Monday, 30 November 2009

UK home education - the need for new research

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.


  1. Academics are about the nearest we have in the UK to impartial researchers. Generally, academics are experienced in, or can readily access expertise in research methods and research is subject to peer review before publication.

    From what has emerged with regard to research skills in other public-sector organisations during and after the HE review, this does not appear to be true for either former directors of children's services, nor Ofsted. I have no problems with engaging with such people, but I can quite understand why other home educators might object to doing so.

  2. >>>>>>In other words, in America the main reason for home educating is education. In this country it is not.<<<<<<

    I don't believe this is true.

    I've been a member of an American homeschool yahoo group (1900 members) for the last 10 years. The subject of why people HS often comes up and, because I am interested in the differences between UK and US HE'ers, I have even initiated discussion about this.

    What seems to happen is that people will at first say, 'because I can provide a better education for my children' but when you tease that out, they go on to explain that, actually, their real reasons are exactly the ones you quote from UK HE'ers: wanting to keep close bonds with their children and educational freedom.

    Freedom from fear of drugs, sexual immorality and the practice of their religion also feature highly.

    There is, in reality, massive overlap between the reasons for HE'ing in both countries. It just seems that, possibly, the first reason people choose to answer in surveys is different. This may be a cultural thing.

    Your impressions of very limited relationships within the HE community, which you have admitted to here, and your over-reliance on the daft things people say on email lists has led you to build a false picture of UK home education.

    However, I would love to see more detailed research on practice and outcomes here in the UK. It's well overdue. I'm confident, based on the 100's of HEers I've known personally over the last 14 years that such research would prove HE to be an excellent choice compared to school, based on any number of criteria. Bring it on!

    Mrs Anon,
    Yes, I'm baaaaack!

  3. Being able to say, 'Look here's the proof!' is easy with a clutch of IGCSE certificates, such as the ones my 15 year old is accumulating. However, when your child has an SEN, it's a lot more difficult to prove success.

    For my 18 year old daughter with HFA I could shout, 'Look, my daughter is still alive! Yay! She doesn't have anorexia, bi-polar disorder, self-harming or suicidal tendencies, she isn't depressed and doesn't have any other of the co-morbid conditions of the majority of school-educated girls with autism! Go Home ED!'

    But it's not as catchy.{g}

    Mrs Anon

  4. Ah, welcome back Mrs. Anon. Your sane and calm views have been greatly missed! I am not forming my opinions about why parents choose to home educate from what I read on the Internet lists. I agree , that would be a bit mad. The biggest survey in the USA, involving well over ten thousand home educators foound that 50% did indeed give their ability to provide a better education than school as the main reason for home educating. I am not a great fan of Paula Rothermel's research, but she did get over a thousand questionnaires returned to her. The two main reasons given there for home educating had nothing to do with education. I think that this is significant. The point I am making is that there is a desperate need for more research on the subject.

  5. Few people would disagree that more research would be a good thing, but the value of research depends on the researcher.

    When the organisation conducting the research already has a predefined and clearly stated agenda ( it is hardly surprising that people do not want to cooperate.

    That includes me. They've already decided that I, my relatives, and anyone else *I* consider appropriate to be involved in my children's education should be CRB checked before having access to my children. They've decided *they* know what constitutes the right education for my children, and I can only provide what *I* know to be correct with their permission, or rather the permission of some unspecified and possibly ignorant operative from the LA. Therefore, it's not unreasonable to suspect that any information I provide to them will be twisted or used selectively to promote that agenda.

    You say it's a strange and unfortunate development. Unfortunate it certainly is, but also completely understandable.

    For the record, my first reason for home educating would be the first one you listed, i.e. "Being able to give a child a better education at home than would be received at school." I was convinced this was the right course of action before either child was born, and I was also perfectly comfortable with the idea of a) registering with the LA, and b) providing the LA or any other relevant authorities with whatever information they wanted. Why not? However, two things that completely changed that attitude - one, the way the various parties (the government, Ofsted, Badman, the LAs) have conducted themselves, and two, the proposed legislation that completely reverses the position that I, the parent, am responsible for deciding how my child is educated. Morally, I don't need anyone's permission, and there is no room for compromise or cooperation with anyone who seeks to legally enforce otherwise.

  6. You raise some good points CiaranG, particularly about the CRB checks. these are not really directed against parents; I shall be posting along bit about it this evening. I don't personally see that the proposed new legislation does mean that you must seek permission to home educate. You would be under no obligation to notify the local authority that you intended to do so, for one thing.

  7. Simon: Do you want to expand on "these are not really directed against parents"? Follow the link I gave - the opinion of Ofsted seems pretty clear and specific, to me at least.

    As for not being obliged to notify the LA, I guess that depends on how you define obliged. If you did not notify them, then WHEN (not if, it's inevitable) they identified your child as being home educated, they would be duty bound to automatically issue a School Attendance Order, regardless of any education you may be providing. Thus, it would seem to me, you are obliged to register unless you wish to personally test the bounds of the new legislation at the local Magistrates court, risking a CRIMINAL conviction in the process.

  8. I would love to see more adults who were home educated making themselves known. The only ones that spring to my mind at the moment are Daniel and Natasha Beddingfield, and Lewis Hamilton. There must be many more however in the Sporting arena. As competition in sport is given so low profile in state school, unless most of our sports people are privately educated a good share must be home educated.

  9. I am all in favour of more research, but it is obvious that a certain section of the HE population will refuse to respond, which will make it worthless.
    As to the Ofsted survey - the issue is that the questionnaire seems confused as to the purpose.... if it designed to assess the LA, then asking home educators questions about how they home ed (given the current lack of trust) is bound to get people annoyed. If they want to find out more about how HE works, then they should be upfront about it and at least they may get more input. However I am (as I keep repeating) not given to conspiracies; it is obvious that only know home educators are going to get invited to the meetings and given surveys - because they are "known" -- and I can see no evidence that "certain types" of home educators have only been selected for the whole exercise.

  10. I hope it is not too late to comment on this post, but I would like to give my views on why ''my'' community home educate! It is simply for religious reasons and many have no money to put their children in a religious orientated school. But home education is not to be taken lightly because of an ideology and many of us are busier than if they were sending their children to school, believe me. We have to get up early to have the house ''relatively''ready to start school, then we have to swtich from ''sleepy head'' to ''teacher head'', and every break time, we just dance around one room with the feather duster in one hand and the hoover in another while the kids have a snack, and I can tell you, we go faster than the Household fairy!!! then lunch break/play time for them is our time to prepare diner. Then it is cold tea for us because most probably we forgot it on the side of the kitchen table, and maybe more lessons or outings, then husband's home time and then, while the kids are relaxing, we have the dishes to do and to clear the ''classroom'' and to prepare the next day lessons. And because we come from a minority group, we feel we have to prove we are good, we can do better. We, the home educating mothers of my community (since in my community, it is almost the women who home educate and do the household chores, lol) have to fight religious phobia from other people, atrocious misconceptions of our status and of our level of education. As soon as (some) people, especially officials, see us and the way we dress, they put a label on us, like ''uncouth and uneducated, illeterate and subdued'' and ''poor thing'' when it is not worse than this ... well, in this case, do you understand now why many of us are defensive, rebellious, angry and above all, fed up of the scrutiny? all what we want, it is for our children to have a brighter future, to go to university eventually (yes, home educated children can and do) but above all, to avoid for them the appalling language and manners and lack of respect and lack of morales of others we see on our estates. I am all in favour of more research and I deplore greatly that so many home educators of all communities are so suspicious of any survey... yet again, right or wrong, I can understand why...

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