Is it legal?
Yes! Home education is legal in Ireland and is enshrined in the Irish constitution. In 2000, the Irish Government brought in a system of registration for home educated children aged six to sixteen, with teenagers usually staying on the register until they reach eighteen. See the Legalities section for further details.
Who can home educate in Ireland?
Anyone can home educate their children. You do not need a formal teaching qualification. You do not need a curriculum, formal lessons or a designated school room. You do need an interest in your children’s education and a commitment of time and energy. Home educators come from all walks of life and have a variety of reasons for choosing this option.
Why do families choose to home educate?
The motivation behind home education is highly diverse. The principal motivations (in no particular order) are:
- Philosophical, e.g., looking for child led education.
- Child centred, e.g., some children respond badly to the structure of school.
- As a response to non-educational problems in school, e.g., bullying by pupils and teachers.
- Medical related, e.g., Dyslexia, autism, other special needs.
- Religiously related, e.g., Catholic, Muslim.
- Culturally related, e.g., resident foreign nationals, travelling community.
How does home education work in practice?
Welsh researcher Alan Thomas carried out a study of home educating families that was published as “Educating Children at Home” by Continuum (ISBN 0304701793). He found that a great variety of methods and approaches were being used. Some families make a formal arrangement about hours and curriculum. Many others follow the interests and talents of the child and have a more open-ended approach. Most families will use a combination of these two broad approaches; often moving from a more structured to a more flexible system. The experience of home education is very different from school-based education. The amount that children learn without being taught is surprising to some but gratifying to all involved. It may help to take a long term view by realising that, although the “average child” may learn to read at, say, six, some children will not learn to read until much later. There is no evidence that these late readers are any less keen on reading when they see that it is useful to them.
What about exams and other forms of assessment?
Parents who are with their children every day do not need to see exam results to monitor their child’s progress, strengths or weaknesses. Exams measure only a small part of the skills that children need to acquire as they grow up. Self-esteem, social competence, emotional security, happiness and physical development are not easily monitored, let alone improved by examinations. When/if it comes time to sit formal exams like the Leaving Certificate or O and A levels, arrangements can be made through V.E.C.s, Adult Education Classes or the Dublin Tutorial Centre (www.dublintutorialcentre.com, Tel 01 661 2209). Junior and Leaving Cert can also be sat at any school by registering with the school in early January of the year that the exams will be taken. More information can be seen at www.examinations.ie. A-levels can also be taken through the National Extension College in the UK, email firstname.lastname@example.org website www.nec.ac.uk.
A child does not need the Leaving Cert to go to college if the points for the course of choice are below 390. A FETAC/QQI course will achieve this amount of points and the child will get a zero round offer before the Leaving Cert results come out.
What about social interaction?
There is no evidence that children do not learn social skills when they are home educated. They are out and about in the world and after all that is what true socialisation is all about. Social skills research by Julie Webb (1990) and Gary Knowles (1993) concluded that “the idea of there being social disadvantage to home-based education was not supported by the evidence. Indeed the evidence suggested the reverse.” This is echoed in the research by Alan Thomas (1999) who found that “Socially, research shows broader and more applicable skills sets in home educated children compared with their peers.
Home educated children mix with their brothers, sisters, neighbours, friends and relations. Many of them participate in community and sports activities. Many of them take part in group activities – music, dancing, sports, clubs – outside the home. There is no evidence that home educated children lack positive social experiences and there is some evidence that they avoid some negative social experiences. Considering the amount of time that home educated children spend out in the wide world mixing with a variety of different people of differing ages it is clear that their social experience and hence social skills are at least as well developed as those of their school educated peers.
How do children fare academically?
We believe that there is so much more to education than academic achievement. In the words of William Butler Yeats “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. It nurtures creativity, empathy, passion and humour. Home educators tend to think in terms of the needs of individual children. However, to put our minds at ease, research has repeatedly found that home educated children excel in terms of intellectual achievements. For research see Paula Rothermel (2002) who found impressive results for home educated children. See also Alaska Dept of Education (1985), Hewitt Research Foundation (1985), (1986), Brian Ray (1991) amongst others.