Scottish Home Education Forum Survey (February 2018)
Reasons for school-age children being in home education
There are no reliable statistics on the number of school-age children who are in home education in Scotland, since schooling is an opt-in service and it is parents, not the state, who are responsible in law for providing suitable education for their own children during the compulsory years.
Contrary to popular belief, elective home education or ‘education by other means’ (often inaccurately referred to as ‘homeschooling’) has equal status in law to schooling in Scotland and is in fact the default model, requiring no council permission, registration or notification. Local authority consent is only required (and may not be unreasonably withheld) for the withdrawal of a school-age child from a state (not private) school s/he has attended on one occasion or more, with several notable exceptions.
When it comes to home education, local authorities are required to adhere to primary legislation (which underscores parental choice while affording none to children and young people, school-going or otherwise) and statutory guidance, (which must be read to comply with the overarching human rights and data protection framework), yet parents frequently encounter public servants who seek to mislead them about their legal rights and responsibilities, deliberately or otherwise. This has created a culture of distrust and relationships between families and councils have deteriorated in recent years, often to the point of complete breakdown, as evidenced by numerous forum discussions.
Historically, home educating families in Scotland have tended to be evenly split between those who have proactively chosen to home educate from the outset and those who have withdrawn their children from school, mostly due to bullying or unmet additional support needs.
Over the past several years, however, there has been a perceptible shift as interest in home education has increased significantly, and support networks across Scotland have all reported a surge in membership.
The Scottish Home Education Forum works closely with other family support networks, whose members often home educate due to disability, chronic illness or other additional needs, and has been monitoring the (largely adverse) impact of the government’s GIRFEC policy on home educators and other minority groups.
The ‘Reasons for Home Education’ survey was conducted on the forum’s private Facebook group in February 2018. Over a seven day period, 329 (approx 16%) of 2070 group members took part, indicating the main reasons for their children being in home education via a multiple choice poll.
Several participants commented on their choices on the group and others did so privately, providing further insight into why so many families are opting for home education.
Participants’ stated reasons were collated into several broad categories, further broken down into sub-categories, to illustrate the range of individual responses.
The majority of respondents cited disability, chronic illness, unmet support needs – especially severe school anxiety and ASD – as key drivers. Many highlighted lack of access to, or poor experiences of CAMHS, and a few were highly critical of schools’ unwillingness or inability to acknowledge or address their children’s support needs.
“We have a genetic illness which is managed fine at home but in school she really suffered. She was so tired at the end of the day she had no energy to talk to me anymore and often just cried with fatigue. She was continually catching infections but when I kept her off I received attendance letters with escalating threats.”
“Our son has a chronic illness as well as anxiety issues which resulted in him struggling in the school environment. Ultimately this is what made us make our decision to home school, but it was always an option that was on the table for us.”
“Our daughter was diagnosed at age 7 with an ASD (Aspergers) and significantly struggled in a social environment. She is also highly able academically and was starting to be failed intellectually. She is much calmer and thriving through home education.”
“I had felt for years that he was dyslexic or had some kind of learning issue and was just ignored (he was diagnosed while home educated).”
“I was just disgusted at the attitude and dishonest tactics used to avoid providing support to my ASN child (including at a faith school). Home education gave us confidence to know we could do better for our child than the people we were dealing with.”
“My daughter is currently attending part-time, but my main reason for removing her for 6 months was bullying by staff and the non-flexible approach to PDA , ADHD and ASD. No coping strategies and she was taken away by staff and punished for having a disability just because they couldn’t understand.”
Proactive choice, personal philosophical conviction and beliefs also figured highly in the survey results, with some especially forthright comments about the schooling system.
“What about a category saying ‘school is a waste of time’? I don’t mean academic standards really, more a general misuse of kids’ time in an unsafe and negative (or at least not very positive) environment.”
“We chose home ed mainly because schools are pretty much sh*te and the whole education system is f***ed. Also lack of teaching much of any value and systematically destroying enthusiasm for learning.”
“I don’t trust government to know what’s best for my child and object to ‘schooling’ that includes Girfec data mining.”
“I decided to home educate my kids long before they were born. My mum took my brother out of school for a few months and I discovered school wasn’t a legal requirement. I wondered why anyone would send children to school if they didn’t need to.”
“I’m second generation home education! The system is horrific and I know the ambition and drive my oldest has to find things out for himself and asking questions would fade if he attended school. I feel having one on one his abilities will be better met than in a room of twenty. And he gets to socialise with all different types of people and not just one age group. My younger two will be HE also.”
“Five is too young to begin formal education and indoctrination. I want to enjoy my children’s childhood and address their individual learning styles and home education is a much better way to educate than school.”
Some commenters pointed out the positive aspects of choosing home education:
“Children gain confidence when they are not subjected to negative peer pressure.”
“I discovered HE before my first child was one (’87) and loved the idea of his learning continuing organically, without coercion.”
“Our decision to HE was never as a result of anything negative, quite the opposite. I wanted them to be free to learn at their own pace and for each of their talents to be nurtured by someone who loves them and their talents.”
“We did school nursery but then went straight into home ed and we all love it. The nursery here is very free flow, child led, with great outdoor access. Same can’t be said of the schools though.“
“If I ever had more children I would home educate from the start, the system is broken.”
“We had always considered home schooling as an option, just of another way of teaching our children.”
“For me, it was a discussion I had with my spouse before we got married.”
Parental experiences of schooling informed some decisions:
“I really struggled at school being a borderline dyslexic young person who struggled with rules and authority; in a large class of 33 it didn’t suit me or my learning style in any way. I was bullied and said nothing. School made me unhappy and most importantly it made me feel stupid and fall behind as I was not as academic at that time so I was marginalized. This had a detrimental effect on my future studies as I had gained an inner critical voice that I’m stupid. Therefore I didn’t then apply myself as a result, not ever properly trying further down the line it took decades to realise that isn’t the case.”
“It’s taken me years to overcome the damage school caused me. Rigid authoritarian approaches don’t work well for most individual children…school doesn’t give them room to thrive as individuals. The system is set up to produce puppets who will not think for themselves and will conform to what society deems a ‘useful citizen’ is and does. Vote, pay taxes etc. I don’t want that for my child. I want them to be a happy, healthy, free, forward thinking, thriving, creative, adaptive, self confident, individual.”
‘Loss of sparkle’ merited a few mentions, several respondents also noting that five (and especially four) was too young to begin formal education:
“My six-year-old went to P1 and had a good time (his words), but seemed to be losing the sparkle, his interest in reading and overall enjoyment of things. Both me and my husband loved the idea of home education, but our son wanted to go to school so we respected his choice. Seeing the change in him, though, we did a lot of research before suggesting it to our son, who immediately jumped at the chance and hasn’t looked back. He has got his sparkle back, can’t read enough and is asking all the big questions, so for him (and us, it’s so much fun!), it’s been the best decision. Obviously it’s up to him should he want to return to school, but the way he’s going I can’t see that happening too soon!”
“Daughter lost her spark when she began school. She was always a bubbly girl who chattered ten to the dozen, but when school began that disappeared. She was permanently anxious about reward systems, countdown timers and alarm bells.”
Flexibility, freedom and personalised provision were other frequently cited reasons for choosing home education over the rigid parameters of schooling:
“I wanted to spend more time with my children, it fits in better with our family (husband’s working) and also the kids weren’t enjoying school.”
“We wanted to home educate from the get go but had to respect our sons wishes to go to school. We removed him after 9 months.”
“Three teenagers were removed at different times in order to meet their specific individual needs.”
“For us there were a few contributing factors- my husband’s job means we move often, my eldest is 8 and has already lived in 7 different locations and was on his fifth school. I felt it was too much to ask of the boys to keep moving schools so we decided home ed was the way forward for us. I also selfishly felt like I was missing so much of their lives when they spent all day at school and came home grumpy and tired.”
“My eldest did two years of school and the next did one. As a family we hated it. Our whole lives revolved around school and it felt pointless. My younger two won’t be sent.”
Rescuing children from the system and wellbeing issues were a priority for others:
“Eldest didn’t make it to school but we could tell there would be refusal issues if he did. Nursery was just a joke. The expectations on 3 year olds, the complete lack of autonomy, the nosiness about every aspect of the child’s life, the focus on crowd control over the needs and feelings of the children as people…. School would have been a nightmare. When a four-year-old asks you ‘why have you taken me away from my life?’, there’s something very wrong.”
“In school she was told she couldn’t play by two older girls so she stood alone in the freezing playground each day. I watched her ask to play with the main group of children in her class and saw the two older girls telling her no and watched her tearfully go to stand by herself. I asked the playground supervisor to help her find a friend but they refused to help. School messed up her lunch so she went hungry several times. When she fell down and got hurt and could not limp back into school no-one noticed. I had to cut her out of bloody congealed clothing twice when she came home. Once she fell on the way into school and I promised her I would see to her bloodied knee when we got to school. They refused to let me step in the door with her even though I was a regular helper there with all background checks done.”
“School was harming her health, destroying her happiness and confidence, her basic needs (like food and safety) were not being met, she was losing all opportunity to socialize I’d say they failed on SHANARRI.”
“My child was afraid to use the toilet as the infant toilet lighting system failed and plunged them into darkness. I asked that she be allowed to go with a friend but that was only allowed once so from then on she had to hold-on all day.”
Serious safety-related reasons, often involving the breakdown of school/family relationships and exclusions, were among the most distressing for parents to share:
“Restraint, being locked out of class, kept in a room to calm down, no break or lunch some days due to anxiety. Lies from staff.”
“We were told alternative resources (eg farm, forest) and one hour a week mainstream. Education wouldn’t give him anymore time in school.”
“The school kept calling me to come and pick him up after a meltdown and he ended up being more excluded than included and my job was on the line. We also had issues about poor behaviour management, including isolation in a small room which terrified him. Home education was a godsend.”
“My child was bullied all through primary and nothing was done. Then in high school there was a bit of bullying in a different way, but no help, no support, lies, covering themselves in both schools. No trust.”
“The High School was utterly useless, blamed my daughter for having anger issues and ‘attracting the bully’, you can quote that!”
“We had to remove the children quickly due to abuse by school staff. “
“School nearly destroyed my child’s life and the local authority tried to destroy my family for taking her out of their toxic environment. I have nothing but contempt for them.”
“My boy was severely school phobic self-harming and threatening suicide until we removed him. The school and council tried to stop us home educating by spinning their stupid SHANARRI wheel and threatening us with the children’s reporter. There was never any help or support for him and CAMHS was just a distant spot on the horizon. He is now recovering in home education and will never again set foot in a school.”
“Initially proactive choice, but after trying school and realising how their needs weren’t met and bullying rife, it was then we returned to Home Education because of school.”
“Middle son bullied and youngest developed separation anxiety after being shouted at by teacher for pushing whilst being bullied daily over a three week period.”
“I removed my younger son over bullying which the school were unable / unwilling to deal with.”
“Only my eldest was home educated due to bullying, aside from that she loved school. We find school to be a strong source of support for my youngest with additional needs, to be fair, although his last school which was much larger and ironically attached on shared campus with a SEN school, couldn’t see water if they were standing on a boat. His new, much smaller populated school is amazing.”
Low academic standards in schools, a poor quality learning environment and the lack of life skills beyond the state dictated CfE ‘capacities’ concerned a number of respondents:
“My main concern is behaviour and school standards.”
“The main reasons for us are quality of teaching in schools, bad influences in schools, and wanting to spend more time with the children.”
“She was sent to the class above for reading and arithmetic because she was well beyond what they were doing in her class, but she still had to do the homework. Even in the class above she found the work too easy and boring. She went from being an enthusiastic learner to being completely turned off it.”
“We home educated since birth but tried the children in school. We tried two schools for a year in total, but both schools failed their academic needs. The eldest was refused accelerated reading, stuck on same stage as rest of class despite Incas tests showing reading age of 12yrs when he was 7 yrs old, been fluent reader since 36 months, showed same for most subjects. All three of our children’s needs were not being met so we decided to return to home education.”
“My teenager made the decision to come home (to join his younger sibling). He had had enough of the anti-social behaviour in his high school, and felt the exams he could take from home were more worthwhile than the new national qualifications.”
Teachers and other ‘insiders’ also shared their thoughts:
“I’m a (now ex) teacher and could see from the inside just how screwed up the system is with an over-prescribed curriculum.”
“The curriculum… but I was also blown away by the added stress to children who have ASN, where support has been pulled from them and the knock-on effect that had on the other children, the learning environment and the educator.”
“I have a PhD and worked at a university, but left academia behind to home educate my kids.”
“After working in a school I realised I didn’t agree with the education system and I wanted to be the one to teach my children, watch them grow and to share all those experiences with them.”
“I do youth work and most children are getting stick for breaking rules which there are more and more of. It is deliberately beating their spirit from them causing them stress as they’re adolescents with views, voices, opinions, ideas. It’s all wrong and tragic in my opinion.”
Reasons for families opting for home education are many and varied, from positive, proactive choice to ‘no choice’ due to insurmountable problems experienced by children in schools.
A significant, and concerning, finding is that the majority of families surveyed reported reasons around disability, ASD, chronic illness and, especially, mental health issues, including severe school anxiety to the point of attempted suicide. Schools were said to be failing to meet the needs of children with disabilities and those in acute distress.
Nevertheless, the survey suggests that home education remains a popular choice for parents from the outset, and many have researched the options well before their children reach school age, which a significant number consider to be too young for formal education. Many are opposed to the factory-model schooling system and believe compulsory attendance is antithetical to children’s rights, pointing to the hypocrisy of seeking the views of home educated children on their education, while ignoring those of school pupils who vote with their feet.
Many respondents also believed schools are not fit for their stated purpose of educating all children according to their age, aptitude and ability, taking into account their additional support needs. Some have tried, and abandoned, school for home education, remaining respectful of their children’s views, and have not looked back.
Several parents reported situations where schools were unable to guarantee pupils’ safety or had contributed to children’s distress by the inappropriate use of physical restraint or isolation. Despite parents being legally responsible for the care and education of their children, they had been threatened with prosecution or referral to the children’s reporter for removing them from an unsafe environment.
GIRFEC data mining, SHANARRI wellbeing ‘indoctrination’ and the CfE were also seen as contributing to the erosion of trust in professionals, the breakdown in home/school relationships and the downward slide in academic standards.
“The system is broken” was the clear message from survey participants. As one four-year-old put it, “Why have you taken me away from my life?”
© Scottish Home Education Forum, March 2018