Very little research has been conducted on home education in this country. There is a good deal of research relating to home education in the USA, but much of this is largely irrelevant as far as home education in the United Kingdom is concerned. The main reason for this is that the primary motivations for home education are completely different in the two countries. In America, the main reason parents give for choosing to educate their own children is, according to the latest surveys, "Being able to give a child a better education at home than would be received at school." Paula Rothermel analysed the thousand or so responses which she received to a mail-shot in the late nineties. The two most popular reasons for home educating in Britain were given as, "Having close family relationships and being together" and "having freedom and flexibility to do what we want, when we want". In other words, in America the main reason for home educating is education. In this country it is not.
Attempts to carry out research on the subject in this country though, often run into trouble. Ofsted are currently trying to find out about how home educators actually conduct their educational activities and what methods they favour. Most of the questions are fairly innocuous, and yet some parents have taken against the questionnaires to the extent that a boycott is being urged. This is a strange and unfortunate development for two reasons.
In the first place, most parents are only too happy to talk about their children's achievements and academic progress. Just start them off and they will go on interminably about their wretched children. "Janet is taking her maths GCSE two years early, John has been chosen for the rugby team" and much more in a similar vein. Those who do not talk like this are often those whose children are having problems at school. When parents respond to enquiries about how their children are doing by saying, "Oh, don't ask. You know what they're like at that age!" they are generally the ones whose children are not doing well educationally. When home educating parents behave like this and become prickly and defensive about questions, it gives the unfortunate impression that they too are reluctant to talk of their children's achievements for the same reason.
The second reason why it is an unfortunate position to take is that if home education is really successful, by whatever criteria, not just by counting GCSEs, then surely it is in the interests of home educators to publicise it? Why not share the achievements of home educated children? Once it is demonstrated as efficient, this will strengthen the hand of home educating parents when dealing with local authorities. They will be able to point to the evidence and say, "Look, it works! Here is the proof." As I said above, refusing to discuss the subject with either Ofsted, local authorities or anybody else who might be sceptical of the benefits of this method of education, just leads people to suppose that it is not a success or even worse, that there is something to hide
At a time when home education is increasingly being mentioned in newspapers, magazines and even in parliament, I think it frankly mad to refuse all engagement with what might be termed the educational establishment. A good beginning would be a well constructed project designed to look at the long term outcomes for all the home educated children in a single area, something along the lines of Rutter's work on the Isle of Wight. This would give us a strong basis for defending the practice against those who oppose home education. The Ofsted survey of the fifteen local authority areas looks to me very much as though it would be a good start in this direction.