Homeschool registrations rising in Australia, alternative education advocates say mainstream schools need a shake-up

Australia/October 08, 2021/By Manika Champ/Source: https://www.abc.net.au/

Aria Blundell’s kitchen table has been her school desk for the past few months.

The six-year-old is learning from home, but not because her school has switched to home learning — it is because her parents have switched from mainstream schooling to home education.

“I actually think she gets more out of an hour or two at home a day, one-on-one with me, than she would out of a week at school,” Aria’s mum, Sabrina Blundell, said.

The Blundells are among thousands of Australian families who have left the mainstream school system in the past 18 months.

Homeschooling is understood to be the fastest-growing education sector and alternative school advocates say it shows mainstream schooling needs a shake-up.

Ms Blundell — who lives in northern Tasmania — said she and her husband decided to switch to homeschooling because their daughter was not coping well in a school environment.

“She’s actually got an eating disorder called ARFID — which stands for avoidant restrictive food intake disorder — and that means that she has a phobia of eating,” Ms Blundell said.

Aria also has suspected autism.

A young mother reads to her young child on a couch
Sabrina Blundell says her daughter gets more in an hour of homeschooling than in a week at school.(ABC News: Manika Champ

)

Ms Blundell said her daughter struggled to get the help she needed due to large class sizes and because she was good at “masking her conditions”.

“The school system was developed back when the world was a completely different place and, as the research is improving, I think the schools are being left behind,” she said.

“While they are understanding and getting better, I don’t think they’re up to speed.”

‘Homeschooling was my last choice’

In Karalee, an outer-western Brisbane suburb, Shelly Lausberg’s 15-year-old son, who has autism, struggled to return to school after COVID-19 lockdowns in his home state of Queensland.

“Our school then contacted us to say that they couldn’t support his level of anxiety with how many other children they had,” Ms Lausberg said.

Selfie of a red-haired lady wearing glasses and a teenage boy on a beach
Shelly Lausberg says she felt homeschooling was the last resort for her 15-year-old son Dean.(Supplied

)

Ms Lausberg said her son could not attend a public school due to past experiences of bullying and the flexi-school would not accept him.

“I guess I felt that homeschooling was my last choice,” she said.

Ms Lausberg said her family had registered with a home education program.

She said it had been challenging but her family had learned to make it work and her son was now thriving.

“I still work full time, but I don’t work on a Monday, so I do school with him on a Monday and then I have two other people who come and help me on other days,” Ms Lausberg said.

She said mainstream schools needed to look at how they helped all children.

“Even if your child doesn’t have autism or any extra needs, 27 or 30 people in a class is just too many.”

‘It’s been driven by COVID’

School aged children wearing backpacks as they explore an outside setting, surrounded by tall trees.
Tamar Valley Steiner School has also experienced an increase in enrolments as parents look for alternative education options.(ABC News: Manika Champ

)

Home Education Association (HEA) president Karen Chegwidden said homeschooling statistics had skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020.

“Certainly, it’s been driven by COVID and the uncertainty around schools closing and people’s experiences with their kids while they’re at home during lockdown periods,” Ms Chegwidden said.

“We’ve also heard from people who said that their children learned a lot better at home.

“Parents have seen their kids flourish and they want that to continue.”

Homeschool registration statistics for New South Wales and Victoria are only available until the end of last year, but figures show registrations in both those states rose almost 20 per cent from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.

In Western Australia, an additional 800 children are now being homeschooled compared with 2019 figures and, in Tasmania, registrations have risen 9 per cent.

The state with the highest increase in homeschool registrations was Queensland.

Figures from the HEA reveal homeschool registrations in Queensland rose 46 per cent from August 2019 to July 31 this year.

2019

2020

2021

Percentage change
since 2019

QLD

3,411

4,297

5,001 (to July 31)

46.6

ACT

305

322

395 (to Feb 28)

29.5

WA

3,720

4,116

4,553

22.3

VIC

6,072

7,296

N/A

20.1

NSW

5,906

7,032

N/A

19.1

TAS

1,068

1,160

1,166

9.1

NT

124

145

152

22.6

Ms Chegwidden said she was not surprised by the homeschool shift.

“Schools haven’t changed for a long time and, all of a sudden, people have discovered that there’s other ways of doing education,” she said.

“I think that schools will always have a place, but it’s really exciting to see us start to embrace different ways of managing children’s education.

She said schools should consider different operating hours to offer more flexibility to parents, and more states should introduce part-time schooling.

Victoria, Tasmania and ACT offer part-time schooling, which allows students to learn both in the classroom and with their parents at home.

Distance education, where students learn from home but through the school system, has also increased.

‘Thorough research’ advised before switching to homeschooling

The increase in homeschool registrations — after homeschooling during lockdowns — has also not surprised Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott.

However, Mr Elliot said, parents should do thorough research before making the switch to homeschooling.

“Understand what the rules and regulations are, what the requirements are. Really think about it carefully because it is very much something that will come to be the foundation element in people’s lives, and, I hesitate to say, dominate your life, because it is hard work.”

Classroom with pencils in foreground.
The Australian Primary Principals Association says parents should think carefully about whether homeschooling is best for their children.(ABC News

)

Mr Elliott said the Primary Principals Association had already started looking at what it could learn from COVID-19 schooling changes.

“We do know that some children have prospered, they’ve felt quite happy learning from home and they’ve felt quite suited to that kind of teaching,” he said.

Mr Elliott said the association had been discussing possible tweaks to education and structures, including looking at ways children could do schooling outside of regular school hours.

“It must also be noted that these are the sorts of considerations that teachers have been considering for decades and decades,” Mr Elliott said.

‘A place for kids to embrace feral childhood’

A young mother crouches next to her small child in a bush setting
Sarah Green with her daughter, Erin, who is too young for school but her sister, Lois, attends the Tamar Valley Steiner School.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

The shift away from mainstream schooling has also created an increase in enrolments at alternative schools, such as Steiner schools.

Tamar Valley Steiner School in northern Tasmania, which teaches children from kindergarten to year 6, had its highest prep enrolments ever this year.

Sarah Green’s daughter, Lois, is one those students.

“Lois attended a mainstream public school and we decided to come to the Steiner school in prep because we wanted her to have a more holistic education experience,” Ms Green said.

“I actually work in a mainstream school, and I’m very happy that we’ve got mainstream education for people who choose it but, because we had the choice, we were quite happy to bring her over here .”

Ms Green said it was the building of children’s social and emotional skills that was drawing more families to alternative education.

A school teacher stands with a group of primary school children in a bush setting
Helen Bagworth teaches at the Tamar Valley Steiner School in northern Tasmania.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

“[We’re] just really happy to see her coming home every day and being peaceful and calm and not burnt out from the fast pace of a mainstream school.”

Simon Parkes enrolled his eldest child in Steiner education after moving to Tasmania four years ago and his youngest has recently started.

“It’s the first time I’ve really seen them properly settled.”

A young father squats next to his son in a bush setting
Simon Parkes says the Steiner ethos allows children to learn to enjoy learning.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

Dr Parkes said he loved that the school was “more about learning to enjoy learning”.

He said whether his children stayed in alternative education long-term was a matter the family would consider at a later date.

“There’s a gap, I guess, in what’s expected of students between conventional ed and Steiner education and by [year] 6, there’s certain to be a bit of a gap,” he said.

“We’ll stay out as long as we can at any rate and I have no doubt that both of our kids are going to end up competent, happy, bright, literate kids — they already are, so I don’t see any reason to upset the apple cart at this stage. They’re loving it.”

Tamar Valley Steiner School principal Stephen Norris — who was previously the principal at a prestigious Launceston private school for 15 years —said more people were transitioning to alternative education as they were “looking for different ways of inspiring their children”.

A middle aged man in a hat sits in a bush setting
Tamar Valley Steiner School principal Stephen Norris believes homeschooling during the pandemic has made parents think about alternative education.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-08/home-and-alternative-schooling-on-the-rise-in-australia/100503948

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Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Venezolana.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.

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Homeschool registrations rising in Australia, alternative education advocates say mainstream schools need a shake-up – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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