Homeschooling has potential for “keeping school refusers engaged in education, and improving the experiences for some students with special educational needs”, according to a leading expert in education research.
Dr Selina McCoy was speaking after Tánaiste Michael Martin said he was “not a great fan” of homeschooling, adding that in-class tuition was important for socialisation.
Mr Martin, who worked as a teacher before entering politics, was referring to the recent publicity around the Burke family from Castlebar, all of whom were homeschooled, and who he described as having a “very isolated perspective in life”.
“I don’t want to comment too much but I think it does speak to the importance of socialisation, particularly in education, the idea that people should be educated in schools. I’m not a great fan of homeschooling. I think children need to socialise,” he told The Irish Examiner.
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Dr McCoy, associate research professor and joint head of education research at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), said homeschooling in general is not something the ESRI has looked at, but the topic arose during the Covid-19 school closures.
“One unexpected finding from our research during Covid-19 was that for a small subset of students, some of whom have special educational needs, the shift to distance learning was a generally positive experience,” she said.
“Some students who experienced anxiety around school as a social setting preferred online interactions. Several interviewees mentioned that school refusers with a number of additional needs and mental health issues re-engaged after the shift to distance learning.”
Dr McCoy said while these were a small number of students, they all remained engaged throughout the lockdown period, even as engagement more widely was dropping.
“Some school leaders pointed to the improved engagement of some average attaining students compared to normal, suggesting that the different learning style suited some students even as it hindered others,” she added.
“This suggests that distance learning, and perhaps homeschooling more generally, has potential for keeping school refusers engaged in education, as well as for generally improving the experiences of some students with special educational needs.”
Homeschooling has seen a surge in popularity since the pandemic hit. Home education is regulated by Tusla, the child and family agency. Parents who wish to educate their child at home must be assessed. However, once a parent simply notifies the agency and receives an acknowledgment, they can commence homeschooling.
A home schooling network counsellor has expressed “sadness” about Mr Martin’s comments.
Monica O’Connor, who home schooled her six children, told Newstalk Breakfast that the Constitution states that parents are the primary educators of their children. If Mr Martin had taken the time to research homeschooling reports from the UK and the USA he would have seen that children who are home schooled are socially adept, she added.
Home schooling allowed her to tailor education according to her children’s interests. “They read on their own timetable,” she said.
There were many ways of achieving aims in life, she said, adding that two of her children had sat their Leaving Cert while others had accessed college through Fetac access programmes.
Ms O’Connor said it saddened her that Mr Martin was “going after a minority”. In his role as Tánaiste, he was “supposed to” protect the Constitution and people.