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Home truths: Christian home schoolers want more consultation

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Christians who home school their children want the NSW government to cut red tape, end discrimination and protect their freedom to educate their children.

The State response is to suppress this freedom and conform all students to the state mould..

A recently-announced Upper House inquiry will be the first broad-ranging look at home schooling in the state’s history. The increasing numbers of Christians choosing to opt out of the school system are making sure their voices are heard by MPs. The hearings for the inquiry will start tomorrow.

Terry Harding, manager of Australian Christian Home Schooling, is advocating for a “fair, open and transparent registration process in NSW” that demonstrates an awareness of the needs of families that choose to home school.

A regulatory crackdown on home schooling registration requirements by the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) last year led to widespread protest from the state’s tight-knit home schooling community. A 10,000 signature petition was presented to parliament amid concerns that the changes were implemented without proper consultation.

“These changes have delivered a 600 per cent increase of rejections/withdrawals and short registration periods of home schooling registration applications by BOSTES,” Dr Harding said.

“Many experienced home educators are at best, puzzled and at worst, distraught about how these changes affect them and their children’s education.”

The inquiry will look at ways to reduce the numbers of children not registered with the government and the potential benefits or impediments to home schooled children’s safety, welfare and wellbeing.

It will also investigate aspects of home schooling such as further study and work, the financial costs and whether parents adhere to the NSW school curriculum.

The government is concerned that the numbers of children registered as home schooled is dramatically unrepresentative of actual numbers, because many parents resist government intervention. Home Education Australia suggests that up to two per cent of Australian children are home schooled.

The chair of the enquiry, Christian Democrat Paul Green, says home schooling is a “legitimate way of schooling” and the enquiry will give the NSW government the opportunity to listen to concerned parents who have approached him with their fears.

“There are a lot of people concerned about what the government is doing and we’re just acting on that,” Mr Green said.

Home schooling mother Amy Butler says many home schoolers opt out of the formal education setting “because they don’t like the rigidity of the syllabus and the arbitrary markers for where a child should be at a particular age regardless of that child’s interests and development”.

“It is so difficult for a regulating body to break out of that mould of thinking and to embrace the diversity of teaching styles and learning outcomes for home school students,” said Mrs Butler, a mother with four children from the Central West.

“I hope that this is where the inquiry can help… this is a chance for the government to listen carefully to the needs of home schoolers.”

Home schooling families can seek an exemption from registration for religious reasons. However, according to Australian Christian Home Schooling, parents still need to apply for an exemption certificate, which requires the same information as a registration application.

“Many religious home schooling parents viewed this as the state having little regard for their beliefs,” Terry Harding said.

Greg Simon, director of Christian ministry SouthEast Home Education, says he would like the inquiry to recognise the true value of home schooling as a viable alternative.

“Christians are finding it increasingly difficult to address the secular-based moral framework taught in school,” he says, and home schoolers are attempting to “take control of their children’s education”.

“For years they have had a great success academically, spiritually, morally and socially, but the State response is to suppress this freedom and conform all students to the state mould.

“We would therefore also like to see an end to the discrimination against home schooling families. This has taken many forms, including the inability to have discount transport and Centrelink benefits after 17 years old.”

Deputy chair of the inquiry, Greens NSW MP John Kaye, said in a statement that teaching is a highly skilled activity and “appropriate levels of regulation are essential”.

He said he remains unconvinced that the changes to the registration forms are an “unnecessary intrusion”.

“The Upper House enquiry will be an opportunity to hear both sides of the argument but the starting point should be securing the welfare and learning outcomes for all children,” Dr Kaye said.

The inquiry will present its report in November.

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