School Can’t

If your child has School Can’t, and you are looking at other options, then you are in the right place. HEN is here to support parents, to help you meet the needs of your individual child, and to help you find community.

Nobody would suggest that home education alone will magically make everything better, but recent HEN surveys of School Can’t families showed that the effects of home education on children with School Can’t were overwhelmingly positive.

In every category but one, the majority of respondents reported an improvement in the child and family’s situation. Even in the category Friendships, only a minority reported a decline (20%).

Differences in friendships were the most variable. Those who reported a large decline in friendships were generally those whose children had been hospitalised before commencing home education, who reported greatly increased anxiety when at school, and those who had been home educating for less than two years. Some respondents noted that although the number of friendships may have declined, the quality of friendships that remained or were made after commencing home education were deeper and more meaningful.

The survey also showed that the vast majority of students with School Can’t have a diagnosed or suspected disability or additional need.

School Can't 2

The standard school system does not deal well with difference. However, home education is all about the individual, allowing their strengths to define them, not their challenges. Often those strengths may be unappreciated by schools: an affinity with animals or young children, an encyclopaedic knowledge of moths, or a passion for game design.

60% of home educating families have one or more children with a disability or additional need, and many (both parents and children) are neurodivergent. HEN has a specific Facebook to support those families

The appendices include responses that clearly show the enormous impact of home education on individuals after switching to home education:

It was like a huge weight was gone, able to relax and concentrate on healing the brain instead of starting every day with an anxiety attack.

It’s hard to quantify but we feel like we have our son back. We had forgotten what his personality was like, it had been many years since we have seen the cheeky curious side of him.

You can read the full results of the survey here

This first survey was created in response to a request from the Senate Enquiry for HEN representatives to appear in person as a follow up to our initial submission letter (link).

The Enquiry later requested data on educational attainment, which necessitated another survey.

HEN does not believe that educational attainment in set learning areas is a quantifiable measure of success, however we collated the data to demonstrate to the Enquiry that home education is successful not only in terms of supporting a child’s mental health, confidence, relationships and engagement level, but also provides a rich education. Again the figures speak for themselves:

The improvements in interest, engagement and educational attainment in children with School Can’t once they begin home education are marked. It is important to note that the length of home education has a large effect on these improvements, and this is unsurprising, given that many of the children with School Can’t who come out of school are often traumatised, in a state of chronic stress, and need time to decompress and deschool before engaging with learning once more.

It is also clear from the results of the survey that the earlier children commence home education after starting to experience School Can’t, the earlier the improvements start to be seen.

Interest and engagement are vital precursors to educational attainment. When interested and engaged, children are motivated to learn, become active participants, think more deeply about a subject, become self-directed, have agency and ownership, and engage in critical thinking and problem solving (Pekrun et al, 2007; Schiefele, 1991; Wang & Eccles, 2013).

You can read the full survey here

HEN has helped and supported many School Can’t families over a period of several years. Many of our support team have lived experience and are heavily involved in supporting families transitioning to home education. Unlike businesses, jumping onto the bandwagon and marketing their ‘school substitute’ products to families in crisis, we make no money from providing support.

Home education is not school at home, distance education or COVID style ‘remote schooling’. Some people may choose an option that looks a little like this, but that’s not the most common way to home educate, and is not more ‘successful’ in terms of later academic or life achievement.

Research and anecdotal evidence clearly show the value of interest-based education. However, transitioning from schooling, (deficit-based and designed by a committee to provide for the average student), to interest-based education (strength based, and individualised) requires a mindset change for both parent and child. Most children who have come out of school with a level of trauma require a period of adjustment. Children who have experienced School Can’t often have significant trauma and require additional time to decompress, receive mental health support, build self confidence, and rediscover a love of learning.

Because School Can’t is a stress response, it’s likely that learning has been compromised for some time. Nobody can learn well if they don’t feel safe. It is therefore understandable that many parents’ first thought is to get kids up to grade level. The problem is that most children have extremely negative associations with school-type learning. Some have so much trauma that they have retreated from all learning and interaction. The priority needs to be around mental and physical health, as these are the foundation for both life and learning.

The transition process is often called ‘deschooling’ and one guideline is to allow one month of deschooling for every year of school. However that will not always be enough, and even a child who has reengaged with learning on their own terms may have residual stress and anxiety based reactions years later when faced with a triggering situation.

Almost all parents attended school themselves, and have been exposed to decades of societal expectation about what constitutes a good education. Examples include the importance of an ATAR for future success; the idea that testing shows a child’s strengths and weaknesses adequately;, that learning happens best when there is a qualified person providing information in a pre arranged format; that learning works best when all students are of a similar age; that it’s possible to decide in advance what any child will need and provide a framework that they can follow, and that some types and styles of learning are more important than others.

However, when adults take a step back and consider their own learning strengths and deficits, undertake research into the best ways to learn thereby realising the huge variety of options available, and spend time observing their child’s natural learning – even if it looks nothing like school – then they too are deschooling.

So what is interest based learning, how do you do it, and how do you move from deschooling to learning?

As adults, we learn in a number of ways. From our peers and colleagues, by doing, by taking courses, through conversation, from the internet, podcasts, books and other media. We choose these methods because they are efficient, available, and often free or inexpensive. As parents our job is to facilitate, so that children can find the way that works best for them, which may include the methods above, as well as play, games, nature, after school activities, excursions, and any number of other options.

Adults don’t waste time learning things they are not interested in or don’t need. They understand that the knowledge and skills they need will be very different to those needed by their parent, partner or friend. Often they are engaged learners in areas of interest which may not be related to work, but give them joy and satisfaction, such as gardening, woodwork or sport. Home educating parents who model learning, and help their children learn how to learn, where to look for information, how to listen, how to build on existing skills, and support them to follow their interests are providing a great education – however that may look. By doing things with their children, sharing their interests, facilitating where necessary not only helps the child academically, a parent also builds strong relationships to prepare the child for adulthood.

Interest based learning is an automatic transition after deschooling, as during this time children start to find new interests, rediscover old ones, and become more confident about trying new things. For some children, this may lead to a desire to do something that is similar to school learning, perhaps joining a language class, doing an online course, or preparing to transition to tertiary education. For others, it will look very different (often called unschooling), and this can be challenging for parents. However, if parents have deschooled, and have worked on the ability to identify learning happening through life and interests, they will feel more confident about the education they are providing for their child.

HEN has a plethora of resources to help people find their home education groove. These talks are a good starting point, as they cover the transition process, and illustrate ways to support a child to become an engaged learner.

If you want to know what home education in action looks like, click here.

To get an idea of the breadth of activities that come under each Learning Area, click here

To see the variety of ways a home ed week might look, click here

To connect with community, find a local group – many are listed here.

And if you are struggling, and need help, reach out –