This paper reports a study which responds to the lack of research pertaining to the home schooling of children with disabilities. A case study approach was adopted, utilising grounded theory methods of data analysis, to examine how six Western Australian parents manage the home schooling of their children with disabilities. One of the case studies is presented in detail. The paper then outlines eight propositions which were developed from the six case studies conducted in relation to the central research question.
Home schooling can be defined as the educational alternative in which parents assume primary responsibility for the education of their children, usually from a home base (Lines 1991). Elaborations on this definition abound. Jacob's (1991) definition, however, is all encompassing:
Home education occurs when the parent(s) choose to educate their children from a home base. The choice is the outcome of a conviction that home based education will better meet the child's needs. The parent(s) plan, implement and evaluate the child's learning programme using a variety of resources (pp. 1-2).In Australia, while home schooling is still very much an 'unknown' educational option, it has 'traditionally been a legitimate, viable, successful and essential' schooling alternative for many families (Beirne 1994, p. 1). Increasing numbers of parents have taken up home schooling in several countries, including Australia, over the last thirty years (Alex 1994, Hunter 1994, Haigh 1995, Meighan 1995). It is difficult, however, to envisage the true number of home schooled students because many families who engage in this alternative are 'hidden' to school authorities. The number of home schoolers in Australia was estimated to be around 20 000 in 1995 (Meighan 1995, p. 275); a relatively small figure in comparison to the United States of America (USA), where home schooling numbers were estimated between 750 000 and 1 000 000 in 1994 (Alex 1995, p. 5). At the same time, the number of parents in Australia who educate their children at home is growing.
In Western Australia (WA) there is a group of parents who have opted to remove their children with disabilities from the school system in order to provide them with home schooling. In doing so, they have displayed great commitment, initiative and persistence, as only limited assistance is available. While a school receives funding from the government, contributing to the facilities required to educate a child, home schooling parents are offered no such financial assistance. Yet, they must register with the Department of Education (DoE). Once the application to educate a child from home is approved, a moderator from DoE contacts the family and visits at least once a year to monitor progress and discuss learning problems.
Aside from the contact and assistance that the moderator provides, home schooling parents are left to their own devices. Any other necessary support or assistance is achieved only on the initiation of the parent and the networks that they uncover through research or other home schooling acquaintances. In WA the most utilised home schooling support network is the Home-Based Learning Network (HBLN). HBLN is a state wide network and consists of families supporting each other by sharing information, resources and skills. It also produces a newsletter every second month advertising excursions and meetings and keeping parents informed about legal and other issues affecting home tuition. Home schooled children with disabilities may also be entitled to assistance from the Disability Services Commission (DSC) which has statutory responsibility for policy and program development and service planning in all areas affecting the rights and needs of people with disabilities in WA. Home schooling families are visited and supported by Local Area Coordinators (LACs) from the DSC. The DSC also provides physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy to students with disabilities who are registered with them and qualify for intellectual disability based on IQ testing.
While it lays open to question all the basic assumptions of the present schooling system (Adams & Beirne 1991, p. 78), the significance of home schooling has hardly begun to be recognised. This is partly because of its low profile as a 'grassroots' development. Equally, it is an area that has attracted little research. In particular, there appears to be a total lack of research on the home schooling of children with disabilities, not only in Australia but worldwide.
A wide variety of areas for research suggest themselves. The historical, policy, ethical and international dimensions, for example, need to be investigated. Also, as with home schooling in general, much work needs to be done on its effects on the social and intellectual development of the child. Given the central role of the parents in the process, they also need to be made a prime focus for research. This paper is offered as a beginning in opening up a research agenda adopting such a focus.
The study reported here focused on the major research question: How do WA parents manage the home schooling of their children with disabilities? The study was exploratory in nature. Prominence was placed on how parents 'manage' the education of their children with disabilities from a home base, implying an emphasis on process and thus locating the study within the general area of qualitative research. By utilising a case study approach to examine six examples of parents home schooling children with disabilities, unique cases were studied from different contexts. Grounded theory methods of data gathering and analysis were then adopted to compare the separate cases, distinguish parallels and develop propositions.
The first round of interviews provided data on each family's perspectives on and experiences of home schooling. As themes arose they were pursued with the participants in a 'lengthy conversation piece' (Simons 1982). The second round of interviews occurred once each family had received a transcript of their first interview, allowing any misinterpretations to be removed or altered and any vital areas previously overlooked to be addressed. The purpose of the second round of interviews was to discuss any areas the participants believed were overlooked.
The data for each of the case studies were read and re-read. It soon became apparent that it could be organised under the following themes: 'reasons for homeschooling', 'managing the process itself', 'managing impediments', 'managing the process by forming views on its effectiveness', 'managing the process by forming views on the inadequacies within the traditional scho ol system'. Each case study was then written up under these headings. The raw data along with the 'written-up' individual case studies were then re-visited. Through the making of comparisons and the asking of questions (Strauss & Corbin 1990), a series of propositions which applied across the individual cases was developed.
The outcomes of both stages of analysis will now be considered. First, an abbreviated version of an individual case study is presented. This is followed by an outline of the propositions which were developed.
One of the major benefits for Education Support children is inclusion with the mainstream children. Students not only gain from socialising in the classroom, but are also able to make friends naturally. This friendship can then continue in the playground and during out of school hours ... Leanne mixed with the mainstream kids quite a lot.Leanne was included in mainstream classes every afternoon during the three years she spent in that particular centre. The mother stated that the close relationship that existed between those teachers in the centre and those teaching the mainstream had a positive influence on the students' interactions and resulted in Leanne being accepted and treated as a member of the class rather than she being an 'outsider'. In 1997, the family moved to a different suburb. The mother detailed how the education support centre within the new primary school differed from the last:
While the mainstream principal and staff at the last school appeared to have quite a reasonable relationship with the principal and staff in Education Support, the new school seemed to have many problems. Without going into it all, I will just say that Leanne received no inclusion and the students from Education Support were treated very poorly. At times they were treated like second class citizens and on many occasions they were quite openly discriminated against. They were made to feel very different and very left out.When the mother's repeated attempts to organise inclusion for Leanne failed, it became obvious to her that the ideology and attitudes of the teachers within the mainstream and education support were 'at loggerheads'. The mother was most concerned because Leanne was very miserable at school and for the first time was not socialising or making friends. Towards the end of 1999 the mother heard that a new local primary school with an education support unit was opening. A 'unit' differs from a 'centre' because it is not a separate school. Students of the unit only leave their mainstream classes for a few hours each day to work in small groups with an education support teacher who provides extra academic tuition, particularly in English and maths. The school was happy to take in Leanne. She commenced in the third week of term four, where she made academic gains, enjoyed learning and socialised with her peers until she completed her primary education.
Towards the end of 2000, the mother began to examine Leanne's high school options. She was invited to numerous meetings at the local high school to discuss Leanne's educational needs with teachers who would be responsible for her daughter's learning. In particular, arrangements were made for Leanne to be placed in some classes containing several mainstream children from her previous primary school in order to support Leanne's inclusion.
Leanne attended the local high school unit for the start of the 2001 school year. When the mother collected Leanne from school on the Friday of the first week, she recalled that her daughter appeared to be quite confused and upset. Leanne told her mother that the teachers had made changes to her timetable. The mother explained that, contrary to the earlier arrangements made with the school, Leanne was put in a class alongside students with disabilities greater in severity and with social capabilities that would restrict Leanne's social development. Additionally, within her mainstream classes Leanne was not placed with any familiar students as initially promised because the school claimed to have lost the list provided by the mother.
The mother's concluded that the high school unit could not meet Leanne's social needs and that an alternative form of education was essential. Consequently, she made the necessary arrangements and commenced home schooling Leanne that following week.
It took me probably just over a term to realise that it was too stressful teaching Leanne as they would at school. I needed to get out of the school mode and back off a little. It was not beneficial teaching like they would at school, with Leanne mainly writing and me doing most of the talking, forcing her to understand concepts ... It took that term for me to realise that home schooling just seems to fall into place and many teaching ideas seem to follow one another. It's a totally different way of approaching it, but it works.Within a term Leanne and her mother shifted from a student-teacher relationship based on traditional teaching methods, to a more relaxed home schooling approach whereby the mother and her daughter work together and learn side-by-side. The mother initially devised a program to present to her moderator and constantly questioned if she was doing 'the right thing' and covering enough content in a day. However, gradually the mother came to understand that it was not necessary to teach every subject that Leanne had undertaken at school. For example, the mother removed Italian lessons because she felt that her daughter needed to concentrate more on English, and she replaced the school's compulsory sporting activities, such as running, with sports that Leanne enjoys to engage in, like swimming and walking.
The mother DoEs not follow a weekly timetable. Each day the content taught varies and the mother DoEs not impose time limits on learning activities because she found it difficult to envisage how long it would take Leanne to complete each task. Presently she is concentrating on teaching Leanne the days of the week, the months of the year, the concept of time, and the value of money and how to use it. Basic maths, reading, writing, and comprehension are also taught frequently at a level with which the mother is comfortable, while content relating to the environment and articles from newspapers are occasionally incorporated when deemed relevant to Leanne's learning. Life skills, varying from cooking to road awareness, are included within each home schooling week. The mother has also taught her daughter the importance of keeping appointments in a diary, primarily to develop effective organisational skills, but at the same time enabling Leanne to apply her spelling and writing to a different context.
Leanne's mother admitted to initially feeling the pressure to go out and purchase new books for home schooling detailed on a book list provided by DoE. However, she revealed that while she has examined many of the recommended texts and the sort of questions asked, she felt it was, '... not necessary to buy most of the books, as many contained unsuitable, 'fill-in' exercises that appeared to be more useful for the moderator when monitoring progress'. The mother considered it easier to accumulate texts and teaching resources as she encounters them.
Leanne's mother also commented on the lack of funding for home schoolers:
While schools receive funding to provide for each government school student, home schoolers get nothing. A little financial assistance to help get a computer or the Internet would be great ... all kids should have access to the same resources whether they are in school or being home schooled.While the mother felt that she was able to provide adequate education resources for Leanne because much of what is necessary is inexpensive, she admitted that computer and Internet access would benefit her daughter's learning. Additionally, the mother advocated that home schooled students should be entitled to the same array of resources and educational opportunities made available to those in schools. Such equality could be achieved through greater accessibility to school facilities or through the provision of some financial assistance to home schooling families.
I don't think Leanne would have made any more social gains at school. She may have even gone backwards because she wouldn't have been integrating with the mainstream ... Now Leanne won't encounter such negative socialisation and when she finishes her schooling will benefit from positive social experiences.The mother feels that all students, irrespective of difference, should be educated together in mainstream classes to avoid unnecessary segregation. By excluding children with disabilities from most mainstream activities the mother believes that the high school fostered the division of students rather than encouraged acceptance and promoted the equal treatment of all individuals. The mother explained that by isolating her daughter the high school restricted Leanne's interactions with mainstream students and positive socialisation was largely prevented, which could have had further ramifications for life outside of school. Home schooling DoEs not socially disadvantage Leanne because she has friends close to home with whom she socialises regularly. Leanne also interacts with her peers during weekly dance and modelling classes where, according to her mother, she is rightfully regarded as an 'equal human being' in comparison to the high school that treated her as a 'second class citizen'.
Leanne's mother stated that discrimination against students with disabilities in the school system is widespread and often tolerated. Specifically, she argued, children with intellectual disabilities are more frequently and openly discriminated against. She contended that a student with a physical disability, for example, one confined to a wheel chair, would go immediately into a mainstream class. Such a student, she stated, could not be removed from the class on the basis of their wheel chair because it would clearly be discrimination. On the other hand, she held that if a child like Leanne has an intellectual disability, and associated academic problems relating to speech, schools appear to be allowed to say that they do not cater for such learning differences.
Leanne's mother also stated that the amount of time wasted at school was another inadequacy within the traditional system. Each school day Leanne had to wait for the bus to arrive with other education support students before learning could commence. This often resulted in a half hour delay. Also, throughout her daughter's primary education the mother deemed the use of 'time out', requiring students to lie silently on the floor for a set period of time, as unnecessary for Leanne. While 'time out' may have met the needs of education support students who were academically and socially less advanced than Leanne, the mother felt that the time dedicated to this activity was of little benefit to her daughter.
Home schooling parents typically assume responsibility for the education of their children with disabilities for a number of reasons. These reasons are predominantly concerned with the negative socialisation encountered in schools, insufficient academic progress and a failure by schools to understand their child's academic and social capabilities or the nature of their child's disability.Parents of children with disabilities appear to initiate the move to home schooling for combinations of two or more reasons. Such reasons are predominantly concerned with the perceived inadequacies within the system, namely the negative socialisation encountered in schools, insufficient academic progress and a failure by schools to understand their children's academic and social capabilities or the nature of the disabilities themselves. All but one of the families in the study referred to negative socialisation within schools as being a contributing factor in their decision to home school. In this regard, Chapman and O'Donoghue (2000) make reference to the negative effects of peer pressure and other unwanted influences within the categories of 'Dissatisfaction with traditional schools' and 'Protection from unwanted influences' (pp. 24-28).
Of the five families that discussed the impact of negative socialisation, in all cases the teasing, rejection, segregation or bullying experienced was related to their child's disability, creating significant stress and diverting attention away from learning. Also, all parents discussed the failure of schools to understand their children with regard to their academic and social capabilities or the nature of the disabilities themselves. Consequently, difficult situations were dealt with inappropriately and the teachers' reprimands drew unwanted attention that adversely affected the child ren's relationships with other students. The ability of parents to acknowledge the need for an alternative and to recognise the need for home schooling, and their willingness to assume responsibility for their children's education, are significant initial steps in the management of the process.
Having established the need for home schooling, the initial step in managing the process requires parents to determine the level of their child's educational understanding through prior experience, research or testing, in order to ascertain the content that will be taught.Prior to the commencement of home schooling the parents in each family had to determine their children's level of understanding and knowledge to provide a basis from which they could start teaching. Parents were able to ascertain the content they would teach through various strategies that were grounded on prior experience, the examination of past work or diagnostic testing. The parents examined put a significant emphasis on teaching their children life skills rather than academic content. It was apparent that the greater the severity of the child's intellectual disability, the more prominence the parents placed on the attainment of life skills and independent living. Once the content was determined, the resources were obtained. The parents all acquired teaching materials from one or more of the following sources: books retained from the schooling of their other children; educational bookstores; the Internet; their child's previous school; local libraries; other home schooling acquaintances; and previous teaching experiences.
The majority of parents adopt a loose home schooling structure without a set timetable because flexibility is required when teaching children with disabilities due to the greater occurrence of unforeseen circumstances and the ability to teach new concepts when the student is ready.All families began home schooling with a very structured approach, incorporating many elements of the school system into their teaching style due to their own educational background. However, over time, with increased experience and confidence the parents gradually shifted away from a planned structure towards a more flexible teaching approach. This is consistent with the findings of Arthur (1992), Crossley (1992) and Simich (1998). The parents in the study acknowledged that the one-on-one teaching and flexibility available to them through home schooling enables their children's specific learning needs to be addressed, which in turn allows social and academic progress to prevail. The adoption of a loose home schooling structure without a set timetable offers flexibility that is well suited to the families circumstances. This allows parents to work around appointments and unforeseen illnesses of their children. The adaptability of the home schooling approach also allows for the children to be able to learn new concepts when they are ready and for their changing educational interests to be met without too much difficulty.
Families undergo the home schooling process with limited funding, which restricts the teaching materials utilised. Therefore more accessible arrangements with schools are required, particularly in non-academic areas, so that children educated at home are not disadvantaged in terms of resources and specialised equipment.Only one of the home schooling families indicated that they received financial assistance through Post School Option funding, available from the age of sixteen for employment training and alternatives to employment, such as recreational activities. The children in the other families were all below sixteen years of age and had not acquired funding to help fulfil their home schooling needs. Parents in Families Four and Five spoke of the inequity and difficulties associated with the absence of funding, as follows:
Father 4: ... as far as resources are concerned we've never had any financial assistance with resources or anything like that. Sometimes meeting educational needs can be difficult to do at home as some things require a fair degree of resources and specialised equipment. If the Education Department were really committed to the education of children they ought to be giving us the same resources that they do to schools, even if that's in the way of providing the option to out-source some things or use local schools as a resource.The fact that only limited funding is available to home schooling families restricts the availability of teaching materials. This is particularly so in the case of the less well-off families.
Mother 5: A school gets funding if there is a program they need, whereas being at home we don't get that. We don't have the money to buy new programs all the time and so our kids might not get the opportunity to use as many things like that ... We waste a lot of money on things that don't work with our kids. It would be nice to borrow, see if it works, lessen the expense on us and supply some funding too so we can access it permanently.
The DSC needs to incorporate education into their framework and clearly define their role in education, as their ability to contribute knowledge on appropriate teaching techniques for children with disabilities will enable parents to deliver more effective home education.All the parents interviewed felt that numerous impediments were associated with the minimum involvement exhibited by the DSC in the home schooling of children with disabilities:
Mother 2: They don't tell you what sort of assistance they can give you so it's hard to know what to ask for. They don't give you a lot of information. I've tried a few times to get assistance with Peter and they were unable to help us ... as far as I know they don't have any role in home schooling.The parents expressed a view that the DSC needs to increase its role in the home schooling of children with disabilities. It was felt that the ability of the DSC to contribute knowledge on appropriate teaching techniques for children with disabilities would enable the parents to deliver more effective home education. All the parents acknowledged the disability domain as the DSC's main sphere of influence. However, they also argued that its role should incorporate education, should be more clearly defined in this regard, and should be funded better so that more effective assistance could be provided.
Mother 3: I found them to be nice people but they couldn't provide a service ... their funding was such that they were only able to provide minimal support ... They didn't have enough staff and they didn't have any resources. It's all a waste of time. I think they are still much the same.
Mother 4: They have no role in home schooling ... DSC don't see education as part of their framework. I find that a struggle ... there's kind of that informal overlap that I don't think is helpful at all. It's not in the best interest of the child.
Mother 6: ... they are not involved at all. They're really busy so quite often it is hard to get in contact with them. I've only met my LAC once. She was going to contact me about some resources but I never heard from her again and I'm not one to go chasing. I figure if she's not going to do it I'll go and find it myself.
Parents find it easier to manage the process knowing that the one-on-one teaching and the flexibility available to them through home schooling enables their child's specific learning needs to be addressed, allowing social and academic progress to prevail.The one-on-one teaching, the flexibility and the ability to address the individual learning needs of a child are the predominant benefits that parents believe their children with disabilities acquire through home schooling:
Mother 1: I just think that doing one-on-one is so much better ... it's a lovely flexible way of d oing what feels right on the day. Everyone's individual and good at different things and that is what you have to focus on. They are the sort of things you can pick up on and run with at home.There was unanimity from all the parents interviewed that the individual needs of their children were effectively met by the specific teaching focus available through home schooling. They claim that learning experiences this alternative offers has generated educational progress and that this indicates its viability for children with disabilities.
Mother 2: We don't have to stick to school hours, we can do our learning any time. They can learn when they are interested in learning ... They are also given more opportunity to ask questions and go over things they don't understand.
Mother 3: One-to-one training, teaching her in her learning style, understanding her and being flexible with what we deliver have been effective ... The program is totally individualised in comparison to the school system and the ability to make gains is maximised by the one-on-one training.
Father 4: With home schooling there is a great deal of freedom just to run with the child's needs ... That's where I think the great benefit of home education lies. You can individualise things to match the kid.
Mother 5: Purely because it's flexible, it works and they are doing what they want to do. Their needs are being met ... it focuses more on their interests, their concentration and the way they approach their learning.
Mother 6: ... one-on-one teaching has to be a big advantage. She really needs one-on-one with everything she DoEs as you have to try and keep her on task all the time ... At home there is more flexibility and you don't have to stick to a timetable.
The varying educational needs of children with disabilities are often not accommodated within the system because schools lack an individual approach to teaching and the prevalence of bullying creates an environment adverse to learning.Most parents believe that schools are incapable of providing adequate education for all children because students develop at different rates, both intellectually and physically, and are endowed with distinct learning styles, interests and abilities. Even a teacher admitted to the mother in Family One that the school was not meeting her child's needs, while DoE admitted to the mothers in Families Two and Five that the system was inadequately equipped to cope with their children's medical needs. The parents in the study advocated that in their experience schools do not have much success with children with disabilities.
It was agreed that in many instances the system is inadequately geared to accommodate the varying educational needs of children with disabilities because schools lack an individual approach to teaching and cannot provides the attention required for such children to learn. The other inadequacy agreed upon by all parents, and which echoes the findings of Klicka (1997), was that the school system did not provide a healthy learning environment for their children due to prevalence of negative socialisation. Parents frequently discussed the negativity their children encountered from students within schools who ridiculed and excluded them because of their differences. Dissatisfaction with the amounts their children were learning at school was also attributed to the lack of resources available and an inability to deliver education consistent with learning techniques used at home.
Alongside the moral support from their spouses, parents who home school children with disabilities receive most assistance, information and home schooling contacts from the Home-Based Learning Network, whose encouragement and verification of the viability of this alternative increases parents' confidence in their ability to manage the process.In all six cases studied the mother was the main teacher as the father engaged in full time employment. All the mothers said that the moral support their husbands provide has given them confidence in their ability to teach and encouraged them to pursue home schooling at times of doubt. Assistance from other people outside of the family home has helped a number of families manage the process with greater ease. Particular reference was made to the provision of information and assistance offered by HBLN. HBLN appears to be the main source of home schooling information. All the families emphasised the initial importance of HBLN's support, as it offered a forum for parents to meet with other home schoolers who were willing to share their experiences and teaching ideas. All the parents expressed that HBLN's encouragement and verification of the viability of home schooling gave them greater confidence in their ability to manage the process.
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|Author details: Lucy Reilly, Anne Chapman and Tom O'Donoghue are all members of the Graduate School of Education, The University of Western Australia.
Correspondence should be directed to:
Professor Tom O'Donoghue, Graduate School of Education, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands. Western Australia 6009. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Reilly, L., Chapman, A. and O'Donoghue, T. (2002). Home schooling of children with disabilities. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 18(1), 38-61. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer18/reilly.html