One of the problems when reading about some risk or danger, is that the jumble of figures produced to back up the claim often means little or nothing to most of us. 0.002%, 1 in 10,000, and so on don't really tell us what we wish to know. Also, to make sense of the figures, we often need a little background information which most of us lack. For example, every year a certain number of people in this country are killed by cows. Suppose we see a newspaper article which tells us;
"Deaths caused by cattle have soared, with a 100% increase this year in Southern England alone"
Scary stuff! Does this mean that we should avoid the countryside for a while until the cows have calmed down a little? The background information necessary to make sense of this, is that around six or seven people a year are killed by cows in the entire country. One or two are killed in Southern England. This means that an increase of 100% means only that one or two more people have been killed. This is roughly the same number of people killed by lightning in Southern England each year; it is an insignificant risk. Only a very neurotic person would cancel a picnic because of a risk like that!
Much the same thing has happened with the figures produced which purport to show that home educated children are at greater risk of abuse. The numbers are so vanishingly small that even if we took at face value the assertion that the rate is double in home educated children, it would still be about as insignificant as being struck by lightning or trampled to death by a cow. This is the problem with very small numbers; even doubling them means that they are still very small numbers.
The real danger for home educated children is not being murdered or abused by one's parents. It is rather that an inferior education might be provided; one even less efficient than that on offer at the local maintained school. Working out the number of such children who are not being properly educated is not going to be an easy task. For one thing, we have no solid data upon which to work. The information held by local authorities is laughably inadequate. I have remarked before that whereas the local authority ceases to have any sort of legitimate interest in home educated children after the last Friday in June of the academic year in which they turn sixteen, the GCSE results don't arrive for another couple of months. Most local authorities never hear how home educated children did in their exams.
The NEET thing, about which so much has been made, is utterly absurd, as an example from my personal experience should demonstrate. Friends of mine, more fanatical, over-achieving home educating parents, coached their son through no fewer than eleven IGCSEs. (The family actually regard me as something of a slacker and a complete sell-out for sending my daughter to college to do her A levels). Their child is studying at home for four A levels and they still have some dealings with their local authority. Because the child is not registered in a school, nor does he have a job, they discovered recently that he is officially listed as a NEET! I think we may safely ignore the figures for NEETs among home educated teenagers.
I strongly suspect that many home educated children don't even take any GCSEs, much less pass five at grades A*-C. I have no hard evidence for this belief, except what I observe of other home educators. I see a few who take many and some who take none at all. Actually, I don't know any who are midway between those two extremes. I can lay my hands on a few who have eight or ten IGCSEs and I also know some who have taken none at all. Perhaps the result is that as a group, home educated children average out at about five each?
I can quite see why local authorities and the DCSF have felt it necessary to conjure up this chimera of child abuse and I don't really blame them at all. It provides a sense of urgency to the debate and encourages all concerned to view this as a matter of safeguarding little kiddies, rather than focusing upon the true reason why this legislation is needed, which is purely educational. Because the fact is that home educated children are in danger. There is a clear and present danger that their education will be neglected or harmed by those who adhere to outdated, crackpot educational theories which many of us left behind in the sixties. But with so many children failing miserably in maintained schools, this perfectly valid argument hardly looks forceful enough. Far better to hint darkly that home educating parents are more likely than most to be starving and beating their children to death! That's the way to get your laws through.