Home Education Foundation’s Problem Scoping Survey

Craig with children and timeline3 October 2014

Dear Jim, Sonya and Lucy

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the forms and processes that the MoE use with home educators in New Zealand.

I enjoyed our meeting with you on July 28 and our meeting with the Red Tape Cluster Buster team on July 15. Since then I have sent you a couple of emails. I am very thankful that you have listened to us and made appropriate decisions and actions based on our concerns. This has given me confidence to answer this Scoping Survey and to encourage others to do so as well. We have been dealing with the MoE since 1986 and this is the first time that we feel that the National Office of the MoE is listening to us and to the concerns that we have. Actually for the first few years we got our exemptions from the Principal of the local school – this went well for some families and terribly for other families.

I feel that we have a lot of things to bring to your attention. I guess this is because we have felt that the MoE has been unapproachable in the past (despite having lots of meetings with them over the years). Also, the fact that you are asking us to mention anything that is working well, anything that is not working well and anything we would like to see improved in the future, has made us bold in our suggestions.

The most important thing is that we don’t need an ‘exemption application’ at all – just a notification that we intend to home educate our children. If our child goes to school, we don’t have to ‘apply’. I think a notification, perhaps with the twice yearly statutory declaration, is all that is needed. Once we sign that we have fulfilled our legal obligation to teach our child/ren as regularly and well as in a registered school and this is a binding legal document.

There is nothing else in terms of our parenting decisions that we need to involve government institutions with, aside from when we need assistance (with health or in extreme cases where children need protection). Having to seek permission to home educate, and then having this checked out and monitored by a government agency (simply because there is a Ministry of Education) makes home-educating feel ‘wrong’. I do not need to rationalise or be fearful of other choices I make with my children (such as the way they dress, the religion we follow, the food we eat, or where we live etc). I do not understand why educating my children at home should be something that causes me to feel suspicious of the government! If anything is not working, it is that element.

Rights of Parents

UN conventions state that parents have the right to choose the kind of education their children will receive. This right is supported by multiple human rights instruments under international law. New Zealand is a signatory to these three conventions and they show that this human right is universally recognised in all places.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 26 (3) – ‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.’
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976) Article 10 (1) and 13 (3)3 – ‘The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.’
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) Article 18 (4)4 – ‘The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.’

See more on parental rights here: https://hef.org.nz/2012/berlin-declaration/

Rights of Children

Section 3 of the Education Act gives New Zealand children the right to a free education in state-funded institutions. But Sections 20 and 25 prove that neither the children nor their parents are legally free to choose whether they’ll make use of this right. Instead they are legally compelled by the state to do two things: 1) enrol the children with a state-registered schooling institution and 2) attend that institution whenever it is open.

So while the Act declares children to have a right to an education, the Act only guarantees that they will be compelled to be enrolled at and attend a state-approved institution. The children are not guaranteed, compelled or even required by law to actually learn anything at all, to actually become educated or to receive an education. They are only required to do their time in a school.

We are thankful that Section 21 of the Education Act exists to give parents and children an alternative.

Section 161 gives us the freedom:

(a) within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions;
(b) to engage in research;
(c) to regulate the subject matter of courses taught;
(d) to teach and assess students in the manner they consider best promotes learning;
(e) and to appoint  own staff.

We are also to do this while maintaining high ethical standards and accountability.

Now as to what is working, what is not working, and suggestions for the future

1. Justified Absence 

During our Red Tape Cluster Buster meeting I mentioned the fact that many families find it extremely difficult to keep their children in school while applying for an exemption. Megan told us about ‘Justified’ and ‘Unjustified’ absences. I had not heard these terms before so looked them up to find that home educators could keep within the law if they had a Justified Absence during the process of getting an exemption. At the moment we suggest to those who don’t want their children in school while they apply for an exemption to get a doctor’s certificate or to go through the process of changing schools. Please see this post that I wrote up on Truancy after meeting with the Red Tape Cluster Buster Team:  https://hef.org.nz/getting-started-2/truancy-and-the-home-schoolerhome-educator/

Suggestion for the future:

Please include “applying for an exemption” to this list:

Student absent due to short-term illness/medical reasons

Justified explanation within the school policy

Exam leave

Unsupervised study – student is off-site

During home education exemption process

Justified overseas – check next column for justification examples

Student is stood down or suspended

2. Exemption form

‘Principal notified of your intention to homeschool (in the case of a child currently enrolled in a school). The Principal of your child’s current school (or most recently attended school) will be asked to comment on the suitability or otherwise of home education as an option for your child.’

Different  MoE offices deal with this differently. Any contact with a previous school should not delay or interfere with the process of approving an exemption. There are other ways that a check can be made to see if the child is on the school’s roll. Presently the home educating community sees this as potentially causing additional problems for the child, for the parents, and for the school, when the MoE contacts them while an exemption application is still in approval phase. It is the parents’ decision whether to home educate or not, not the school’s. When a Principal is asked to comment ‘on the suitability or otherwise of home education as an option’ they do not necessarily have insight into the home educating philosophy or the different approaches parents plan to use. Therefore it is a subjective comment currently being asked for by Principals with little contextualisation. Most schools are good about this but there are some where the school has a predetermined objection to the philosophy of home educating and this impacts their response to this question.

There used to be a MoE staff member in Hamilton who would decline exemptions to families whose children were continually absent from school. He said that if the parents couldn’t make their children go to school regularly then they would not be able to home school them regularly. He totally missed the point. The children did not want to be at school, but did want to be home educated. It was because of this that the parents wanted to get an exemption and to home educate their children.

Some MoE offices will not process exemption applications during holidays because they cannot contact the Principal. This is totally unreasonable as a lot of parents want to pull their children from school at the end of a term and not send them back to school at the beginning of a new term. And in any case the MoE should not be contacting the Principals about the suitability of parents to home educate their own children.

Suggestion for the future:

Leave schools completely out of the equation when processing exemption applications. The time to contact a school would be when the exemption application has been processed. The home educator should also inform the school why their child/ren will not be returning to school.

3. “Regular” and “well” 

We don’t want to see these words defined any more than they already are in the exemption form package. Those words are in the law. Everything else is policy, including the interpretation of those words. Yes, it is a little frustrating that these words are interpreted differently by different home educators and different MoE staff. But as soon as these words are defined then home educators will loose some of their freedoms. A definition of these words will be one person’s or one committee’s interpretation and it could have ramifications for home educators in the future.

as well as’ does not mean the ‘the same as’

as regular as’ is more regular than school as it is all the time.

We want the MoE to understand that home education is a lifestyle that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year – very regular, no days off. This has been obvious to those families who have tried to have a ‘no learning day’.


‘We are supposed to teach as regularly and well as in a registered school.

If that’s all I do,

I’ll consider myself a failure.’

– Craig Mortimer

Suggestion for the future:

Please do not define ‘regular’ and ‘well’ .

4. Family Exemption Application

We would really love to see this available online. We could use our MoE number to access it. We would have our overall philosophy up there. Then we could just fill in the particulars for each child. So the exemption would be filled in online. Then it would be wonderful to be able to track the progress of the exemption form online. This should cut down on a lot of work for everyone and make the exemption process more consistent around the country. Perhaps there could be just one office processing exemptions – then we could have well trained, home education friendly staff in the MoE office handling the exemptions.

Suggestion for the future:

Family Exemption Application – to be filled in online

– Ability to add children’s specific details as they turn 6 (or when pulling children out of school)

Ability to track progress of exemption application online

A smaller number of staff, home education friendly and knowledgeable, to process exemption applications.

5. Flexibility of the Exemption Application when it comes to different philosophies.

At the moment the exemption form application seems to be set up for one philosophy which lines up with how children are taught in school. Home education is quite different. MoE and ERO staff need to understand all the different philosophies and applications of those philosophies.

Suggestion for the future:

Perhaps you could have a workshop for those in the MoE and ERO who have anything to do with home educators and invite a few home educators to speak on some of the different approaches to home education.

6. Special needs

I hear from parents of special needs children way to often who are having trouble getting their exemptions. Often the school Principal has commented on the unsuitability of the parents to home educate, when in actual fact he is looking after and protecting the extra funding he gets. What makes these parents so upset is the fact that, yes, the school does get extra funding but the school does not use it on their child. The child is placed at the back of the classroom with colouring in papers and pencils all day and the funds are used elsewhere. These parents know that they can do a much better job than the schools but they are denied this until we kick up a fuss, on behalf of the ones we hear about. How many parents have given up on the exemption process and their child is still in the back of the classroom colouring in?

Parents should not need to have their special needs child assessed to get an exemption. It can be voluntary especially if they want to use any special education services offered for special needs children, but not compulsory.

Suggestion for the future:

Please do not contact principals about special needs children. Please just process the exemption application based on whether the child will be taught at least as regularly and well as in a special class or clinic or by a special service.

It would also be helpful if there was more information on the exemption form about what is available for home educated children with special needs. I know that was one of the things that was of interest to the Red Tape Cluster Buster team.

7. ECE

Providing information about whether our children had been in an ECE during the last 6 months (when our children are turning 6 or being pulled out of school) is not a requirement of the current legislation and does not demonstrate to the MoE that we have the ability to ‘teach our child as regularly and well as in a registered school’. Just because they are asking this of all children entering school (as per Jim’s letter to me) does not mean that they need to ask this of children being home educated.

Suggestion for the future:

Drop all info about ECE from the exemption form.

8. The need to see home education friendly staff in the MoE, especially in the local offices where the exemption applications are processed.

We do not want to see anyone in the local MoE office who ‘does not like home schooling and does not think anyone should be able to do it’.

The same goes for the ERO. The ERO come into our home and make a judgment on our family and lifestyle. It is a very nervous time for home educators. We need reviewers who thoroughly understand all the different styles of home education – perhaps just a few reviewers throughout New Zealand.

We also need local MoE offices to listen to us so that we can write in our exemptions the way we want to home educate our children and not have to write what we think the MoE wants to hear.

Suggestion for the future:

Check out all staff dealing with home educators. Make sure that they understand the different philosophies and approaches to education.

Institute a complaints or appeal process where parents can bring their complaints if they feel they are being unfairly treated by a local MoE or ERO office.

9. The success of home educators

I don’t know of any home educators on the dole or who have been on the dole. This must say a lot about the home education environment in New Zealand and the good work that parents are doing with their children whether they are using a very academic programme or the natural learning/unschooling approach. Here is a New Zealand survey answered by those who have finished being home educated: Beyond homeschooling in New Zealand

What the MoE is doing well

Over the years we have had a good environment for home educating in New Zealand, even though we have a lot of concerns that are being mentioned in these Scoping Surveys. Once we get our exemptions we are able to do what we like and we are seeing some amazing things which home educated graduates are doing. We have had some very friendly home educating staff in the MoE and ERO dealing with home educators over the years which has been very encouraging.

10. School focused exemption form.

Most home educators do not follow a timetable – they are more goal orientated and/or focused on natural learning and the teachable moment.

Suggestion for the future:

The exemption form is good in this respect. It is the local MoE offices, particularly the Lower Hutt local MoE office, that is insisting on each exemption having a timetable and saying that there is not enough academics for a 6 year old. It is way over the top. Please train the local offices in the basic alternatives: timetable or integrated curriculum description or description of typical routines used.

11. Records of progress and achievement

‘In our heads’ has been an acceptable way to keep a “record of progress and achievement” for over 28 years. Now we are asked to keep records on the exemption form – weekly, termly, annually. ERO reviews in the past were about talking to the parents, not the children, to see how the parents were teaching the children. It was all about the ERO finding out what was in the parents’ heads – not about written reports. There is plenty of time to come up with a report for the ‘ERO, further education or training’ at the time of these events. Please see this post that I wrote after the Getting to know you meeting with you: https://hef.org.nz/2014/record-of-progress-and-achievement/

Suggestion for the future:

Please remove this from the exemption application pack: ‘Remember, you will need to have a record of progress and achievement over time i.e. weekly, termly, annually. This may also be needed when your child goes on to further education or training.’

12. Topic plans

These are of benefit for the MoE, not the parent. Education at home happens in a completely different way than it does at school. Some home educators may use a topic plan, but most don’t. So it is a complete waste of time for the purpose of assessing whether someone can teach ‘as well as’ a registered school. Most home educators fill this in the way they think the MoE would like to hear, not the way it happens in their homes.

Suggestion for the future:

Please help us to be honest in our exemption applications by being able to explain exactly how we plan to teach our child/ren as regularly and well as in a registered school, and not just fill in what we think the MoE wants to hear. Megan, from the Red Tape Cluster Buster team, was very understanding of the current process and wanted us to be aware that the Ministry understands that there is difference in current practice. What we write in the Broad Curriculum Areas and Curriculum Areas sections of the exemption form (hopefully these two questions will be combined to focus on the Home Educator Overarching Philosophy) sets the stage for how the MoE will look at the whole exemption application. In other word’s what we write in these two areas will be reflected in what we write for the Topic Plan and Regularity. So if we have a bookwork approach to our home educating then the MoE will expect to see a Topic Plan and a Timetable. If we write up our understanding of natural learning/unschooling and show how we plan to go about applying it in our homes, then the Topic Plan and the Regularity questions should be answered quite differently to the way the bookwork approach will be written up – with a focus on how natural learning will work in our children’s lives. Again, please help the MoE staff in the local offices to understand this as well.

13. The statutory declaration

Does this really need to be signed by a JP or other authorised person? Heaps of other forms of more importance do not need to be witnessed like this.

Suggestion for the future:

Put the form online and let us sign it online under our MoE number.

14. Should it be taking 4-6 weeks for exemptions to be processed?

In the past we often heard back in 4-6 days.

Suggestion for the future:

Encourage the local MoE offices to process our exemption applications much more quickly than is happening in some regions.

15. Complaints

It’s important for the MoE and ERO to realise that sometimes (way too often) people complain about a family and their home education programme because they are just plain against home schooling. They don’t understand it and are critical without finding out about it. Other times an ex-spouse or ex-partner (who might once have been supportive of home education) will make trouble by asking for a review to try to hurt the one still home educating.

Suggestion for the future:

Find out the facts before sending the ERO in. Or get the ERO to understand that some complaints may be malicious. Please include contact details of home education groups on any letters/emails you send to home educators due to have a review suggesting that they contact other experienced home educators before they have their review.

16. Failed ERO reviews

There needs to be clarity over the words that the MoE sends to the family after a failed ERO review – ‘if the parents indicate they accept the finding’ etc. Some home educators have difficulty in signing the form if they cannot accept the findings.

Suggestion for the future:

Please change this wording so that families can accept the findings of the ERO review without feeling like they are agreeing that this is what their home education is like.

17. Attitude of MoE staff

Home Education has not grown in New Zealand as it has in some other countries like the USA and Australia. I am beginning to think that part of this reason is the attitude of some staff in the local MoE offices – in particular, Lower Hutt and Hamilton. Families have been questioned by the MoE and some staff have even tried to put families off home educating, as have some Principals. Some families have been made to feel bad about wanting to pull their children out of school either by the local MoE office or by the Principal.

Suggestion for the future:

We are thankful to know that there is a new Manager in the Lower Hutt local MoE office. We can’t do a lot about the Principals but having home education friendly staff in the MoE will help this situation.

18. Beneficiaries 

Beneficiaries are being told by some WINZ offices that they cannot home school and be on the benefit. I am not sure if there is anything you can do about this. We may need to go to the WINZ head office ourselves about this.

From the Home Education Foundation’s submission on the Beneficiary Bill October 2012: https://hef.org.nz/beneficiaries/submissions/home-education-foundations-submission/ 

6. The Bill will not necessarily save the government money

Single mothers on a benefit

We have heard from a number of mothers that the birth fathers of their children are paying maintenance to Work and Income which is paying for a good portion of their benefit. If this is so and the mother is mainly relying on the children’s birth father rather than the government, then chasing the mother into employment and forcing the children into preschool will not save much money but will continue to put the family through unnecessary hardship.

Home educators save the government in school costs

According to Ministry of Education statistics, New Zealand spends US$5,582 (approx NZ$6,790.51) per primary school student per year and US$6,994 (approx NZ$8,501.67) per secondary school student per year. This is how much money home educating sole parents save the government annually. A sole parent home educating three children could be saving the government around NZ$22,000 per year, which is more than her benefit. If she has special needs children, she could be saving the government even more: special schools in New Zealand spend up to NZ$160,000 per year on each student.

Meanwhile the cost of a year’s ECE for one child attending 15 hours’ preschool per week is approximately NZ$5112.90 per year, and 75% of ECE funding comes from the government.

We believe that work test requirements should be mindful of, and friendly toward, the monetary and social benefits of home education at all levels, and should seriously consider the possibility of pursuing delinquent fathers for maintenance rather than harrying single mothers into the workplace.

Suggestion for the future:

Perhaps contact the WINZ  Head Office and suggest that they make having an exemption to home educate a reason not to have to go out to work for 15 hours a week when the youngest child is 5, or 30 hours a week when the youngest child is 14. Some WINZ offices have this approach, while others are being unreasonable and putting a lot of stress on mothers (and occasionally fathers) wanting to do the best for their children.

Further observations: Two recent New Zealand studies that might be of interest are:

PhD study on Home Education in New Zealand

and part of the

NCHENZ Statistical Survey for 2013 in pdf format

We are really excited about the processes that the MoE is using at the moment to get to know how home educators really think and operate. We trust that in the future we will be able to speak the same language with the National and the local MoE offices.

We look forward to seeing a copy of all the feedback and the summary of this collated feedback by the end of November 2014.  We look forward to being a part of, and being able to comment on, the feedback on this document to ensure you have accurately captured what is working well and what people would like to see changed.  We would love to be a part of the next steps and to comment on them as well.

Thank you, Jim, Sonya and Lucy for instigating all of this.


Barbara Smith

National Director



MoE Problem Scoping Survey: please make it known and fill it out

Don’t forget to get your Problem Scoping Surveys into the MoE today (at a stretch early Monday morning – the MoE wont be working over the weekend, we have until midnight to get the Problem Scoping Surveys in, so early Monday morning will get the Surveys to the MoE before they start processing them).

Addresses for sending the Scoping Survey back:

email: Home.Schooling@minedu.govt.nz

snail mail: Lucy Ambrose, 45-47 Pipitea St, Wellington

phone: 04 463 8946 | Ext 48946

or look for the addresses in Jim Greening’ letter.

Home Education Foundation letter which covers exemption form, beneficiaries, International home educators and Keystone.

– MoE/ERO issues

– Changes in the MoE

– MoE discussions introduction to the Red Tape Cluster Buster meetings

– Preparation for the MoE discussions with Red Tape Cluster Buster meetings andrelevant for the Problem Scoping Survey
– Discussions home educators had online at Clutter buster group or (for ease of reading as not everyone can get onto the Google docs) here…https://hef.org.nz/coming-events-archives-2012/red-tape-cluster-buster/ (Also a lot of very good information to aid you in filling out the Problem Scoping Survey)

– Record of Progress and Achievement (an example of the new National MoE office staff understanding home educators)

– Truancy and the Home Schooler/Home Educator (another success with the National Office in that Megan showed us alternatives)

– Scoping Meeting 15 July 2014 – Getting to know you

– 2nd Meeting 28 July 2014 – Red Tape Cluster Buster Meeting

– MoE scoping Home Educators – email

– Feedback Form (Problem Scoping Survey) on MoE website

– Email to the MoE about the Scoping Survey from a Home Educator

– Problem Scoping Survey: ideas and deadline

– MoE’s reply to Yumiko’s email about the Scoping Survey

– MoE Problem Scoping Survey: please make it known and fill it out

– The last of Craig Smith’s writings before he died 3 years ago

– MoE Problem Scoping Survey


Please share/forward this link with other home educators.


From the Smiths:


Updated 1 October 2014:  Three years on (Craig Smith’s Health) page 7 click here


Needing help for your home schooling journey:



Here are a couple of links to get you started home schooling:

Information on getting startedhttps://hef.org.nz/getting-started-2/


Information on getting an exemptionhttps://hef.org.nz/exemptions/

This link is motivational: http://hef.org.nz/2012/home-schooling-what-is-it-all-about/

Exemption Form online: https://hef.org.nz/2012/home-schooling-exemption-form-now-online/

Coming Events: https://hef.org.nz/2013/some-coming-events-for-home-education-during-2013-2/

Beneficiaries: http://hef.org.nz/2013/where-to-for-beneficiary-families-now-that-the-social-security-benefit-categories-and-work-focus-amendment-bill-has-passed-its-third-reading/