Saturday, 8 August 2009

Why do parents choose to home educate?

As far as I can make out, and I am very ready to be corrected on this, home educators can be divided broadly into two groups. Firstly, we have those who choose not to send their children to school at primary age and then send them to secondary school or college in order to take examinations. The second group consists of parents who are happy to send their children to school and then withdraw them later, often at secondary age for a variety of reasons. York Consulting did a survey of nine LAs and found that roughly twice as many children of secondary age were home educated, compared to primary age children. It seems to be all but unheard of for parents never to send their children to school at all at any age between five and sixteen. (Actually, I only know of two offhand; me and Fiona Nicholson of Education Otherwise. But I dare say there are others).

The fact that the majority of home educated children are withdrawn from secondary school is interesting. It seems that most home educating parents have nothing against school in principle. In other words, roughly two thirds of home educating parents are quite happy to send their children there until something goes wrong. We can perhaps term such parents reactive home educators. They do not really choose home education, it just seems the best solution to a problem. The other category, those who do not send their kids in the first place, could perhaps be called proactive home educators. They have made a definite decision to follow this course of action.

Parents deregister their children for many reasons, but bullying or some form of special educational need stand out as very common reasons. It is hard not to conclude that if someone could wave a magic wand and make the schools better, then the number of home educators would dwindle dramatically. Of course, this is all based upon the number of home educating parents known to LAs. There may quite possibly be a huge number entirely unknown to them. What is also intriguing is that if we look at individual school years, a definite pattern emerges. Hardly any children are home educated in Reception or Year One, but when the teenage years are reached, the number soar up. Why should this be? Is it simply coincidental that parents who have apparently been quite content for their children to go through the school system for nine or ten years, suddenly become enthusiastic home educators when their children are fourteen? Or is it that the children themselves start behaving like very awkward or troubled young people and the parents are persuaded that problems at school are the root cause? What is it at that sort of age that suddenly makes home education such a very attractive prospect for parents who have seemingly never thought of it before?

I do not put forward any sort of hypothesis here, it is just something which I have noticed and find puzzling. I would be grateful for any explanation.


  1. First of all we need to question if more children really are withdrawn to home educate during the secondary years than the primary years and I don't think the York study supports this theory. For one thing, the largest jump in numbers happens between Primary and Secondary education.

    Much of the increase between primary and secondary HEers in the study may be accounted for by cultural/philosophical reasons. 3 of the 9 LAs selected for the study included high proportions of children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds (they were chosen for this reason). In one county over half of the known children were from this group. Of the children whose ethnicity was known, 23% were from this group. These three LAs alone accounted for 79% of the increase in numbers between primary and secondary education. I believe there is a cultural tendency for this group to send children to school for the primary years and then withdraw them from the system (especially girls). If this is the case, nearly all will be known to the LA. These families are of course home educating for philosophical reasons and are not 'reactive' home educators.

    Gradually over the years, home educators who have never used schools will become known to the LA and will make up part of these increased numbers. The secondary age students will include those 'found' throughout the primary and secondary years so the numbers will build year on year if they remain home educated. It's also possible that older children are more likely to be reported to the LA by medical staff and other people they come into contact with. They may be asked for details of their new school when it's realised that they are old enough to have moved up, for instance.

    Logic suggests that unknown home educators are more likely to be home educating for philosophical reasons as the majority are probably unknown because they have never registered with a school. If Badman's estimate is correct there are 3 times as many unknown HEers than known. The study figures will be biased towards children who have been de-registered from school; towards children who have had problems with the system.

    Obviously many begin home educating because of problems at school but many of these go on to become home educators by choice and wouldn't use schools even if the problems were solved so they move from 'reactive' to 'proactive' home educators. Many have also said that they would have home educated sooner if they had known it was a legal option.

    In all the meetings I've attended where the question has been asked, the majority have said that they are unknown to their LEA and most of these were parents of children aged between 5 and 12. At the last meeting I attended only 2 of about 12 families were known.

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