Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Future of Home Education Regulation in Australia

© Beverley Paine, 20th June 2008

On the ABC News Radio this morning Mal Brough said that it would not take much effort for the government to cross check school enrolments with Centrelink to get those children not attending schools into school. He offered the figure of 2000 and the conversation was in relation to the Northern Territory intervention, which he said should be expanded across Australia, to include all populations.

Home educators may need to be reassured by reminding them that Mal Brough's remarks need to be kept in the context of his adversarial role of Opposition spokesperson - he is no longer running the show and his alarmist comments amount to politicking and heckling from the sidelines in response to the latest intervention measure announced by the Rudd government.

However, I have no doubt that eventually, regardless of who is holding the reins in Canberra, school enrolment and Centrelink parenting benefits will be linked for all Australians. Some time soon – maybe not this year or next year, but probably within five years – to legally homeschool in Australia one will have to be registered, this process will cost the homeschooler. Home educators will be required to demonstrate, in terms the authorities understand, that their children's educational and social development is progressing in line with acceptable standards, which will be either the national or individual state curriculum guidelines.

From my vantage point spanning two decades of involvement with the home education movement it is easy to see that this was inevitable, given the lack of understanding by the general population of the nature of home education and the pressures facing governments resulting from the increasing visibility of the effects of poverty on sections of our society.

If, as I predict, this future in inevitable, what should home educators, and those like myself who advise home educators, do to prepare for this adjustment?

Some will not accept what I see as the inevitability that regulation of home education will become unavoidable, and will continue to lobby governments for the right of parents to teach their children at home without ‘big brother' looking over their shoulder every year, or giving them approval in a patronising way to do the job that is their responsibility alone. Home education in Australia needs these families to become vocal and to lobby hard and continuously for fair and rational treatment. Their voices are an essential part of the way forward for home education. Their arguments and reasoning are sound and reflective of the liberal democratic society we enjoy and wish to preserve.

Some will continue to conscientiously object to laws they feel impinge on their rights as parents to determine the direction and content of their children's education, as well as their right to parent according to their religious and lifestyle beliefs. Some will fight what they believe to be unnecessary and restrictive regulations and laws through the court system. The home education movement as a whole needs to continue to support these families.

But for most of us, we will choose to comply with the new regulations, either because it makes sense, as it will to many home educating families, or because the stress of opposing them will be overwhelming and ultimately too disruptive to family life. I believe that the home education movement needs to support, in whatever way we can, genuine home educating families.

For my part this will mean helping families write and record learning programs for their children that will demonstrate that no matter what style or approach of education is used, home education is effective and successful. This is what I do best. We each need to do what we each do best to help others find their way through these difficult times of change. In this way we can support each other and continue to promote home education as a viable alternative to school for those families who need it most.

© Beverley Paine 2008

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