Many parents who for various reasons can’t homeschool their children themselves, are looking for home-based learning centres, which their children can attend and as a result, cottage schools or private learning centres are mushrooming all over the country.
By definition, home education refers to education that a child receives in his or her own home. It may be supervised by a parent, tutor or other suitable person, as long as it is mainly in the child’s own home.
If the child mostly attends ‘school’ at another venue, then it does not fall under Home Education.
Currently (2015) there is no provision in the law for cottage schools and learning centres.
According to the Pestalozzi Trust, the homeschool legal defence association:
“The law in SA provides for home education and institutional education.
Home education is defined in the law as education at the child’s own home. A learner who is schooled at a place other than his own home can therefore not be lawfully registered as a home learner. (We have been contacted by centres in trouble, who were instructed by their curriculum supplier to register their learners as home learners. Upon inspection by the education department these learners were not found at home, but at school – in the centre.)
There is no separate provision in the law for a small school with fewer than 20 learners; small schools are seen by the law as schools. To be legal a small school therefore has to register as an independent school.
Most provincial regulations for the registration of independent schools require at least 20 learners, which leaves a cottage school with fewer learners in a difficult situation.
However, such a school can join the Pestalozzi Trust. Contact the Trust at www.pestalozzi.org to request application forms.
Education in a small school set-up usually constitutes quality education, which the Trust should be able to defend in a member school. Member schools receive an emergency number to call, should the institution, its staff, learners or parents be contacted by government officials in relation to the education provided by the institution.
Home schooling families, who take in learners from other families, are NOT home schooling those other learners. They are operating a school. This also applies to member families of the Pestalozzi Trust. Such member families who take in other learners must contact the Trust without delay to ensure the continuation of their membership. If a family is a member of the Trust and takes in other learners, the family’s membership of the Trust lapses automatically, and the other learners and their parents won’t be covered by the host family’s Trust membership. The family is now operating a school, and should apply for school membership to continue to enjoy the support of the Trust. “
- The Association for Homeschooling‘s Find a Centre service
- Cottage Schools on Facebook and request to join the closed group
Adele Breedt, has expressed the following caution to parents looking for a cottage school:
“There are an encouraging, but also an alarming, amount of Cottage Schools springing up all over the country. Folk with absolutely no homeschooling experience or knowledge are jumping on board, because yes, it is true, our education system is in trouble.
Parents are being seduced with impressive qualifications and fancy-looking pre-packaged curricula. But note that institutionalised schooling (public or private) is not homeschooling. Replicating the broken system, albeit with less children, does not fix it. There is a vast difference in approach and curricula.
Homeschooling, even when it takes place in a small Cottage School, needs to be personalised, not prescriptive, to be successful. Subjects, and material for those subjects, need to be chosen for (or by) each individual child (it’s not a matter of one size fits all) and the volume and pace also need to be adjusted according to the child’s strengths and challenges. The curriculum should be a tool and not a slave driver.
The facilitator thus needs to have a good working knowledge of learning styles, of what’s available on the homeschooling market (and elsewhere) and what suits who. The focus should be on mastery, not the completion of a syllabus. Tests and exams should not take pre-eminence, in fact they should only be introduced in high school and taught as any other skill. Furthermore, to be effective it needs to be relational.
Facilitators need to be caring individuals that want to see the child succeed. They need to partner with the child (and his parents) for the long haul. They must be willing to guide, mentor, support and encourage and have the know-how and experience to get the child to his destination (and that does not necessarily mean a matric certificate for all).
Finally, homeschooling should teach skills and grow the heart, it should immerse the child in life and prepare him for it!
Does the Cottage School you are considering do this?”
Questions for Parents to Ask a Cottage School
While there is a growing need for the kind of individualised education in small groups that cottage schools can offer, sadly, there have been many reports of parents feeling disappointed or even ‘scammed’ by unscrupulous cottage school owners.
These are some questions for parents to ask a prospective cottage school before enrolling their children, to help them ascertain the kind of school it is and whether it will meet their needs.
- Is the cottage school registered with the Pestalozzi Trust, so that they have legal backing if parents or the school encounter any problems with officials from the DBE?
- How does the kind of education offered differ from that offered in the state school system?
- How many students are in each class and each grade?
- How many teachers or teacher aides employed at the school?
- What is their philosophy of learning?
- What curriculum or resources do they use?
- Do learners get homework?
- What does the school expect from parents?
- What are the school’s views on term time absences e.g for family holidays
- How much are parents involved with the school?
- Can you drop in anytime to see what’s happening?
- What is the school’s behaviour management and discipline policy?
- How does the school identify struggling students?
- What support is there for children who struggle with formal learning?
- How does the school accommodate gifted learners?
- Can you speak to current parents at the school?
- Is there a parent network, like a whatsapp group, so that parents can support each other and stay in touch?
- How is technology used at the school?
- Are there regular excursions and outings and are the costs included or extra?
- Are there other non-traditional school subjects or projects e.g a kitchen garden, music, art, exercise classes?
- Does the school deal with Life Orientation issues such as family planning education and sex ed?
- Is there a trial period before enrolling?
- What kind of school leaving options are offered? Cambridge, GED, NSC?
- What is the notice period required when removing a child from the school?
- What are the payment terms?
- How does the school assess children’s progress?
- How does the school report to parents on the children’s progress?