Choosing not to educate your children in the mainstream system can be a very daunting decision. There are as many ways to home educate as there are families who choose to do so. Those who do not send their children to school may either homeschool or unschool. The difference is that homeschooling families teach according to a curriculum. Families who unschool, however, do not generally follow a set curriculum – choosing instead to allow learning to be student-led.
People can choose to home educate for a variety of reasons; everything from your child hating school to your desiring a secular education for your child – and plenty in between. In Ireland, you can decide to homeschool for many reasons – like holding a religious or idealogical opposition to the education available in schools here. Or even just objecting to educating a child in a school.
The Irish Constitution recognises the parents as the primary educators of the child, which means that – should you wish to – you have every right not to send your child to school. In Ireland, however, it is also the law that all children must be in education by the age of six. Now, the law states that children must be educated, not that they must go to school.
If you decide not to send your children to school – or to withdraw them from a school they are already attending – you will need to register your intention to do so with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). It’s shockingly easy to homeschool in Ireland. You don’t have to follow a curriculum, but there is an onus on homeschooling parents to provide a ‘certain minimum education’ – though that ‘minimum’ is not defined either by Bunracht na hEireann or by the Department.
Once you have registered, you will be visited by someone from the NEWB, who will discuss your reasons for homeschooling. You will need to be in a position to discuss your curriculum (if you’re using one) and your general approach to learning and education. You will need to show that you are complying with the regulations regarding the physical needs of your children as well as their moral education.
Don’t, for a moment, think that you must be an expert in everything in order to be a successful home-schooling parent. It is possible to ‘outsource’ those elements that you are not proficient in – either through actual classes or online courses. As your children get older (13+) there are more online resources available to them. Not attending school can be a real boon to self-directed independent learners, like many of our children are. The chance to explore subjects and issues that are of interest to them to the length and breadth of their desire can be hugely satisfying.
There are people who think that children who aren’t in school miss out on a social element of life that is readily available to those of their peers who do attend school. But for children who are G&T, they may not find a social life there that fully accommodates them. Homeschooled/unschooled children, however, will find that the classes they attend, the clubs they join and the sports they play come with a group of people with whom they share areas of commonality.
Like anything, homeschooling has its difficulties. Chief among them is that if children are being homeschooled, someone needs to be home to do it. That means, generally, a parent. So if both of you are working, you need to figure out if you can survive financially on just one income – and if, like me, you’re a lone parent you need to work out if you can work from home or go part-time and survive. Also, while schools receive a ‘per capita’ grant for each child, a homeschooling family receives no state-funding or assistance whatsoever. In addition, health services provided through schools – vaccinations, sight tests, dentistry and hearing tests – are not accessible to your child/ren if they are not enrolled in a school. You will have to provide for those things yourself. Home educating families don’t even get a grant for books and if your child has special needs, any resources they might have been able to access through a state school are no longer accessible.
Accessing Third Level Education When You’ve Never Been to School:
In Ireland, there is an obsession with the ‘points race’ – an unhealthy preoccupation with how many points one will need to get in their Leaving Certificate examination to secure the place they want in the institution of their choice.
The good news is, however, that even as an Irish person resident in Ireland, you can access third level education without sitting your Leaving Certificate examination. While in the US, some 75% of universities have official policies about the admission of homeschooled teenagers, we’re lagging a bit behind. Still, though, there are ways, and here they are:
- Achieve a minimum of five distinctions on FETAC Level 5 courses
- Do an Access course at your institution of choice
- Wait until you are 23 – when you will be deemed a mature student and a Leaving Certificate is no longer required.
- Obtain an International Christian Certificate of Education
- Study through the Open University
Finally, we would suggest that if you are considering home-schooling, or unschooling, you give it some thought and link in with other families who have chosen not to send their children to school. In Ireland, there is Home Education Network Ireland. For specifically gifted support and information, you might like to check out the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum too.