed by the ERO, and he had also heard of families using their money for car registrations.

Home-schooled children who had attended his school had consistently been assessed as below the standard, needing extra support to raise their achievement.

Mr George said it was very hard to decline applications for home-schooling, and as long as the boxes were ticked, they were granted.

"The school's role, in my opinion, is very minimal."

Other principals said their opinion on whether children should be home schooled did not matter, and the supervision of home schooling was very loose.

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Ministry group manager Marilyn Scott said parents were accountable to ensure their children would be taught at least as regularly and as well as in a registered school.

There were no plans at present to alter the current home-schooling arrangements, she said.

Tasman Home Educators co-ordinator Stewart Harrison said applying to home school children was more difficult here than it was in Britain, where he was from, and he was comfortable with the process.

Home-schooled children varied widely, he said, from children who did no formal learning to those who were in a classroom environment created by the parents.

He disagreed that home-schooled children could not learn advanced topics, saying that if parents did not have the ability, there were plenty of resources to help them.

"Once you get to a certain level of knowledge where you can't provide those resources... that would be the time that you get somebody else in."

His son was learning Danish from a tutor, in preparation for a trip to Denmark to see the Lego factory.

Nelson woman Libby Newton home-schooled her two daughters Lucy and Anna Mitchell, who are now adults, by allowing them to decide what they wanted to learn on a given day rather than following the prescribed curriculum.

She said an ERO review had said she had a holistic programme of learning, including Japanese, flute, weaving, gardening, building a website and other activities.

"I remember ERO asking me once, 'How do you tell if your child is learning?'.

"First of all, I'd say, 'Well, how do you not learn?'. Every minute you open your eyes in the morning, you start learning.

"Doing well to me is living your life, your own full life, not whether you're going to get enough qualifications to get a job or a lot of money."

She said she was not concerned about parents who did not put the effort into teaching their children.

"Every parent I know who home educates is very involved. You have to be."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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