When my daughter went for an interview after applying to go to college, the man who saw her was interested to hear that she had been home educated. He asked her what school she had attended before being taught at home and seemed astonished when my daughter told him that she had never attended school at all. He asked, "But what about primary School?" In the end, he wrote on my daughter's form, "NEVER BEEN TO SCHOOL!!!" There was nothing unpleasant about it all, according to my daughter. He had interviewed home educated children before, just had not met one who had never been to school at all.
I was thinking of this recently when looking at the various statistics, such as they are, for home education in this country. According to Paula Rothermel, for example, almost of third of parents claimed that their decision to home educate was ideological; they had always intended to home educate. This is a bit strange, because nearly all the home educated children one comes across have been in school at some point. You'd think that if a third of the parents had always intended to home educate, then a third of the kids one came across would not have been to school. As far as I can see, it is far commoner for children to start primary or secondary school and then to stop after a while for one reason or another. Bullying, school refusal, anxiety and stress are all reasons frequently given, as is the school's apparent inability to make suitable provision for some special educational need such as dyslexia or ADHD. These are the parents who home educate 'by default' as Graham Badman described it. They send their children to school, something goes wrong and then they take them out of school.
I am wondering whether these parents represent the majority of home educators. I rather suspect that they do. The fact is, apart from my own daughter I only know of one other sixteen year old who has never spent a day in school. This rather tends to confirm my suspicions that most parents do not, at least initially have any deep rooted objections to schools, but that these develop as a result of the experiences they and their children have once they have started there.
The implications for this, if true are profound. It would suggest that most of the parents whose children are at home are not committed, ideological home educators. Rather, they are ordinary parents who have hit upon what seems to them to be the best method of dealing with a problem which their child has. A natural corollary would be that if the schools were so structured that these problems had not arisen, then the parents would not have thought of home education at all. In short, it seems possible that most of the home education in this country would probably fade away quite naturally without the need for any new legislation, if only the schools were run properly! This is a sobering thought. Now I am a complete crank. I would not have sent my daughter to school under any circumstances and could certainly be seen as an ideological home educator. Interestingly enough though, it was my experiences with my first child which caused me to choose home education for the second. So I too have chosen home education in a sense because of the failings of the educational system which I have witnessed. It is entirely possible that if my elder daughter's school life had been happy and productive, I should have sent her sister to school as well.
I think that if I were a government which was growing uneasy about the inexorable rise in the numbers of children being home educated, I might stop to think about just why this was happening. Rather than introduce new laws to regulate the practice, I would be trying to improve the maintained schools to which most children are sent and tackle the problem at the root, instead of pruning the tip. As any gardener knows, this just increases new growth in any case!