Record: Giuliana Liberto, “Child-led and interest-inspired learning, home education, learning differences and the impact of regulation.” Cogent Education, 3 (2016): 1-10. [Abstract]

Summary: Giuliana Liberto is a home educator who researched the effects of increased regulation on children’s learning and well-being in the home education community of New South Wales, Australia.

Liberto has been home educating her children in New South Wales for a decade. Before the regulatory changes of 2011, she says that when the educational authorities would come to inspect her home school (as per the legal requirements), the interactions were positive because the educational authorities said that they could tell that her children were learning.

After 2011, and particularly after 2013, home educators were required to follow a particular scope and sequence in curricula and maintain a detailed timetable. They were also prohibited from including activities taught outside the home and by anyone other than the parent in their educational plan. Liberto argues that these new regulations caused inspections to become more adversarial and that they shifted the focus from children’s learning and well-being to compliance. For example, one mother was told that she should not teach her children outside of their assigned grade level, despite the fact that one of her children was gifted and others had difficulties learning. The children’s needs and interests were disregarded in the face of externally imposed learning activities.

With regards to how the changes affected her family, Liberto says that before the new regulations, her family had an eclectic home education approach that was responsive to the children’s needs. To illustrate this, she describes her experience with her child “Jamie” who has dyslexia. When he/she first tried to read, he/she became frustrated very quickly; however, by reading books that he/she found interesting like Harry Potter and books about animals, Jamie became an avid reader. Furthermore, by responding to Jamie’s interest in cicadas, Liberto was able to provide cross-curricular learning that was effective even though it contained skills and concepts that were above Jamie’s grade level such as dissection.

After the regulatory changes, Liberto forced Jamie to complete more book-based activities in order to comply with the inspections. Jamie’s dyslexia became much more of a problem than when his/her learning was interest-based, and he/she tired quickly. Liberto felt very stressed, especially when an inspector said that 40% of their time was not accounted for by syllabus requirements, and in turn her stress affected the rest of her family.

Appraisal: I very much commend Liberto, a home educating mother, for documenting and publishing her family’s experience with these stringent regulations in New South Wales. While much of her situation is specific to her family and the particularly demanding regulations to which they were subjected, it is nevertheless quite interesting since, to my knowledge, there have not been any similar studies that have looked at the learning outcomes of students before and after increasing regulation.  A few years ago one of Bryan Ray’s better-designed studies found no achievement difference between children from states in the U.S. with higher or lower levels of regulation.  Liberto’s anecdote lacks generalizability, but it does suggest some of the costs involved when regulations inhibit curricular and pedagogical flexibility.

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