The kids are home How good is that?

During the COVID 19 pandemic, students spent considerable time at home and they and their parents reacted in different ways. As outlined in Mind the gap TCF News June 2020 , some students with the help of teachers and family fared well and independent learners enjoyed wide success. But for other students it was a struggle. Parents still working in essential industries and others working from home found this extra supervision of students’ work a burden. Never was school more appreciated.

However, through these times some parents enjoyed the extra focussed activity with their children and considered whether home-schooling might be right for them. During the period 2018 to 2021 there has been an increase in applications of 89%. While the reasons for this increase are not documented, two factors could be the uncertainty of schooling and progress during lockdowns and a continuing desire by parents to take control of their students’ education with a range of curriculum and lesson providers presenting home-schooling as a viable alternative (at a cost).

Distance education and home-schooling

Distance education and home-schooling are very different. Distance education, which is part of the Education Department in NSW, has for decades provided lessons for geographically isolated students, those with disabilities, children in confinement, those unable to get their subject choices particularly in senior school, those travelling and involved in the entertainment industry and elite sports and others. All come with criteria to be met for eligibility. In the Department’s guidelines distance education provides schooling for students who are unable to access a local government school. In distance education, the school and teacher are responsible for developing, implementing and evaluating student learning programs. In, parents/carers are responsible for developing teaching and learning programs for their children.

In short, distance education is for those who cannot access a public school. Today, the use of technology has improved both the delivery of distance education and communication between students and teachers. During the pandemic these students probably didn’t notice a difference, while other teachers and students were on a steep learning curve.

Parents choosing distance education are not home schoolers except that they are likely to be more involved with the supervision of their children’s work.


In home-schooling parents accept a responsibility to plan an educational program, (although there are commercial providers) teach and assess their children’s work, Parents can apply for various forms of assessment, but these are not compulsory.

The NSW Educational Standards Authority accepts applications in which parents must present a program of study to meet the needs of the child, outline a system of supervision and recording lessons and student progress, sufficient time to allow coverage of the NSW curriculum and the resources available. In addition, the applicant must agree to an Authorized Person visiting the home and confirming the above.

The complexity and sheer volume of curriculum, lessons, assessment, resource provision and supervision would have most parents seek placement in a school or exploring the criteria for distance education. So why is home-schooling on the rise?

The advantages of home-schooling

The claims made for are:

  • allows a focus on your child
  • addresses the needs of an individual child and better supports their learning rather than have them sit through lessons of questionable relevance
  • encourages individualised learning
  • improved academic results
  • provides a safe environment, children are not exposed to harassment or bullying
  • supports family bonding
  • greater interaction between parents and children supports closer family ties
  • provides flexibility, students are not locked into a learning program based on the class majority
  • provides important one-on-one time
  • enhances learning by one-on-one contact that deals immediately with any learning difficulties
  • develops greater student independence and responsibility for their own learning.

The disadvantages of home-schooling

Not everyone agrees with these advantages, and some do sound repetitious. The main arguments against home school are:

  • lack of social interaction and increased sense of isolation
  • not getting together with peers in their age to develop a platform to develop their social skills
  • absence of structure and possibly routine
  • a decreased focus on learning and concentration leading to reduced outcomes as they prefer some subjects to others leading to lower overall outcomes
  • a lack of professional instruction by qualified and trained teachers
  • slower pace of learning
  • a lack of comparative opportunities and competition as students fall behind as they and their parents are unaware of the standard of work required
  • financial burden associated with purchasing lessons and curriculum plans
  • physical lack of facilities of defined learning space and resources
  • the NSW curriculum is complex and the need to plan lessons from it is a time-consuming task. Once home-schooling goes into high school the increased specialisation and depth of the curriculum poses challenges for parents.

While supporters and opponents can both argue these points the more interesting question is why do parents choose to home school?

Why home-schooling?

The NSW Educational Standards Authority provides limited data on the reasons why parents choose home-schooling. While “other” is the biggest category (28%) and 25% “nil” response, 17% claim special learning needs, 21% philosophical reasons and just 5% religious reasons and only 1.4% bullying. It is difficult to make too many conclusions from these statistics given that “other” and “nil” make up 53% of responses.

One provider of home-schooling EUKA provides insight by its mission as:

Forging new paths, bucking the trend and challenging the status quo – we are shifting perspectives to create the future of education.

Empowering, trail-blazing, passionate and exceptional, we are changing the game. Not satisfied by simply building on existing frameworks, we’re learning from the past, breaking the mould and making individualised, innovative and imaginative education accessible to all.

We exist to see students thrive, not held back by outdated and restrictive systems. Instead, being free to pursue their passions, marching to the beat of their own drum and, importantly, focused to fulfil their unique potential.

In this description, there are supportive and reactionary statements that view home-schooling as an alternative to schools. It rails against outdated and restrictive systems, is bucking the trend and challenging the status quo. Home-schooling provides an alternative to schooling for dissatisfied parents. But other parents are less reactionary in their outlook and genuinely believe that home-schooling provides a better educational setting for their children with better outcomes. But one of the claims for home-schooling is the provision of a better and alternative curriculum. However, in NSW, home schoolers are required to follow the NSW curriculum and their registration depends on it. This requirement can be a huge burden for parents.

In addition to the advantages outlined above, the most common reactionary reasons given for home-schooling are:

  1. provides a safer environment for children because of bullying, drugs, emotional abuse, and improper and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools
  2. able to teach and impart a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldview to children
  3. a child diagnosed with special needs, such as physical disability, emotional disability, learning disabilities which can make it difficult to learn effectively in a mainstream classroom
  4. geographic isolation or extended periods of travel
  5. family relocating to another country
  6. opposition to standardised testing / the grading system.

In the above list, items 3,4 and 5 are really the province of special and distance education which provides a well-resourced alternative for these students which, when taken up, provides an individualised learning program. Parents not taking up these options must have other underlying concerns or simply believe they can do it better. This constitutes a big claim given the resources and expertise that lies in special and distance education.

Item 6 expresses a particular narrow concern that may be of importance to some parents when combined with other reasons. Evidence of performance advantage is hard to find for Australia, but in the USA, home-schooling students score better when attempting standardised grade average tests but there are a myriad of other factors affecting such averages.

A safer environment

Items 1 and 2 reflect a concern that needs further comment. Public schools suffer from a fallacy of composition i.e. what happened in one school happens in all. This is illogical but part of our culture. There are over 2200 public schools in NSW and on any one day there is sure to be a critical incident somewhere. This fallacy applies less in private schools where what happens in one is not necessarily what happens in all schools because they are seen as independent. Yet, rightly or wrongly, parents accept anecdotal reports and newspaper evidence leading them to rejecting public schooling and with uncertainty about the availability, cost and benefits of private schools, they chose to protect their children by home-schooling. There is always a need for individual schools to address any community concerns about teaching discipline and activities within their school and parents have the right to seek alternatives if they consider their children at risk.

Alternative values, beliefs, and world view

While some Christians have sought home-schooling as an escape from public schools and private schools for these reasons of safety many have a different agenda. Their perception of public schools is one of an inflexible institution housing all the ills of our society- bullying, drugs, and sexual permissiveness. They subscribe to a set of values that they believe are not part of public education They may also reject the values of many private schools to insist on home-schooling.

Public schools do have a set of values outlined in the policy statement The values of NSW public schools. There are nine specific values that are described - Integrity, Excellence, Respect, Responsibility, Cooperation, Participation, Care, Fairness, Democracy- and an approach that encourages these values to be brought to the surface in lessons across the curriculum. But are they? Do teachers know and actively pursue these values within the content of their lessons? Some do.

Similar uncertainty about public schools exists in how they deal with the general religious education (GRE- teaching about the major world religions, what people believe and how that belief affects their lives) as prescribed in the Education Act 1990. Never thoroughly addressed by the NSW curriculum authority, GRE remains unmapped and hidden within the curriculum. No wonder some parents have sought alternatives including home-schooling. Their concern is that religious world views are not discussed and that a secular alternative dominates and is promoted. Without a thorough review of GRE in the curriculum, these perceptions will persist.

Parents will always want what is best for their child. Home-schooling is one alternative, but it comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Some students can thrive, but for others, the lack of social contact and inability to form relationships proves a difficulty especially when seeking work and tertiary education.

Christian perspective

For Christians, withdrawing their children from school is a particularly difficult decision. They wish to protect their children, so they are not part of the world, by providing a safe environment and by promoting a Christian world view. But this runs the risk of their children not being in the world as well as not being of the world. If their children are to grow as faithful young people, they need the skills and experience to communicate the Gospel and their Gospel values in the world and not to withdraw for it. Supporting their children through out of school experiences, especially a church community, can help, but exclusive involvement in Christian only activities does not constitute the preparation needed to be in the world. Some parents, including Christian parents, meet in groups for regular learning activities including excursions and student presentations.

Christians should not primarily be motivated by fear. Jesus says I have told you these things that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) Christians, like other parents in the community, make decisions based on beliefs, experiences, perceptions, and evidence about schooling alternatives. They will seek guidance through prayer, and some will continue to seek home-schooling as the best choice for their child.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, the kids were at home a lot. For most parents that was not good, but for others it was a chance to see if home-schooling was for them and they have chosen it. How good that is, remains to be seen.

John Gore