NSW Parliamentary Inquiry Homeschooling
I’ve just spent the last few days reading about the recent NSW Parliamentary inquiry into homeschooling that took place on the 5th and 8th of September. I found it very interesting and relevant to homeschooling in Australia. It took me probably 6 hours to read through all the transcripts. Here is my summary from all the speakers of the things I found interesting and important.
Updated: Included Oct 7, 2014 – BOSTAS right of Reply
NSW Parliamentary Inquiry homeschooling transcript Friday (read full PDF Version Here)
Board of Studies, Teaching and Education Standards NSW (BOSTES).
Mr David Murphy and Ms Anne Keenan were interviewed
- They were questioned about why they made the changes to the NSW registration package. Basically they refuted all of the complaints made by the home schoolers about the changes to the NSW Registration package implemented in August 2013. Their position was they were just making the guidelines clearer. David Murphy said, “There was no change to registration requirements. The information package made the existing process more explicit in a publicly available document.”. It was his opinion that the uproar was caused by fear mongering.
- They were also questioned about the number of families that had been notified to DOCS (Department of Family and Community Services). According to David Murphy 283 families had been involved with an exchange of information with DOCs, including families who had applied (but not necessarily been registered). This was then suggested that was 15% of homeschooling families. This number was later clarified by Chris Krogh (on Monday’s interviews) who said less than 17 families were actually reported to DOCs in the past 4 years. The DOCS representatives (on Monday) also said there were no statistics on homeschoolers being referred to DOCS and their was no perceived extra risk.
- Since the new guidelines, short term registrations of 3 months had also gone up from 10 to 60 (600% increase.) David Murphy basically shrugged this off. The board said that this was statistically significant and demonstrated that things must have changed since the new guidelines came in.
- When asked about the petition of 10 000 people complaining about the changes David Murphy argued that not all were unhappy with the changes.
- Asked about exemption to registration, David Murphy said this. “The only difference between exemption and registration is that many people have a conscientious objection to the State granting registration certificates of any kind in relation to their children. The process that people who apply for registration follow is exactly the same as the process that other people would need to follow for registration purposes. It is simply that they receive a document that says they are exempt from registration. There is no change in terms of the kinds of requirements that they must meet. It is an acknowledgment that there are people who have a philosophical objection to governments intruding into their children’s lives to the extent of them being required to have a registration certificate.”
Department of Education and Communities
Brian Smyth King, Michael Waterhouse and Paul Lennox were interviewed. (This department can take legal action against people who are not in compulsory schooling).
- These people discussed compulsory schooling and how it is a legal requirement. King said, “The number of children and young people registered for homeschooling has increased in recent years. In 2012-13 it was 3,327 young people and in 2009-10 it was 2,443.”
- They said, “In 2013 the department’s Home School Liaison Program intervened in 79 cases where children or young people of compulsory school age were not enrolled in a school or registered for homeschooling. Nearly all of these matters were resolved without the need for legal action. Court action has proceeded in only two of these cases. In 2014 to date the program has intervened in 54 cases with four matters commencing in court. In two cases the matter was withdrawn after the children and young people were registered for homeschooling.”
- Distance education was discussed and they said it was too expensive to provide it to anyone just because they wanted to. They were asked was bullying a reason a person could apply for distance education. Mr King said it was not. He said generally there needed to be a barrier to why a person was unable to access public education.
- The committee asked why children were unable to access school services such as school libraries or school sporting facilities They said that this was because there was no-one allocated who was responsible for these children, the school did not have a duty of care to these children,
- Mr Lennox said that children are watched in school however at home there is only one person watching over a child’s education. They said registration is important, and should include rigorous monitoring, to ensures students needs are being met. When asked could they guarantee that a child’s well being would be looked after in school they admitted that this was not the case and that children at school do sometimes suicide or get bullied.
- If children are not registered or not enrolled for homeschooling (and are not at school), this department’s role is to make sure that they are registered or enrolled. This is enforced through the Truancy Laws. However there is no formal arrangement between BOSTES and the Department of Education and Communities.
Australian Home Education Advisory Service
Dr Glenda Jackson, Homeschool Director
- Generally a positive discussion on why homeschooling was good.
- Glenda also argued that the school -at -home approach does not work in home education. She said, “Many home educators start off that [school at home] way and they find it does not work. Just recently I helped supervise a masters research project that surveyed 55 teachers who had chosen to home educate. These are people who know how the system works and what happens. They found that trying to translate classroom practices into the home did not work and they had to loosen up their programs and make it more interactive with their students over time. The one exception was a family where the mother was forced into home education because the children were not fitting into a country school. She did not have any other option but to take them out and she was planning at the earliest convenience to get them back into school. What my research and all the other research finds is that home educating families where the mother tries to maintain the school room look become fatigued.”
- Glenda was asked questions on unschooling and reasons people are choosing to homeschool. The committee seemed unsure of the merits of unschooling.
- Glenda believed that homeschoolers are not necessarily choosing to homeschool for religious reason for this reason she believed that the American literature could not be directly compared to the Australian experience.
- When asked by the committee if she thought NAPLAN would be a good measure to see how children are going at school she argued that it shouldn’t be. She said it wouldn’t be fair as many children were removed from school because of learning difficulties. She argued for ” having a professional assessment of their learning problems” rather than NAPLAN. An Australian study from Lucy Riley was cited that said children with disabilities often did very well in the home environment. She said this was because “parents could much more quickly respond to what children were learning and they were able to increase or decrease or emphasise different things that they were struggling with.”
- Glenda’s experience was that the unschooling group often had “gifted” children with well educated parents.
- Glenda’s suggestion was that the Tasmanian model for homeschooling registration was the best she new of in Australia.
Homeschool Parents & Students
Then three homeschooling parents spoke and one former homeschool student spoke (Dr Vieria).
- They were asked about their gripes with the system they listed: the new package, lack of access to VET courses and TAFE, public transport concessions and Centerlink, lack of support by BOSTAS.
- When questioned about governement funding it was suggested by Dr John Kaye from the committee, that because one parent leaves work to homeschool that homeschooling actually costs the government due to loss of a taxpayers income.
Another group of homeschooling parents Sharon Wu and Marianne Vandervolk and three homeschool students (former and current).
- The group gave reasons for why they didn’t like the new package.
- Cool story from Nathaniel Vandervolk a former student.
“My family has allowed me to have an amazing upbringing and that has led me to the position I am in today. This unique educational approach has given me the time and possibility to have a tailor-made education, to build my own skills, to take the initiative and, in particular, to be able to jump into being an entrepreneur at a young age. From 16 to 22 years of age most of my knowledge about search engine optimisation and web design came completely from being self-taught and having a hunger to learn and to grow my abilities. Being home educated certainly gave me both the ability to look outside the square and the initiative to try something different. My company has recently merged with another online marketing agency to encompass expertise across the industry. At only 24 I am the director of the Australian Institute of Internet Marketing, one of the largest online marketing companies in Australia. We will turn over close to $10 million, we have about 1,000 clients and we employ more than 30 staff. I am excited about the next step and am thankful for the opportunity to be home educated.”
- Suggested the Tasmanian Model for registration of homeschooling be adopted.
- Questions about the teaching of evolution and creation was raised. Teaching creation seemed to particularly annoy John Kaye.
Sydney Home Education
Carla Ferguson and Velly Pasas
- The issue of creation and evolution brought up.
- Pro homeschooling examples
- Discussed reasons for homeschooling. Special needs came up again as a common reason.
NSW Teachers Federation
Anna Uren and Lenore Hankinson
- Their main argument was that they weren’t particularly against homeschooling except for the reasons people were homeschooling. They believed if it was because they had an unsatifactory experience at school then schools should get more funding so that students needs are met.
- They also stated that children need quality teachers and there was the inference that parents could not provide that quality.
- They also said, “It is not our assertion that something is necessarily more likely to go wrong [when homeschooling], but it is more likely that if something does go wrong it will go unnoticed. Teachers are the biggest reporters of concerns about welfare simply because of the amount of contact they have with children and young people.”
- When challenged on a parent being able to teach at home Ms Uren said: “Obviously, somebody who is a qualified teacher will be confident to be able to deliver education in the home because they have done it in a school.”The Hon. Catherine Cusack said: “Yes. They have been qualified to teach in a school but for their children—being qualified teachers they are very well placed to do it—they have opted to do it in the home. Should we necessarily see that as a slight or a negative thing about the school system or is it possible that family just decided, “This is a journey we would like to take our kids on”? It is not an anti-school thing; it is a positive thing, a pro-thing they are willing to do. Do you understand what I am saying? There seems to be a lot of conflict going on, or it is homeschooling versus formal schooling. In fact, I have learnt today that it is a bit more complicated and actually is not school centred but more about child centred.”
NSW Parliamentary Enquiry Homeschooling for Monday (See Full PDF here)
Department of Family and Community Services (DOCS)
Interviewed Anne Campbell
- She said, “The 2003 Queensland Review of Home Schooling identified what it found to be a number of myths about home schooling. Among these was Child protection issues—home schooled children are more at risk than children in schools to various forms of child abuse as a result of their perceived social isolation. The Review concluded that … there is no evidence, reputable research or judicial data to support this position.”
- She also said that 75% of the cases reported to DOCS were from professionals but she could not say how many of this percentage were teachers. She was asked to clarify this at a later date.
- She also stated she had no statistics on problems with homeschoolers.
- She also stated that most of their work was with out of home care and generally these children are not homeschooled. She only new of one case where someone was applying to homeschool a child in DOCs care.
Australian Christian Homeschooling
Interviewed Terry Harding, General Manager.
- Grilled on corporal punishment and Evolution and Creation by John Kaye.
- Terry believed homeschooling situation in Australia was comparable to USA
- Terry said 90 to 95% of the primary homeschooling parents are women.
- Asked by committee if parents should be allowed to teach their children without any teacher training. He said parents get good results even though they have no formal training.
- Questioned on the NSW syllabus and the need for homeschoolers to follow it.
- Terry believed the Tasmanian model for homeschooling was the best model in Australia
Home Education Association (HEA)
Interviewed Esther Lacoba, Chris Krogh, Vivienne Fox and Katherine Watson
- Discussed how the new package had been implemented without consultation and the reasons why they refused to discuss the package with the BOSTES after it had been implemented.
- Clarified the BOSTES reports to DOCS of only 17 in 4 years.
- Discussed the anxiety the new package has caused many homeschoolers.
- Cited reasons for homeschooling including bullying and special needs as factors.
- Raised the issue of bias in particular approved persons for registration.
- Discussed how the Tasmanian model of homeschooling registration was a far better model to the NSW model.
- Is Okay with the new registration requirements adopted by BOSTES
- Believes homeschooling parents should get some sort of government assistance
- Wants more access to TAFE and pathways to university. Suggests that students should be allowed to sit the HSC if they desire.
- Based on his experience in the HEA he thought the most common reasons people were homeschooling was bullying, dissatisfaction with school and then special needs.
Queensland University of Technology
DR Rebecca English, Lecturer, School of Curriculum, Faculty of Education.
- Discussed her research into unschooling and explained it to the committee
- Said non-registration was occurring because of mistrust of the system and difficulty in complying with the documentation requirements
- Discussed how public schools are failing and have often let down students.
- She said in her experience unschoolers were generally not Christians
- Rebecca said there was no Australian research but offered to do some if they gave her the money to do it.
Cardinal Newman Catechist Consultants
Michael Brearley, Consultant.
- Spoke well of homeschooling and homeschooling students.
- Quizzed on drug and sex education and if parents were the right people to teach their children this topic. Trevor Khan bought up the issue of same sex attraction and how students usually raised this with their teachers.
- Questioned on what the ideal family is and asked to clarify if that was only the traditional biological family. He was questioned as to whether he was prejudiced against other sorts of families.
Monday 7th October – BOSTAS
Here is the full transcript
Anne Keenan and David Murphy questioned about the new registration package.
- Do both parents need to give permission to homeschool (as in the case of parents who are separated). BOSTAS said only if specific court orders apply to education.
- Committee surprised only 5% of homeschoolers say the homeschool for religious reasons.
- 17% say for philosophical reasons such as opposed to mass education.
- Challenged that the BOSTAS was trying to create “a classroom in every home”.
- When challenged on preventing educational neglect as one of the reasons they have such strict guidelines they acknowledged that a child could still be educationally neglected at school.
- Asked why removed flexibility in new guidelines using “must” with many of the requirements. There answer was there is flexibility within the syllabus even for special needs who can follow the “life skills” syllabus.
- Do BOSTAS believe there are as many as 17 000 unregistered homeschoolers in NSW. They didn’t.
About Authorised Persons (AP)
- Questioned on the power of the AP. Challenged if they were the appropriate person as they were school trained and not trained in homeschooling.
- An AP assesses the educational plan, what records are kept, how a child educational progress is assesses and length of time a parent has planned the educational program.
- Asked how many of the 18 APs were public school teachers they couldn’t answer but said a few were not.
- No written reasons need to be given to the parents if they receive a short rego time and there is no right of appeal. However you could make a complaint but you would need to have a good reason. Committee asked if this gives the AP too much power?
- Asked why group lessons could not be included in a child’s homeschool syllabus and they said that this was because it may have been an unregistered school. Challenged that this was a very legalistic approach and is it not reasonable that homeschoolers would gather together to do some group lessons.
- Could a parent travel? BOSTAS said if the home is a “caravan” for example they still need to show that they have a dedicated space for homeschooling and that they meet the syllabus.
- Teaching creationism and science BOSTAS attitude was that you could add to the syllabus but not subtract. John Kaye wondered if it was possible to prosecute a parent who was teaching creationism and science on equal footing and David Murphy said, “The board’s view is that it expects science courses to be based on and taught in accordance with the board’s science syllabus. If we had evidence beyond anecdotal evidence that was not occurring then we would have concerns about that.” He then went on to say they don’t legislate on religious matters.
- BOSTAS was told to make more of an effort to consult with peak homeschooling bodies.