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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 17:25 GMT
Growth market in home education
By Mathew Charles
BBC Three News reporter

Hannah Berry studying at home
Equipment for home learning can be expensive

Education may be compulsory in the UK, but schooling is not and a growing number of parents are apparently turning their backs on the traditional system.

Instead, they are taking their children out of the classroom to do the job themselves at home.

Although no nationwide figures are available, a leading support group, Education Otherwise, has reported a dramatic upturn in membership.

It claims to be contacted by more than 100 families each month, who are taking their children out of school.

Parents withdraw their children in response to problems - it's a solution when all other options have been considered
Jane Lowe, Home Education Advisory Service
Some estimates put the total number as high as 150,000.

"Parents withdraw their children in response to problems," explained Jane Lowe from the Home Education Advisory Service.

"It's a solution when all other options have been considered."

However, there is no official register and research is hard to collate. Families who withdraw their children from school are required to inform the local education authority, but children who have never been to school are not recorded at all.

Most families say they are fed up with school because of bullying as well as the pressure of exams.

But for the Berry family in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, it was different.

They could not get their children Hannah, 16, and Reuben, 13, into a school they wanted. And from their experience, home education is expensive. There is no financial assistance available.

"We had to pay for all the exams", said Hannah, who also has three A-levels and a place to read law at university.

"Whereas most people take about 10 GCSEs, I took five," she added.

A tailored learning

Not all families follow a set routine. Eight-year-old Peter is from Gloucestershire and has Asperger's, which is a form of autism. He has never been to school.

"We don't follow a structure, we follow the rhythm and opportunities of the day," explained Peter's mother, Jennifer Skillen.

Children like Peter find it easier to learn at their own pace and when they are on their own.

Taking a break from home study
Peter (right) has never been to school
"You can learn anything at any time, and you're not restricted," he said.

Critics of home education say children who learn at home are less likely to develop social skills.

Some experts disagree. Dr Alan Thomas is a leading educational psychologist. He told the BBC, "Children in school don't get that much social contact. They're together a lot, but there's not much time for socialising in school."

Some teachers unions have also expressed concern. They are worried about the limited range of subjects parents can offer, and they believe the whole issue needs to better regulated.

"There are all sorts of potential problems and we'd like to feel more confident that they're actually being addressed," said Jean Gemmell from the Professional Association of Teachers.

E-schools

Modern technology is also having an impact on home education. Inter High School will start in September and will follow the full national curriculum.

It is thought to be the first internet school in the country.

Pupils will log on in the morning and lessons will be given in real time. It will be fully interactive with students able to speak to each other and ask the teacher questions.

The need for internet education will grow in the next 10 years
Paul Daniell, Inter High School
Internet schools are already very popular in the United States. The hope is that they will catch on here as well.

"The need for internet education will grow in the next 10 years," said Paul Daniell, the school's founder.

"It might not be suitable for everyone, but it's an extra option for your child to receive a formal education."

The government is set to publish new guidelines on home education this summer - maybe in recognition of the numbers involved.

Yet despite the apparent rise, home educators remain a small minority.

"Home education is simply a viable alternative to school. It might not be for everyone, but there's a general cross-section of parents out there who are doing it," said Dr Thomas.

"Whether it's for a year or until the child goes to university, it's simply an option."




SEE ALSO:
Home teaching 'needs more checks'
29 Jul 04 |  Education
New moves over home education
05 Mar 04 |  Education


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