Rise in home schooling in Scotland not necessarily due to curriculum change as the Times claims

Janet Downs's picture

'Curriculum for Excellence fears add to surge in home schooling’ booms the Times today.

It claims the rising number of home educated children in Scotland, doubling since 2013, has been stoked by fears about the ‘effectiveness of the SNP’s Curriculum for Excellence’.  The paper cites a Scottish Mail on Sunday investigation which discovered ‘almost 1,000 four to 18-year-olds’ who began their education in the ‘traditional school system’ were now home schooled.  This compares with 500 in 2013.

Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesperson, said the figures were a ‘wake-up call’.

But correlation isn’t causation – there are other reasons why parents choose to home educate rather than dissatisfaction with a curriculum.  

The Times says Highland Council has the highest ‘proportion of home schooling with 138 pupils’.  It’s unclear what this proportion is – the Times doesn’t say.  It gave a number when a percentage would have been expected.  But leave that aside.  Highland Council includes the remotest and most sparsely populated parts of the UK.  Could it be that some Highland children are educated at home because the nearest state school is too distant for daily travel?

Schools Week recently investigated home education in England and listed reasons given by English local authorities for a rise in the number of home schooled children.  These included ‘behaviour, threat of prosecution, or risk of exclusion’.  North-East Lincolnshire said concern for a ‘child’s welfare and unresolved difficulties relating to behaviour or attendance’.  These reasons had overtaken ‘ideological or religious reasons’.  Parents commenting beneath the article cited bullying, poor-quality education locally and dissatisfaction with the English school system.

England isn’t Scotland – but it is likely that the causes for home-schooling are similar.  And unhappiness over schooling is but one of many explanations.

Scotland’s curriculum, unlike that of England’s, was not hastily conceived and based on ministers’ prejudices.  The OECD, in its report ‘Improving Schools in Scotland recognised that Scotland’s curriculum ‘has traditionally been implemented through consensus’.   There were problems but these could be overcome by following the report’s recommendations (pp 11-12).  These did not include scrapping CfE.  On the contrary, the OECD recognised its suggestions built on sound foundations.

The figure of 1,000 school age children being home schooled in Scotland should be seen in the context of the number of children in Scotland’s state schools.   In 2016 there were 685,415 pupils in publicly-funded schools north of the border.  That’s 0.14% of Scotland’s state pupils.

Such a tiny proportion shouldn’t be taken as evidence that Scotland’s education system is failing.  Neither should Scotland’s fall in PISA scores in reading and science in 2015.  CfE wasn’t implemented until 2010/11 so Scottish 15-year-olds taking PISA in 2015 would have spent much of their time being educated pre-CfE. 

Rather than knocking CfE, the Scottish Tories should support the implementation of the OECD recommendations.  Following the OECD’s advice could ‘help move the Curriculum for Excellence and the Scottish system to be among those leading the world.’



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