The rise of home schooling: What can independent schools do?
Ben Evans, Headmaster at Edge Grove School, explains why home schooling is not a long-term solution
The fact that the number of children being home schooled has doubled over the last six years suggests an increased dissatisfaction in either the maintained or independent school provision or an increased number of children who, for various reasons, are not suited to mainstream schooling. It doesn’t necessary have any direct impact on independent schools as the families who home school may be doing so because independent school fees are too expensive and they are not happy with the state school provision in their area. In this case, home schooling may seem like the only valid option.
For most children, I personally don’t believe that home schooling will be in their best long-term interests. It may at first seem like an idyllic option, being able to follow children’s interests, not being constrained by a timetable or the national curriculum, to have the flexibility to choose what is taught each day according to the seasons, weather or current affairs, etc. However, in reality, it lacks the pedagogy, academic rigour and peer challenge as well as the socialisation necessary to develop a happy, purposeful and productive education which sees each child reach their full potential in all spheres as well as building the all-important social and academic foundations for life.
In other cases, such as for children with severe learning or behavioural difficulties, home schooling can provide a setting in which they can learn flexibly and become successful which is not always attainable in the traditional classroom setting. Children would benefit from the one-to-one teaching, lack of distractions and flexibility of the curriculum and daily routines.
As a short-term solution, home schooling can be fit for purpose at that given point in time, but is it a long-term fix? Children need to integrate with each other and work collaboratively, understand and follow routines and expectations and mix with their peers socially. They also need to be able to give and take, share, understand each other’s emotions and be empathetic. This happens every day at school and is an essential part of every child’s development.
In short, the pros are an individually tailored curriculum to hold the interest and enthusiasm of the children, flexible routines, timetables and daily routine. As mentioned, home schooling can also be good for children who can’t cope (academically or socially) with the constraints of mainstream schooling.
That said, it is important to be aware of the drawbacks too. These include lack of qualified and specialist teaching, lack of resources (such as equipment related to science, PE and technology), a lack of socialisation and learning about people’s emotions and personalities.
There is also a missing link with collaborative learning, assemblies, drama productions and participation in team sports. Children that are home schooled will experience far less academic rigour and challenge due to the more ‘patchy’ curriculum coverage and lack of continuity, there will also be fewer opportunities to take part in important cultural development such as school trips and music events.
Do independent schools have an opportunity to make an impact in terms of the portion of children in the UK who are current home schooled? Well, that all depends on the reasons behind the home schooling preference. If it’s due to dissatisfaction with a maintained school (big classes, reduced funding, lack of individual support, fewer opportunities for sport, music, drama and art, etc), then affordable, independent schools would be an ideal solution. There are also many bursaries available for families who genuinely can’t afford the fees.
With average class sizes of 18–20 children, regular and purposeful intervention, specialist teaching and resources, daily sport, timetabled music, dance, drama, forest school and learning assistants to provide group support and extension, independent schools can certainly fit the bill. They can provide the benefits of flexibility and individual challenge/support which are often the reasons behind home schooling, as well as the specialist teaching and tremendous opportunities beyond the curriculum which will ensure children are encouraged to be adventurous, confident, sociable, determined, resilient and emotionally intelligent.