Well, I am certainly glad to find myself acquitted of the charge of dreaming up some connection between Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy and home education; I find that people have evidently been talking about this idea for years. Asking around, I have found a few home educators who feel that they have been suspected of this. Even the woman who sat next to me at the select committee was herself suspected by some professionals of having this syndrome a few years ago. She didn't, I hasten to add, have it at all. Most frequently, it seems to be with reference to ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as I surmised, but I have also found it associated with autism. All very curious. Actually, this shows Graham Badman in a rather better light. Instead of simply plucking the idea out of thin air, it suggests that he had actually been doing a bit of research. Mind you, as Julie said a few days ago, without knowing how he said it and exactly what was said, it is hard to know how serious he was being. I have certainly said things myself in exasperation such as, "I think some of these home educators must be absolutely mental!". Of course this has been said to my wife in the privacy of my own home; I would have thought twice about saying anything of the sort in front of a witness.
I don't suppose for a moment that Graham Badman meant to suggest that all home educating mothers suffered from this syndrome or even that it was a major factor in the decision to home educate. He is not a fool. The second meeting with Paula Rothermel took place after he had visited a home education group at which practically every child to whom he was introduced apparently had some special need or other. One was too gifted for school, another had ME, a couple were dyslectic, there was OCD, dyspraxia, ADHD and various other syndromes. I heard about this from one of the few mothers present who had home educated through simple choice. I can see that after meeting so many children described like this, he might have felt tempted to wonder what on earth was going on!
The main objection that people seem currently to be raising to the idea that there might be cases of Munchausen's by proxy among home educating mothers seems to be that the majority of home educators do not crave attention, which is usually seen as a defining factor of the syndrome. I am not so sure that this is a good argument. Often, the very act of withdrawing a child from school does attract attention to a mother. Attention from the school, from her family and friends, from the local authority, health services, sometimes even social workers. So although it may not be the only reason why parents take their kids out of school, it could still be a factor in some cases. I am not a huge fan of Paula Rothermel's research, as I said yesterday, but she did find that over a fifth of home educating parents have children whom they claim to have special educational needs.
In short, it should be quite clear now that I did not myself invent this idea of a connection between Munchausen's Syndrome and home education. I felt I had to nip that in the bud, otherwise I would find it being accepted as fact that Simon Webb told Graham Badman that home educators had Munchausen's! Without wishing to be unkind, I can't help noticing that the person who started this particular hare is not only on medication for anxiety, but has also self-diagnosed herself as suffering from dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. More worryingly, she has apparently retrospectively diagnosed some of her grownup children as having had similar learning difficulties. I would have thought that such a person could hardly keep too quiet on the subject of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy; never mind accusing complete strangers of starting a scare about it! It is however an interesting notion and I would be keen to find out more. I certainly would not dismiss it out of hand as a contributing factor in some parents decision to de-register their child, but I would have to see an awful lot of convincing evidence in order to persuade me that it was a major cause of home education.