'Unschooled’ sisters hit out at Tánaiste's 'closed-minded' homeschooling comments

'Unschooled’ sisters hit out at Tánaiste's 'closed-minded' homeschooling comments

Rachel and Ella Byrne with their father John: 'There’s a big misconception that the only way to access education is through the system or certainly the only way to access quality education is through an institution.'

Sisters who spent their childhood being educated at home to great success have hit out at “closed-minded” comments by the Tánaiste in relation to homeschooling.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Micheál Martin said he was “not a great fan of homeschooling” as he believes children need to socialise.

He said the recent fiasco surrounding Enoch Burke's standoff with Wilson's Hospital school in Westmeath shows the “importance” of socialisation and that people should be educated in schools.

Mr Burke and his siblings were homeschooled. 

However, sisters Ella and Rachel Byrne, from Wicklow, have defended the homeschooling community.

The sisters were ‘unschooled’, a type of home education that focuses on self-directed learning rather than following a set curriculum. 

Ella began at a traditional secondary school at the age of 12, teaching herself Irish before beginning her studies. She is currently a third-year student at University College Dublin, studying business and law.

The home education community in Ireland is “really tight-knit”, she said. 

“The parents make a really big effort to make sure children actually are socialising, that they get the very same opportunities that would be expected in the school environment." 

“I think it's unfortunate and also embarrassing for Ireland as a nation in 2023, when there is so much liberalisation, for a national representative to come out and say something so closed-minded and conservative.” 

When asked if she was insulted by the Tánaiste’s reference to the Burke family, Ella said she was. 


“I think you’d be very hard pushed to come across somebody who really supports or agrees with the Burkes’ current actions but to compare one unfortunate set of circumstances to a whole network of people, and a whole community of people that have prospered and flourished, I think it’s just very insulting really. 

I think it shows the marginalisation of a really important community.” 

Like her sister, Rachel also began attending a traditional secondary school in first year, having spent her childhood learning at home. She found Mr Martin’s comments “disappointing”.

“To hear an educated man in a position of authority and influence making an uninformed comment about a whole organisation and a sweeping generalisation, I think it's disappointing. It’s so uninformed and such a narrow perspective.

“I think there’s a big misconception that the only way to access education is through the system or certainly the only way to access quality education is through an institution. It’s more important how you are educated as opposed to where." 

Their father John Byrne said people often erroneously use the term ‘home schooling’ when in actual fact there are various methodologies to home education. The first question he would regularly be asked was “how do they socialise?”

“What’s interesting is that nobody ever came to me or my wife and said: ‘How are you going to teach English or maths?’

“I don’t believe school is the optimum place for children to learn social skills for a start, and I never was of that view so I had no concerns at all that the children were missing out in that regard.” 

Having said that, the home education network would meet up regularly, and host lots of different excursions.  

“That sense of play and socialisation would happen in a structured and unstructured way. What’s most important and what you can really see from home-educated kids is their capacity to play across different age groups." 

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