The Oxygen of Homeschooling.

Distinguished Guest Writer

Ken Woolford

Ken Woolford is a strong advocate for learning at home and the importance of the family in developing effective, enthusiastic, long-life learning skills. Ken was the Principal in the NT, who sent back the boxes of testing material when it arrived at his school and who, with wife Suesi, tried to open their own school in Toowoomba but were ‘outrageously stomped on’. Then, back in the classroom, he says. “ I continued my twice a year one hour conferences out of school time [in their homes if necessary] with parents although it was not appreciated by fellow teachers who were happy with the 15 minutes a family in school time, where ‘the parent came to listen to US’.

I knew that the concept of ‘non frigid’ education needed to be ‘sold’ and to be ‘sold’ again. I also believed that parents needed to be shown that I believed that their role in their children’s education was prime and paramount. I worked very hard at this for over ten years. I found that as long as I could maintain this type of conferencing my behaviour management challenges in class virtually disappeared.”

Home schooling, as an operation, seems to run counter to the trust that we put in compulsory attendance at a school within our reach. I have always thought that the provision of public schooling at no cost to parents at a place called ‘school’ in reasonable proximity to a pupil’s home was the greatest invention of mankind; and that laissez-faire and Treehornish parents should be forced to send their children to a school. I’m not so sure any more, so I admire the kind of activities that Ken Woolford and his friends undertake and they way that they help each other with well organised meets nd activities. Being forced to report each day to a building where the delivery of earnest pupilling pedagogies and extension of individual learning desires are fraught with stress and tension in the prevailing national quest for mediocrity, does not seem to justify the compulsion. It breaches our faith in long held beliefs of what universal education should provide.

Schooling under politically-controlled regimes of heavy testing, driven by politically-imposed modes of teaching and rigid curriculum requirements, threatens the welfare of children. I have never ever heard in almost 70 years of close contact with schooling, so much disquiet and dissatisfaction for NAPLAN schooling as I am hearing now. Plainly, there are too many unhappy schools on the Australian landscape. Home-learning has to be a healthy alternative….

Phil Cullen


The Oxygen of Homeschooling

Ken Woolford

Phil Cullen asked me to write something about Naplan. I would rather write about trees. Trees give us oxygen. Naplan sucks… the oxygen from us.

Millions of words have been written and spoken about the uselessness – worse, the deadening hand – of Naplan; and of course, of that wonderful ‘up-size’ to Naplan – My School. We know that not only was the knife slipped in via Naplan, but it was then slowly twisted using My School. Newspapers loved it, and it will only be when the corpse has all but bled to death that the media will finally see there is money in denouncing Naplan. But I know the politicians will be one step ahead – they’ll denounce it the day before the papers do!

Meanwhile, professional educators,- who have spent generations telling parents that their best interests lie in trusting them, the educators, and have stood by, wringing their hands and weeping “We can do nothing about this intellectual abuse of children – we are constrained by our employer, the State”, -now turn to these same parents and say “You must save your children from Naplan”.

But parents who have been disempowered for decades, who have seen their own parents disempowered by education systems, are not likely to know where to begin. And if they were to begin, and eradicate this atrocity, would the ‘professional’ educators not then step in and demand a resumption of their uber powers over the very children they had abandoned?

What a supreme cock-up! Parents depowered, educators castrated, children left hung out to dry. How and why did this happen? Well, the media loved it from the word go. Fear sells papers. Then, of course, the “rescuers” – politicians, publishing companies and ‘advisors’ – all rushed in to restructure, reorganise and yes – you guessed it – make lots of money.

Our kids are getting dumber! But IQ’s are going up. They need more homework – but homework makes zilch difference. We need to get back to basics, but what basics are you talking about? Oh – you mean the basics that are simple to teach and test and leave most kids brain dead?

Here in Australia we have had, for the last 25 years, the most highly trained and experienced teacher force in our history – but these teachers are apparently now too dumb to run a classroom. They need C2C (at least in Qld). It’s like telling surgeons they can only operate using manuals supplied by bureaucrats in Canberra, who have copied them from diagrams in the Pyramids (they’re old- they must be good).

I know who is behind the last 20 years of education policies – they’re people who cannot come to grips with the concept of evolution. We move on folks. Our speech patterns have changed from 50 years ago. We won’t go back. Our cars, planes, computers, clothing, literature, food, hairstyles, almost everything, have changed from the 60’s, and they in turn changed from the 20’s etc., etc., etc. (apologies to the King and I). Get your feet out of the mud and get with it.

Now let’s focus on how to help the families – yes FAMILIES – who need help. The ones who are most likely to have children which statistics tell us are most likely to end up low down on the well being scale. Forget the families whose children are statistically likely to be at or near the top. Naplan suits them beautifully. So does My School. So does practically anything!!

The less advantaged need different types of education. They do not need negative comparisons shoved in their faces from age four. Their parents do not need explicit report cards to inform them that their children are not ‘making it’. These families need a game they can win from the start. It’s not the game that allows 20% of children to look marvellous, 20% to look OK, 20% to be just acceptable and 40% to be branded l-o-s-e-r-s. Naplan does that. So does My School. It tells that bottom 40% that they are l-o-s-e-r-s if they do not start playing the same game as the w-i-n-n-e-r-s.

What the hell, though – the policies win votes, sell papers and make more money for the very rich. And politicians, newspaper owners and the rich all really care about YOUR child. We don’t need an educational diet appropriate for each child. We just need to make everyone digest what the w-i-n-n-e-r-s are digesting and then EVERYONE will be WINNERS.

Except for the 40% or 50% of kids who cannot digest that diet. I guess they’ll have to stay losers. But really – it’s their fault. They had the opportunity. They had Naplan. And My School. It’s not as if they weren’t told. Or teachers were not given the C2C to ‘fix’ them.

After almost 40 years working in schools and universities I now work with homeschoolers. International and long term research indicates that homeschooled children tend to do better scholastically and to grow up to be happier adults. Researchers think it’s because parents tend to educate ‘with’ their children and adjust the learning to suit the child. Parents also seem to interact and talk a lot more with their children than teachers are able to. And parents who home school tend to contextualise children’s learning – all good stuff.

The home school families I work with do NOT Naplan their children, or compare them with other children. They are similar in attitude to the Finns.

Many of us accept that we can learn a lot about education from the Finns. I think we also need to take a serious look at homeschoolers. Professional educators in this country often feel uncomfortable with homeschooling families. But then professional educators could not stop Naplan. Or My School. Or C2C. Homeschoolers have. The Finns have. I wonder who we need to be copying?

So – look at practices that enhance children’s chances. Most people who do even a small amount of professional educational reading (parents and teachers) know that current government education policies are myopic. They sound tough, so get politicians voted in. But they are still myopic. Current atrocious education policies will do little- if any – damage to the advantaged in our society. They do massive harm to the disadvantaged.

My advice, then, to those families that can see their children going under in Naplan fixated states or countries – don’t waste time. Get out. Move to Finland or start homeschooling. Your children’s chances for a better future can only improve. Finland has heaps of forests and homeschooling will give you more time to enjoy the trees… and the oxygen they provide.


A useful follow-up to this discussion is “Schooling The World” ….


Last week, I spoke with a Dad who was genuinely concerned about his daughter in Year 3 at a Gold Coast State School. “She is very distressed about her results in the NAPLAN Mathematics tests.” he said. “ She feels that she is a failure and does not like Maths any more.” I recommended that he drop a note to the principal to say that he did not want his daughter to do the tests. He didn’t think that he should. She’s caught up in the network. Poor little girl. This is early March. She has nine more weeks of this kind of ugliness. Education? What a price !!

Where have all our principles gone?


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