As expected, opposition among home educators is stiffening towards the proposed feasibility study for which the Department for Children, Schools and Families has invited expressions of interest. Let's see exactly what the DCSF are trying to do and why. In the Impact Assessment connected with the Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009, it was suggested that it would be a good thing if more home educated children were to gain five GCSEs at grades A*-C. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether that would really be a good thing, let us see first why no effort has yet been made to establish a baseline. In other words, why don't the DCSF know to begin with how many home educated children are passing these examinations? Can't they find out without setting up some research project?
The problem with gathering the data on even such a simple thing as the number of GCSEs is as follows. To begin with of course, nobody has any real idea how many children are being home educated in this country. The York Consulting study carried out in 2006 concluded that it was impossible to find out, so the first job of the new study is to see if anything has changed, whether it will now be possible to count the number of home educated children accurately. I think most people would agree that there is nothing wrong in that. Now we come to the matter of GCSEs taken by home educated children.
Children currently leave compulsory education on the last Friday in June of the academic year in which they turn sixteen. After that day, no parent need have anything more to do with their local authority's education department, unless they choose to do so. Unfortunately, the GCSE results don't come through until a couple of months later, in August. Since almost all these are taken as private candidates, the results will not reach the local authority unless the parents go to the trouble of telling them. I certainly did not bother notifying Essex County Council about my daughter's IGCSE results; why would I? I dare say most parents feel the same and so local authorities simply don't find out about GCSEs passed by such children. Two things will be changing in this respect pretty soon.
The first thing to change is that the school leaving age is going up to eighteen. This will mean that local authorities will be in contact with home educating families for a year or two after the children are sixteen and should therefore get to hear about their GCSE results. The other thing likely to happen is that when the Children, Schools and Families Bill comes into force in April 2011, local authorities will probably start arranging for home educated children to sit GCSEs if they want to. This will probably mean a dramatic drop in the number of GCSEs which are sat as private candidates. These two events will mean that it will be a lot easier to find out how many children not at school are passing GCSEs. Of course many of them will still sit International GCSEs, and local authorities won't learn about these as a matter of course, but they will certainly be better informed than is now the case about educational attainment.
I would assume that these data will be collected without reference to parents, otherwise, the whole thing would become a nonsense. If the local authority are actively involved with all home educating families until the children are eighteen and if they mainly sit GCSEs via the maintained schools, then it will be easy enough to count how many home educated children are achieving that Holy grail of modern education; five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and Mathematics.
Personally, I would be curious to know about this. At the very least, I cannot see how it would cause any harm for people to know what the rough proportion is. For those in maintained schools it is about half the pupils. Will it be more or fewer for those taught at home? Instinctively, I feel that it will be many fewer, but I would be happy to be proved wrong.
The one thing which really puzzles me is why some parents are already getting worked up about this. Why would anybody object to having solid data about the educational attainment of home educated children? I quite see that many parents feel that those five GCSEs are irrelevant and that is fine; they are entitled to their opinions. I simply don't understand why they would be opposed to the information being made available for those who are interested. After all, home educating parents are happy enough to make disparaging remarks about the quality of education offered by state schools. And so indeed are those connected with the educational system not averse to hinting that home educated children receive an inferior education to those at school. Surely having the data about GCSEs, college, sixth form and university admissions would enable the discussion on the rival merits of these very different educational methods to move to a more measured and rational level?