Waterloo Road and Home Schooling

A new series of Waterloo Road started on BBC1 last night and it was disappointing to see it relying so heavily on negative stereotypes about home schooling.

It’s the first day of a new school year at the progressive comprehensive and one of the new arrivals is Ruth who has been home-schooled for quite some time by her divorced father. Ruth is only back in mainstream schooling because of pressure from her mother. It is clear that this is a highly dysfunctional family (or ex-family) and home-educated Ruth is portrayed as arrogant, over-confident, mouthy and devious. She dominates her first English lesson, dismissing TS Eliot’s The Waste Land as “simplistic”.

The script implies very clearly that these character flaws are the result of her isolating home-schooling experience.  She is very unhappy to be back at school, attempts to get expelled and is a problem for the new head teacher (Amanda Burton) in all sorts of ways. Before the end of the first episode, she has run away and had to be rescued from the  freezing moors amidst much melodrama.

We can be fairly sure that if Ruth reappears in subsequent episodes, we will see the socialising influence of school life as she matures into a kind and sensible young lady. The message will be that she is much better off in school than while she was being “hot-housed” by her father.

All this may make good television drama but it is a world away from the typical family that takes on the challenge of home schooling.  Although there are a small number of single parents who home-educate their children, it is much more likely that the mother and father are still very much together and equally committed to home education. Home schooling is not associated with dysfunctional family situations, quite the contrary.

Home-educated children do not turn out to be arrogant and sociopathic and there is no reason why home schooling should be an isolating experience. There is a strong and mutually supportive community of home schooling families out there as well as any number of other “normal” opportunities for children to integrate with their peers. They usually emerge from the experience balanced, resourceful and independent, but every child is different.

It would be good to see some positive and accurate depictions of home schooling and its effects in the media but perhaps they do not make such exciting television. It is to be hoped that Shed Productions, who are responsible for Waterloo Road, will offer a more constructive perspective in future episodes.

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