I have noticed lately that I am being referred to as the only home educator who supports Graham Badman. By implication, I am also the only home educator who believes that Khyra Ishaq's life might have been saved had tighter regulations been in force when she was alive. I suppose the idea being, as Goebbals said, that if you tell a lie often enough people will start to believe it! I have to say at once, that even if I were the only person in the world who thought that tighter regulation was needed for home education, that wouldn't bother me at all. There was a time when Galileo was more or less a minority of one in thinking that the earth orbited the Sun, but he was still right. However, am I the only home educator in favour of things like registration? Let's look at the evidence.
There are three main ways of seeing what home educators think about Graham Badman's recommendations and Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009. They are, in ascending order of reliability; petitions, submissions to the Children Schools and Families select committee and the responses made by home educators during Graham Badman's review of elective home education last year.
The least reliable indicator of home educators' opinions must be the various online petitions, such as the ones to Downing Street. Many of those signing are not even home educating parents and it is perfectly possible to rig them by creating any number of hotmail accounts at your local library. I did this as an experiment and signed in a couple of false names. It is impossible to say anything about the opinions of the majority of home educators from these petitions. The submissions to the select committee were interesting, but suffered from other problems. Some people, Tania Berlow for example, made multiple submissions. Some families put in one each for the parents and then two for their children. Plenty of the submissions were by people who were not home educators. I took the trouble to track down and get in touch with some of the people who sent submissions, just to be sure. Which leaves us with the responses to Graham Badman's review.
There were just over two thousand two hundred responses from home educating parents. Sixteen hundred of these were against any sort of change in the current situation for home education. Interestingly enough, almost a third of those home educators who responded were definitely in favour of registration, something which seems to have been forgotten. I am going to assume for the sake of argument that all those sixteen hundred responses against any change in the law represented genuine home educators and that there were no multiple submissions. This is pretty optimistic, but I want to bend over backwards to be fair to these people. What proportion of home educating parents does this represent? This is tricky, because we do not know how many children are being home educated in this country. Around twenty thousand are registered with local authorities, that much we do know. Both local authorities and home education organisations agree that there are many more who are not registered. Local authorities often say as many again who are not known to them officially. Graham Badman suggested that there could be as many as eighty thousand and ten years ago Paula Rothermel thought there could be one hundred and fifty thousand. Just for a ballpark figure, let's assume that there are a little more than twice as many as the number known to local authorities. This would give us about fifty thousand children. Assuming each child has two parents and some families have more than one child, might give us perhaps eighty thousand parents of home educated children in this country. Could be more, might be fewer.
Now the sixteen hundred parents who responded to Graham Badman's review of home education by rejecting any change at all, would represent around 2% of that total. In other words, we do not know what 98% of home educating parents think about the matter. This is a sobering thought indeed. It is true that there are a few hundred people on various lists who are very much opposed to the recommendation made by Graham Badman in his report, but these are often the same people who sent in responses to the review, submissions to the select committee, signed petitions and also come on this Blog and denounce me a fool and a rascal. We must be careful about counting them twice! Anybody who follows article about home education on the Internet will also see the same names cropping up there all the time. One gets the distinct impression that there is a hard core of perhaps five or six hundred at most who work very hard against the proposed changes. For instance, the next time you are reading the comments made about an online article on home education, keep an eye out for firebird 2110. She is very active and there are another half dozen like her, who comment everywhere. This also tends to give the impression to people that opposition to the Graham Badman's recommendations is more widespread than is in fact the case. 70% of the Freedom of Information requests made about home education to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, for example, have been made by just nine people. This is not really a mass movement.
So what do the great majority of home educators think about the Badman report and the new CSF bill? I haven't got a clue and neither does anybody else. Certainly, I know home educating parents in this area who think it is all a lot of fuss about nothing. They get on with teaching their children and if the local authority want to pop round from time to time to make sure the kids aren't starving to death or illiterate, that's fine. A bit of a nuisance, but hardly worth getting worked up about. These parents think I am mad engaging with home educators who hang out on the Internet. They see them as a bit loopy, rather like those unfortunate individuals who write strange letters to newspaper editors in green ink! Are these parents typical? It is impossible to say. There are certainly many others who are opposed to any change and I know a few of them as well.
The truth is, neither I nor anybody else can make any sure pronouncements about what "the great majority" of home educators think about Graham Badman or anything else. All we can say with assurance is that we have no idea what 98% of them think, but that the other 2% feel very strongly about it. Feeling very strongly though, does not make that 2% the great majority.