Last week it was suggested on one of the home education lists that I was responsible for Graham Badman's mistaken views about the research carried out by Paula Rothermel. What are these mistaken views? Specifically, the allegation is that Graham Badman ignored the fact that Dr. Rothermel had conducted extensive research into home education and obstinately insisted that her work only involved thirty five children. Perhaps it is time to revisit this research and establish first whether or not Graham Badman was wrong in dismissing it.
In February 1997 Paula Rothermel, a student at Durham University, sent out two and a half thousand questionnaires to home educators belonging to Education Otherwise. the following year she sent out the same number again. A small number were also sent to LEAs and a few other places. The result was a little over a thousand responses. Two important points need to be made here. Firstly, this survey is a snapshot of the situation almost thirteen years ago, before online communities and before the exponential growth of home education in this country. It is well past its sell-by date. The second point is that only a fifth of parents responded. This immediately skews the findings. What sort of people replied? Parents who were struggling? Parents who were educated? parents who were articulate and successful at home educating? This is a classic case of a self selecting sample.
These questionnaires did not yield any information about the academic achievement of the children. We will come to that in a moment. They did reveal motives for home educating, how parents found the experience, what jobs they had and things like that. Now most home educating parents have the vague idea that Paula Rothermel showed that home educated children did better than schoolchildren. This is where the thirty five children that Graham Badman mentioned enter the picture. Paula Rothermel selected thirty five home educating families whose children she tested using the PIPS (Performance Indicators in Primary Schools) Baseline Assessments. These look at academic achievement in young children. It is unclear how many children were actually involved and in part of the work, Dr. Rothermel seems to suggest that it was thirty five children rather than thirty five families. This is where Graham badman got the figure of thirty five children. He did not pluck it from thin air. I have to say, thirty five children is a very small sample indeed. It is upon these assessments, carried out on a sample of children whose families self selected themselves over twelve years ago, that all of Paula Rothermel's conclusions about how well home educated children do, are based.
I do not think that Graham Badman can be blamed for stating that Dr. Rothermel's work was based upon thirty five children. Essentially, he was correct. As to whether it was I who told him this, well he saw Paula Rothermel twice before I had even spoken to him. Any objective person who reads Dr. Rothermel's work will probably come to pretty much the same conclusion that Graham Badman did.