Expert opinion on home education from clinical psychologist and author Dr Naomi Fisher
Dr Naomi Fisher, PhD, DClinPsy, MACantab (I)
I am a clinical psychologist and expert in education otherwise than at school. I have a First Class Honours Degree in Experimental Psychology from Cambridge University, a PhD in Developmental Cognitive Psychology and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, both from Kings’ College London. I am the author of ‘Changing Our Minds; How Children Can Take Control of Their Own Learning’ a guide to the research, theory and practice of self-directed education. I have hands-on experience of home education and facilitating self-directed education. This statement is of my expert opinion as a psychologist.
Expert Opinion Statement
Education can be summarised as the process by which children and young people acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to become a functioning adult in the society they live in. In the 20th and 21st century, education has increasingly been delivered by schools. In fact, in the mind of many, school has become synonymous with education.
This belief is a recent one. Home education, or education otherwise than at school, has a long history and predates schooling as the dominant method of education. Reports of how children are educated in countries which do not have universal schooling describe a mixture of play, apprenticeship, observing adults and older children, some direct instruction and use of stories and songs to pass on traditions and history. Children play with tools of the culture and in doing so, acquire the skills they need for adult life (Gray, 2017). Studies of home educated children show something similar. Outside school, children learn through a variety of methods, most of which do not look like a formalised classroom setting.
Learning happens in many ways. Dr Ian Cunningham, founder of the Self-Managed Learning College and an expert in self-managed learning, has identified over 57 different ways in which young people can learn, only few of which are facilitated within a school environment. (Cunningham, 2020). Professor Gina Riley, a professor of adolescent special education, writes about unschooling, the practice of home educating without a curriculum, for which there is a growing evidence base (Riley, 2020). When unschooling, young people learn through following their interests. Research shows that unschooled young people can go onto university (Arnall, 2018) and the majority report being happy with their education (Riley & Gray, 2015).
Research into home education has found that children often develop skills at a different pace to children educated at school (Pattison, 2016), but that they can and do succeed. Children who have special educational needs and who need extra time to acquire skills such as reading may particularly benefit from home education, as they can take the time that they need to understand new information without needing to keep up with the group.
Home education does not exclude any form of learning, and parents may use tutors, cooperative groups, classes and organised activities, as well as individualised learning at home.
Human children are highly diverse and have different strengths and weaknesses. Some children do not learn well at school, and are better suited to alternative approaches . Home education provides a viable and cost-effective alternative to school for these children.
No system can work for everyone. For those who are not able to attend school, it is necessary that alternatives are possible. There are many reasons a child may not be able to attend school, including disability, physical and mental health problems. It is crucially important that a legal alternative is available for parents who are able and willing to educate their children at home. Otherwise, these children may not receive an education at all.
It is my professional opinion that home education is a viable alternative to school-based education. For some, it is essential. Home education can make the difference between an unhappy and anxious young person at school, and a thriving and progressing young person at home. It is therefore essential that this option should be available in a country which values its young people and its future.
Dr Naomi Fisher