Speech from Karen Kern at the Homeschooling Congress in Spain Spanien September 2011
My experience with home education
I have been home educating three of my five children for 9 years. They all went to school first. Two of my sons started with home education when they were 14 and 11 years old. The youngest left school two years later with 10. We were in conflict with the authorities for five years. We got fined twice and at the end of this time we were tired of this hopeless struggle although we won some victories. My fourth child wrote to the authorities by himself one year after he left school. He got invited to the president of the school authorities (second level). The president was very impressed by him and she offered him the possibility to learn at home if he agreed to be tested once a year at the school authorities. He accepted the offer. Shortly after this the president changed and the next one was much stricter. He didn’t extend this agreement to our two other sons.
After these five years we decided to leave Germany for a while and moved to England. Home education wasn’t the only reason, we already had played with the thought of moving into another country for quite a while. So it was just a kick to do it then.
We enjoyed the time in England. We didn’t have to argue for our decision to home educate our sons, which we had to do in Germany all the time. In Germany we noticed that this topic got a lot of people in rage when we told them about it. But this has changed since then.
We also enjoyed not being the only family in the wider area. We enjoyed being members of several home education groups and we loved the gatherings and events. This experience was a big gift for us and we still have contacts to our friends over there.
We moved back to Germany nearly three years ago because of family reasons. Although our youngest son was still of school age, we didn’t get into trouble with the authorities any more. All our sons did one of the German exams as private candidates. Our youngest son went back to England last year and started studying agriculture at college.
Funny enough, it is possible to takethe three different levels of graduation exams in Germany as a private candidate without being in school.
Two years ago I started working for Clonlara school and now I am running the German Clonlara home based education program. I am in contact with lots of home educating families - not only via Clonlara. Clonlara supports families individually – helps them making an individual curriculum, with the documentation of the learning process and writing reports about the learning process at the end of the year. Some of the enrolled families did get their home education accepted because of those reports which we did send to them.
The legal situation in Germany
In Germany the school laws are made by the federal states. Most of those state school laws would allow the possibility to educate ones children in another way. But the interpretation of these paragraphs is much stricter than it is written. School authorities and courts say that these other ways are only allowed if the child is so ill that visiting a school is not possible. Although this interpretation is supported by school authorities and most of the judges, there are still families where home education is tolerated by their local authorities. I already noticed during our own conflict, that not all the people working for the school authorities or the social services think in the same strict way. There are a lot who are aware of the bad situation at most schools and they think that home education might be a positive alternative for children or at least some children. If families have someone like this as a contact person then there could be a way of acceptance. But the families normally have to be very quiet about the home education.
What can happen to the families if the contact person doesn’t tolerate their home education?
Families can get fined. Fines depend on the income of the family and can be from 50 Euros to 1000 or sometimes 1500 Euros. If a family continues to home educate and the authorities assume that they will just pay the fine and go on with this practice, then they can get a coercive fine (fine in advance). This can be a lot more, 5000 Euros is common for this. And families can get this again after some weeks or some months. There are two federal states, where not sending children to school is not only a minor breach of the law (administrative offence) but a criminal act. But it is not common to send parents to jail for this. Most of the cases when parents had to go to jail, home education is not the main reason. They are sent to jail because they didn’t pay their fines. And they didn’t pay their fines because they think they are doing the right thing.
The legal changes in the last years
Another threat is to take away child custody. In 2007 there was a major change in the law. Since then not sending your children to school is in itself regarded as a reason to take away child custody. If children are over 16 and refuse to go to school any more, it happens in some cases that they are sent to a psychiatric clinic.
The current situation
When my family started home education was very seldom in the media. Nobody talked about it. But five years ago it started to turn up as a topic in the media more often. The first publications tended to be negative. But this has changed. During the last two or three years there were some good articles in magazines and newspapers and some good documentations in TV. And as the situation at schools is getting worse, it seems to have changed the mind of a lot of people. When I talk to other people about what I am doing, most of the time the reaction is different from what I experienced when we started with home education.
In general the situation has gotten worse during the last two or three years. The different authorities (school authorities, child welfare offices and administration offices) are much more connected now and they are aware that if families are signing their child off from school and don’t give the name of another school, this might indicate the intention to home educate. And often they start to inquire.
For families who like to start with home education quite often now the only way is to emigrate.