Harriet Pattison, Researcher, Response

"Since 2006 I have been a research associate of the Institute of Education, University of London specialising in home education practices and philosophy.  Research undertaken by myself and in collaboration with Dr Alan Thomas, Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Education, has encompassed a number of European countries (including the UK and Ireland) as well as Australia, USA, New Zealand and Canada.  I hold a PhD from the University of Birmingham in alternative education and literacy. 

I am very concerned that underlying the Boards’ proposals is a model of education based on formal schooling which is irrelevant and inappropriate for many families undertaking home education.  Assessing formal education is conventionally based on the matrix found between curriculum, timetable, resource provision and children’s achievements whether these are measured formally or informally in classroom settings.  Research into different styles of home education has clearly shown that these ideas are frequently not applicable to children educated at home.  One of the major advantages and strengths of home education is precisely that it does not need to rely on pre-set plans or standard achievement targets.  The notions of curriculum and timetable are not directly transferable to home education which frequently follows a much more dynamic, flexible and child directed course.  This leads to an organic form of education in which parents are able to take a creative and changeable approach taking into account children’s own interests, strengths and personalities as well as environmental and contextual features of life which give rise to new possibilities.  Assessment is much more effectively carried out over the long term as the course of learning may well differ entirely from the national benchmarks and standard age related norms found in schools.  To assess home education both in terms of its provision and the achievements of home educated children requires an understanding of education far broader than the application of  school assessment principles.

In the light of this it is particularly worrying that Boards are suggesting that parents need to provide a programme which will be assessed for suitability by a third party.  This is obviously incompatible with the flexible and dynamic approach research has found to be so effective in home education.  It is also extremely worrying that the Boards intend to impose monitoring and ‘minimum standards’; again this cannot be done in any straight forward or standard fashion given that home education is a highly individualised process in which children may progress in different directions and at different rates.   Much that is championed as the ideal in school is not attainable for reasons of policy and practical restrictions.  It would be highly iniquitous to have this ideal stamped out in home education merely for the purposes of easy comparison with school education. "