What Do You Do When the Ministry of Education Sends Your Exemption Application Back For More Information?

What Do You Do When the Ministry of Education Sends Your Exemption Application Back For More Information?

Posted in Tough Questions

This is such a common occurrence, it is virtually standard procedure. It is nothing to worry about: they are not turning you down, they just want some more information here or there. Fine, just shovel a bit more in there and send it back.

They will often request more information under the following headings: Broad Curriculum Area; Study Area; and Timetable.

“Broad curriculum – are you using the New Zealand state school curriculum? If not, you will need to provide details of the seven core curriculum areas….”

When responding to a request for an application for exemption from enrolment, the MoE sends out its own definitions of the key words from Section 21 of the Education Act, which require home educators to teach “at least as regularly and well as in a registered school.”

Their definition of the word “well” stresses that the curriculum is your curriculum. Home Educators are not required to use the New Zealand state school curriculum nor are they required to cover the “seven core curriculum areas”. If the MoE sounds like they want you to do these things, you should only need to remind them of the absense of any legal requirement to do so, and then be able to fully state your own particular subject areas, however they might be covered (subject by subject, thematic, unschooling, etc.) It is not unreasonable to expect a prospective home education parent to be able to clearly explain the broad curriculum areas which they intend to use. Never be intimidated into organising your curriculum along lines the MoE sets…unless you like their system better than your own. Ask a couple of other families in your local support group how they did it….that’s what the support group is there for!

You may feel that having written certain things, you will be obliged to do those things. Not true. The Ministry expects you to change your educational approach and tactics as time goes by: your perception of the educational task will grow and mature, the needs of the children will change, certain resources you started out with will prove ineffective with your children’s learning styles and/or your teaching style, etc. In fact, the Ministry has told me that they would be worried if you didn’t change over time! The application form is mainly so that the Ministry can see that you are a competent person, you know what you are doing, you have a plan, you can work the plan, and that both you and your children are excited about it! These are the main things to communicate in whatever you write….your thorough confidence in your ability to succeed, enthusiasm, excitement, anticipation, total competence, that you are plugged into local and national support groups, that you are flexible and totally committed.

“Study area – this should be described.”

Fine. Describe it. Again, there are no requirements in the Act regarding “study area”, although there will be plenty of preconceived ideas in the mind of the MoE official reading the application. These officials either need reminding or instructing about what constitutes acceptable home education environments: the kitchen table, toaster, crumbs and all; the beat-up but comfortable old couch on the back porch; or like Mark Twain said was the best classroom of all: a log down by the river with a child sitting on one end and a parent sitting on the other. The questions in the exemption application are clearly coming from a very narrow “classroom” perspective, as if they expect you to set up a regular “school” in your own home. Actually, many of us start out that way, but home education can be infinitely more flexible and fun and effective than that.

Remember that classrooms are set up for the mass teaching of a large number of mixed-ability and mixed- background children by one state (read: politically) trained teacher. The logistics of a home education scenario, which is the far superior and near-ideal tutoring/mentoring system, bear virtually no resemblance to the logistics of the classroom, rendering the home a far more effective, fun and efficient learning and teaching situation. Just think about it: how long do you suppose it takes to get all 28 seven-year-olds in a classroom simply to get out their maths books and turn to page 12? Within the last six months we had a Massey University College of Education student reveal how they teach them at college that today’s teachers can only expect one minute (that is ONE MINUTE) of meaningful time per student per day in the typical school classroom. So how can we miss?

“Regularity/timetable – please provide a timetable to show approximately how much time will be spent on each curriculum area daily and weekly.”

We wrote back to them when they asked this same question and simply pointed out that we do not work to a timetable, so to write one up would be hypocritical. We also mentioned how the number of hours spent in instruction bear little or no relation to anything in the realm of learning. We carried on to describe how our time is taken up, a bit about the routine and probable disruptions. This seemed to be good enough, for we got the exemption. I still believe that if we are simply honest and are able to clearly articulate our personal policy/philosophy they are happy to (and probably obliged to) run with that.

Instruction in most home education situations is self-consciously a 24-hour-a-day occupation. For some it is helpful to perceive two realms of academic learning. The first is the basic skills that must be mastered: the three Rs. These can be further broken down into: 1) Inputs, such as reading, listening, comprehension, study and research skills, interpretation of the written word, voice inflections, body language, etc. 2) Outputs, such as writing, penmanship, grammar, spelling, composition, debate, oratory, voice modulation, body language, etc. 3) The four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division plus a range of everyday skills such as measurements, estimation, ratios, percentages, volumes, areas, many of which one should be able to do mentally. The second realm of learning is everything else, virtually all of which one can learn for themselves once they have mastered the basic skills. You can organise this “everything else” realm anyway you like: subjects like history, science, geography, logic, technology, animal husbandry, woodwork, auto mechanics, languages, whatever.

There is no minimum or maximum number of subjects you must cover, there is no sequence prescribed that home educators must follow, there is no depth of knowledge one must obtain…..as the MoE says in its definition of “well”: it is your curriculum. According to the MoE’s 1996 Homeschooling Desk File, “Ministry officers will look for some evidence of planning and balance that we would expect would be a feature of curriculum organisation in any registered school.”

Sometimes the people reviewing our exemption applications infer that we need to be spending as much time on each subject as they do in schools. Again, this ignores the vast superiority in the effective use of time which is typical of a home education (tutoring) situation. They certainly cannot require any specific number of hours.

We home educators too often and too easily get intimidated by these MoE officials because the actual requirements of the Education Act, even when coupled with the MoE’s own definition of the key words from the Act “regularly” and “well”, are so minimal and vague we just get the feeling there must be something more here required of us. But no, there isn’t. So let us not acquiesce to them, for to do so would set a pattern which would be recognised by them eventually as a standard practice, which would one day find itself written into legislation as a legal requirement.

The officials will always have us on, pushing the conventional school model on us by assumption. We need to simply hold our ground and politely refuse to be pushed around. We also need to be informed. Buy a copy of the Act and become familiar with the relevant sections. There really isn’t much. Subscribe to TEACH Bulletin to keep up to date with legislative developments. And keep in close contact with your local support group, and network with others around the country to pick up invaluable teaching tips and ideas on where to locate and how they use various resource materials. Home educators are re-discovering a lot of very effective teaching methods which have become virtually lost to our culture because of 120 years of compulsory, secular mass state schooling in classrooms.

From Keystone Magazine
January 2000 , Vol. VI No. 1
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig