An article in the Daily Telegraph by Simon Benson on the 1st of April (and no, it wasn't an April Fool's joke), reported on new laws introduced into NSW parliament which could inadvertantly adversely affect many homeschooling families.
The laws grant powers to the Department of Education to seek court orders which could force parents to enrol their children at school. Magistrates will be empowered to impose jail sentences for parents of habitual truants, with fines up to $10,000.
Premier Morris Iemma stated that it was time that the issue of school enrolments and truancy "became one of parental responsibility".
However, if parents are coerced to send their children to school, doesn't this remove some of that parental responsibility? It was my understanding that education - not school attendance - is compulsory for primary school aged children in NSW. Homeschooling is a legitimate and legal alternative that addresses the educational needs of children.
How will the new laws affect existing home educating families, especially those not registered with the Board of Studies?
There is a trend across Australia for tightening of regulation of home education. Let's hope it is done in an enlightened way, where the needs of home educating families are assessed in an thorough way, given an understanding of the unique and distinct from schooling nature of homeschooling.
Home educating families do not fall into the category of negligent parents - they take parental responsibility seriously, to the extent that they are willing to forgo a second (and often necessary income) to supervise their children at home and in the community. It is a shame that politically motivated laws which appear to have been hastily created as a reaction to a much publicised case of child abuse will catch in its net innocent and dedicated parents.
© Beverley Paine 2008
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