York St John researcher highlights legality of alternatives to mainstream education

Many parents don’t know that elective home education is legal and successful as an alternative to school education. A lack of parental awareness and governmental interest in developing this form of education hurts parents and children, according to new research by York St John University’s Dr Helen Lees.

These conclusions are presented in Dr Lees’ controversial new book ‘Education without schools’, which discusses what happens when parents discover that an alternative to school education exists and is legal. This under-researched topic highlights the lack of governmental interest in alternative education and also considers the human rights issues, the assumption that home education equals safeguarding problems, the relationship of state to education and parental education choice.

Dr Lees, Visiting Research Fellow at York St John University, conducted 29 interviews with parents and others who had personally discovered that education, not schooling, is compulsory, and that alternatives to a mainstream school mentality can work well. She also surveyed 90 people at random and discovered that too few people in the UK are aware of the law about educational choices and the fact that school attendance is optional not compulsory.

Dr Lees says:
“Children do not have to go to school by law. Starting with this legal fact a journey of educational discovery begins and options for children emerge. Parents want a choice of pathways not just a choice of schools. They want to know information from the state about educational pathway options, rights and responsibilities other than school attendance, even if they prefer and choose schooling for their children. Learning about home education involves discovery and takes time, but is reported to be an enjoyable option by the majority who do.”

In her book, Dr Lees refers to the prejudice surrounding home education and alternatives outside of schooling as ‘educationism’. She says:
“Educationism is prejudice against educational difference. It causes problems when people judge if home education is real education or not and is involved in assessing home education as a legal option. For this reason, I created a three-fold framework to distinguish between types of discovery of the option to home educate. This helps us understand what is criminal abuse, what is school avoidance, and what is a legally-conducted education pathway available to all. All home education take-up is genuine because it is a legal alternative to schools and the only pathway which is illegal is no education at all.”

Dr Lees concludes:
“It is a scandal that parents and children can suffer so much trauma from problems with schools and do not know there is a valid, successful alternative. Too often schools fail parents and children and one solution may be home education. It is a controversial inadequacy and loss that the government do not actively educate the country’s parents about alternative educational options such as home education. State information about education keeps most parents in the dark about such options. The parents I spoke to didn’t like that. We need more information in the public domain rather than relying on word of mouth. A variety of educational pathways is the right of all, not just a privileged few.”

Dr Lees is a Visiting Research Fellow, based in the Faculty of Education & Theology at York St John University. She is a qualified teacher of Citizenship and has also taught English, Religious Studies and Philosophy at secondary school level. Dr Lees is founding Editor-in-Chief of Other Education, the online journal of educational alternatives. She is the author of ‘Silence in Schools’ (2012), which discusses recent scientific research pointing to the benefits of silence practices in schools and concludes that silence in the classroom can enrich children’s educational experience and possibly improve behaviour and exam results.

‘Education without schools’ is published on 8 November 2013 by Policy Press at the University of Bristol