There can be little doubt that in the right, carefully contrived circumstances, a child may thrive under a regimen of autonomous education. There can also be little doubt that a good many feckless and lazy parents use the excuse of "autonomous education" to neglect their children. Tony Moony and Myra Robinson, like the present author famous betes noires of the autonomous educators, frequently refer to what they see on housing estates. (Projects to American readers.)
What snobbishness! have they not heard of Paula Rothermel's research? Don't they know that working class parents can also home educate their children? Let me take you now to a typical, rundown housing estate in the London borough of Tower Hamlets and demonstrate the nature of the problem.
There are three "autonomously educated" teenage boys hanging round the estate during school hours. One is of Bengali origin, the other two white. Two are fourteen, the third is fifteen. The fifteen year old and one of the fourteen year olds have statements of special educational needs. Until six months ago, all three were regular and fairly persistent truants. They would usually go in to school for registration and then try and slip away to spend the rest of the day sitting in the stairwells of tower blocks or stealing sweets and soft drinks from local shops. When efforts were made to prevent their truanting and keep them in school, they caused so much disruption that the game wasn't worth the candle.
I have never been able to discover just who at the school encouraged the parents of these boys to deregister their children in order to "teach them at home". I do know that the staff breathed a sigh of relief and everybody agreed that it was the best solution to a tricky problem. These days they still smoke in the stairwells and sometimes play violent computer games in the flat of one of them whose mother is out at work all day. They are the envy of their mates and I suspect that it will not be too long before there are a few more "home educated" youths on the estate.
There are at least one or two such unfortunate children on almost every housing estate in Hackney and Tower hamlets. Significantly, talking to the parents of such disaffected youths invariably elicits the claim, "We're autonomous." It is a catchphrase gleaned from the internet. It is young people like this about whom some local authority officers are desperately worried. They may not form the majority of those who are technically being home educated, but there are enough of them to be a cause of real concern.
This is not a world which most of those posting on the HE-UK and EO message boards ever encounter. A world where books and learning are utterly unknown. Perhaps this is why they are reluctant to acknowledge its very existence, let alone discuss sensibly what is to be done about this great and growing problem.