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Registration of home educated children: efficacy and effect.

Dr Rebecca English, Senior Lecturer Faculty of CI, Education & Social Justice, QUT.

Work in the home education field is principally concerned with choice. It explores who chooses to home educate and why. Much of this work is qualitative (cf English, 2016; 2019; 2021a; 2021b), and much of it is concerned with participants’ accounts for their experiences.

One of the biggest issues faced in this research field is gaining a true picture of the home education community. This problem comes from a lack of hard data on registrations. Much of the work in the field suggests that many do not register either because they do not have to (see McMullen, 2002 for a thorough discussion of the problems with registration), or because they do not want to (see Moriaty, 2017 for an account of her experience). As Ray (2011) noted, in a now quite dated study, there is a very large, very hidden population of home educators in the USA, and this characteristic makes the problem of knowing who home educates and why very difficult. This study, a report prepared for The National Home Education Research Institute (not a peer reviewed study) found, “based on surveys of those thoroughly familiar with the home-based education community” that the population of non-registered home educators may be as high as ten per cent where “families [are] living in states attempting to control home education via some form of registration” (Ray, 2011, p. 2). However, while this study was not peer-reviewed, and is 10 years old, it is supported by more recent research in Australia (see Krogh & Liberto, 2021) that argued that there are two conflicting elements to home education registration requirements. The first is the extent of the state’s rights to mandate what counts as an educated individual and the ability of the state to manage that mandate in a home, not institutional, setting. The second is the degree to which state’s rights should and can override parents’ rights to determine what counts as a good education for their child.

On Krogh and Liberto’s (2021) second point, the extent of the state to override a parents’ rights to determine what is in their child’s interest, much of the work in the home education corpus looking at the effect of a child’s diagnosis of a learning, or other disability, on the decision to home education. A large body of work suggests that, for the majority of home educators, the decision is driven by a failure of schools to meet children’s needs. As many as 80 per cent of the home education population in Australia is estimated to be home educating due to school failure (English, 2021a; 2021b). As such, most of the home educated population have experienced school and left. It may be that registration, as Krogh and Liberto (2021) suggest, increases the stress on the families who are distrustful of education after negative school experiences.

Many families cite a diagnosis or a suspicion of a learning difficulty or disability as the primary reason to home educate (Baidi, 2019). For these families, failed school support services and those connected to problematic approaches, particularly around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Green & Hoover-Dempsey, 2007; Hurlbutt, 2011; Neuman, 2019), mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression (English, 2015; Riley, 2020), other learning needs (Neuman, 2019) and the child’s experience of bullying (Green-Hennessy & Mariotti, 2021) are significant in choosing home education. These factors are likely to be considerably lower in the home educated population, with few, if any, studies suggesting major problems in the home educated (see Guterman & Neuman, 2016 for a discussion of the differences between the schooled and the home educated on measures of mental health disorders). Families, whose children have diagnosed mental health conditions and for whom school was not a good fit, it is suggested in research (English, 2019) are likely to struggle with registration and may contribute to the population who remains unregistered in Australia (Moriaty, 2017). One study (Moriaty, 2017) suggests that up to 85 per cent of home educators in one state, Queensland, are unregistered, often because of a registration system that is difficult to navigate and viewed as punitive in nature. This statistic is compared with other states, such as Victoria, who have a less byzantine registration system that engages with families and encourages registration (Moriaty, 2017).

Findings of these studies suggest that, due to home education’s unique perspectives, approaches and pedagogy, and lack of similarity with school perspectives, approaches and pedagogy, it may be that registration, in particular registration based on a ‘school’ criteria for demonstrating effectiveness, will not work (Kamman, 2015). Registration is frequently seen in the home educating community as a blunt instrument of control and is re-traumatising for many families who have experienced trauma in schools. As Moriaty (2017) noted, there is no evidence that home educated children are less safe than schooled children. As such, the research in the field suggests registration needs to be considered very carefully, applied cautiously, mandated and managed gently, and always be considered in partnership with the home educating community.

Baidi, B. (2019). The role of parents’ interests and attitudes in motivating them to homeschool their children. Journal of Social Studies Education Research, 10(1), 156-177.
English, R. (2015). Use your freedom of choice: Reasons for choosing homeschool in Australia. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 9(17), 1-18.
English, R. (2016). Aaishah’s choice: Choosing home education in the Muslim community. Other Education, 5(1), 55-72.
English, R. (2019). First they came for the unschoolers: A Faircloughian critical discourse analysis of Queensland home education policies. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 13(26), 14-47.
English, R. (2021a). The Accidental Home Educator: A New Conceptualisation of Home Education Choice. In Global Perspectives on Home Education in the 21st Century (pp. 30-48). IGI Global.

With thanks to @Bekkie_Graham for this the feature image.