Different parts of the world have different regulations around homeschooling. In some parts of the world, you seem to have a complete free reign to do whatever you choose, while others are more tightly regulated.
I get the impression that where I live is more regulated than most. In principle, I dont really mind this. It provides a framework to build a curriculum inside, and it also provides expectations so that everyone is thinking more or less along the same lines.
The regulating body for school kids, either government, non government or home schooled is NESA – the New South Wales Education Standards Authority. Despite their best efforts, there is not nearly as much standardisation as they like to suggest. Still, anywhere you go in the state, there is a fair expectation that education will progress in a broadly similar pattern.
NESA provide guidelines for homeschoolers that everyone is, in theory, objectively assessed against. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to the fairly subjective opinion of the local assessor.
We have dealt with them before, both for an initial assessment, and a follow up a year later. Since we have had a four year break in homeschooling, we had to start the application process from the beginning again. This typically takes around six or seven weeks, although ours took twelve. Our previous dealings have always been pretty straight forward and largely helpful. This time was quite different.
The process starts with a very generic form which is little more than contact details. From there, they organise an appointment to go over your plan with an assessor, and then based on that, you are either approved or not to go ahead for a certain period of time.
Some weeks after the forms went in, I started getting these weird phone calls from someone at NESA. I was never entirely certain what their role was. Over a period of several weeks, they were very concerned that since my wife and I both work, we wouldnt be able to provide a proper education as we would be far too busy doing our own thing. Another time they were very concerned that since our formal lessons tend to be stacked on the weekend, we would probably be too busy socialising to get any work done. Later, they were very concerned that as our kids would be going to a homeschool group, that part of their education would not be happening ‘at home’ so by definition, we couldnt claim to be homeschooling. All of these conversations would wind around to the point where our application would probably be refused if it went to a formal assessment, and it would be better if we just withdrew it.
Eventually, we got in touch with Home Education Association (HEA) who are an excellent support group here in Australia. Although we came up with a number of interesting theories as to why NESA were unable to follow their own guidelines, it was all speculation. What we needed was a plan. Between us, we decided to withdraw the application and then immediately resubmit it. Stupid circumstances sometimes demand ridiculous actions.
A week later, my wife started getting the same weird phone calls. This time, they were very concerned about the welfare of our children, and felt that if our application was not withdrawn, it might have to be escalated to the state director. My wife deals with this kind of situation a good deal better than I do. After a polite, yet rage inducing, half hour conversation, our application had been progressed to the next level.
Three weeks later, the local assessor was in our house, looking at our plans, and checking out the details of what we intended to do. We also had a representative from HEA there to act as an independant observer for us. Its what you do when there is no sense of trust.
In fairness to her, the assessor was very human and easy going. The whole visit would have been quite unremarkable were it not for the absolute circus which had preceded it. We were given a years approval, which is the maximum you can get for the initial application.
It is a win, but it doesnt feel like one. Its disappointing that the organisation who exists to provide direction and advice is obstructive, inconsistent and a major barrier to our educational decisions.