To homeschool in Queensland there are a couple of different options. The first is to apply to the Queensland Government’s “Home Education Unit” (commonly referred to as the HEU) for registration to homeschool. The alternative is to enrol in a school that provides distance education options. Many people are aware of Brisbane School of Distance Education (BSDE). It’s what we think of when we think of distance education. But there are other options that are probably lesser known to the new homeschooler – options such as Groves, and the various units through Jubilee. Many of these providers are unlike BSDE in that there is currently a lot of freedom to create your own educational path, while their teachers oversee and support your choices. However, these options are not equal and the same, which I fear many people believe they are.
Now before I begin, I want to point out that I am not “anti-distance ed”. In fact, if at any point I can’t/won’t comply with the HEU’s requirements, I myself would head over to one of the many and varied distance education options. They can be an invaluable support to homeschoolers. They provide a less onerous route to keeping our children out of mainstream schools. Many people baulk at the paperwork required by the HEU. Others just need more support throughout their homeschooling journey and many enjoy and crave the community atmosphere with the many workshops and extra curricular activities that are provided. So at no point am I saying they are the wrong choice. Some of my dearest friends are enrolled in distance education programs and many times I have drooled over the benefits of their choices. The grass sure does seem green on their side of the fence…especially when paperwork and reporting season is looming down on me again.
However when deciding which side of the fence to settle on, you need to understand the two choices that you are available to you. On the HEU side of the fence you are ‘registering’ as a homeschooler. You are applying to take control of your child’s educational path and all of the finer details that goes with that choice – the textbooks, the activities, the content, the sequence, the community – all of these things you must organise for yourself. The HEU provides little support in this area, which is totally fair as we are applying to take complete control of our child’s education. The HEU’s purpose is to ensure that we are actually doing the job we applied for and that our children aren’t educationally neglected. Of course the ladies at the HEU are nothing but helpful and are happy to make a few suggestions and point you in the right direction but it is not their job to create an educational plan for us, to provide the materials our children will study or to tell us what we must teach. When you register with the HEU, you are saying that you want that role and are capable of fulfilling the responsibilities that comes with it.
On the distance education side of the fence, you are signing up for something different. Many people call distance ed providers ‘registration alternatives’. But they are not registration alternatives. When you sign up for distance education you are ‘enrolling’ in a school. Under the Education Act, people enrolled with distance education providers (schools) are not defined as ‘homeschooling’ but receiving their education from their school. This is not to say that they aren’t homeschooling and all that, but that they fall under a different set of guidelines and standards to those registered with the HEU. It is this clear division that puts the fence between being ‘registered’ with the HEU for homeschooling and being ‘enrolled’ with a distance education school.
This division doesn’t make one better than the other but I think it’s important to not be misled. When you register with the HEU you are apply for control of your child’s education. When you enrol with a distance education provider, you are asking a school to oversee your child’s education. Now, we have been very blessed to have some great distance education options. Some provide a lot of flexibility and foster parental input, to the extent that, aside from the paperwork and planned activities, homeschooling with these providers looks very similar to being registered with the HEU. However we need to remember who is holding the reigns.
Recently I’ve heard many homeschoolers, who use Distance Education options, lament about the pressure to plan and teach according to the new National Curriculum standards. I hear their hearts object to the decrees directing them to comply with the latest school-focused program of learning. I hear in their protest that they feel an injustice when this is demanded of them. Sadly, their perceived freedom and self control of their homeschooling, have led them to this desperate precipice. People, who are with Distance Education Schools, were either unaware or lulled into the false perception that the educational reigns of their children were in their own hand. When the pressure to conform to ‘school’ standards (the school at which homeschoolers perhaps unknowingly enrolled) bears down on them, they fear that their freedoms are being forcibly removed from them, when in reality, they freely gave them away when they enrolled in a ‘school’.
All is not lost of course. Not all Distance Education providers are enforcing the move to a National Curriculum with heavy-handed tactics. As many homeschoolers work above and beyond the minimum standards set by the National Curriculum, some Distance Education changes are seemingly having little impact on their enrolled families. Ultimately, parents still maintain control over their children’s education. Families, who are feeling oppressed by their Distance Education choices, are always free to enrol elsewhere or to register with the Home Education Unit. These looming changes give little reason for painc, but perhaps a lot of reasons to reassess and fully understand the choices we have made for our children.
Back on the HEU side of the fence, while there are fewer implications to the roll out of the National Curriculum, we aren’t totally unaffected by the changes. I contacted the unit directly and enquired whether families registered with the HEU would be required to follow the National Curriculum scope and sequence. The response was:
“As parents of home educating children, you are definitely still free to continue tailoring your program for your own children’s individual needs. This is the beauty of home education”
However the response continued, indicating that they encourage parents “to stay abreast of Australian Curriculum topics and benchmarks” to make transfers back to mainstream schooling occur more seamlessly for the many parents who only homeschool for a period. This seems like wise advice to me.
Where the new curriculum may affect registered homeschoolers is evident in this segment of the response:
“The HEU is using the standards set down for the Australian Curriculum as our guide to peer level when we complete our full analysis of a child’s report.”
This infers that our children will be judged according to a higher standard than in the past so we would be encouraged to ‘step up the pace’ to maintain progress. This of course would hardly affect many registered homeschoolers, who are already implementing programs that are far superior to the standards set in the new curriculum.
However there has been some fearful movement away from the HEU, within my circle of contacts. None of which I believe is the result of anything negative the HEU has done. Some of them perceived pressure to conform with the new curriculum (which the HEU have indicated they are not requiring) and others felt ‘oppressed’ by the increase in expectations and their own reluctance to evolve (something which I considered a positive outcome of the new curriculum standards). While all education options are, to varying degrees, experiencing the ‘shake up’ of the National Curriculum, I find the movement from the HEU to Distance Education options the most bizarre. To me it seems very much like jumping from the simmering pot directly into the fire. But to each their own.
I am still very thankful that we each have the choice to home educate or not. This is something I do not take for granted, knowing Queensland’s past restrictive and repressive home education regulations. While the temperature in the pot is surely rising, we are at least still allowed to ‘cook on our own stoves’ and that choice is very precious.