Class barriers

By Veteran Home Educator

As a relatively new home educator back in the 1990s, I recall an education officer’s astonishment that a nice middle class parent like me should be perturbed by her department’s particularly shoddy treatment of a family living on a local council estate. “People like that can’t be allowed to home educate”, she said, the fact having escaped her that the law applies equally to all. In the end, she had to admit defeat when the family resolutely refused to bow to pressure and their 12 year old instructed his own solicitor.

On another occasion, I accompanied a family to a meeting with council officers, where we had to sit through an excruciating “people like you will never be allowed to home educate” lecture because they were unemployed and lacked academic qualifications. It mattered not that their five year old  had been subject to racist bullying in the local school and was terrified to attend, nor that her parents were already providing a suitable alternative education with support from other home educating families. Shortly after that meeting, the family gave up on the UK and went to live overseas, where education was free in the true sense. They never looked back.

Then there was the case of the nine year old with learning difficulties, whose disclosure of sexual abuse by another pupil was disregarded, and who had begun self harming and threatening suicide rather than go to school. Home education, her desperate mother was told, was not an option for “someone like her”, a lone parent on benefits, and the council would do all it could to block her. It was probably all her fault anyway, they said, but she took them on regardless and eventually won the right to remove her daughter from school.

The common thread in all these cases is that the families were non middle class and/or poor, and the children had been unhappy and/or underachieving at school. The happy endings were down to the fact that the parents were all strong minded individuals who were determined to act in the best interests of their children by removing them from school.

Social class is consistently identified by researchers as being a major determinant of success or otherwise in schools. That is hardly a revelation when the entire system is disproportionately weighed down by the middle classes who got a good deal out of school themselves and naturally have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Diversity training appears not to have stretched to challenging class based value judgments, and non middle class families are generally held to lack commitment to their children’s education when, in common with many middle class parents, it is school which they find of little value.

In terms of comparative educational outcomes, arguably the most significant research evidence in the UK has come from a study by Paula Rothermel, who found that home educated children from lower down the social pecking order performed better in standard tests than their middle class schooled counterparts, regardless of the qualifications or economic status of their parents. Given that such children are largely expected to underachieve within the school system, the findings came as a surprise to all but the home education community in which learning has never been limited to a classroom or set curriculum.

Fast forward 10 years from the afore-mentioned case studies and there is evidence of a substantial increase in the number of families from across the socio-economic spectrum who opt for home based education. While all home educating parents need considerable strength and resilience to overcome the many barriers placed in their path by those too blinkered to think outside the parameters of schooling, it is invariably their social class which will determine the level of obstruction they can expect to meet when they decide to educate their own children.

Perhaps one day the masses will wake up to the fact that learning is a natural process and the schooling system is simply a self serving bureaucracy which is no longer fit for its stated purpose. Meanwhile, the vested interests will continue to perpetuate the Big Lie that school is compulsory, most especially for those children it is already known to fail so spectacularly.


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