In the last few years there have been several attempts to make a serious study of home educated children in this country. None have succeeded. Home educators seem resolutely opposed to allowing complete strangers to talk to them about their children's achievements! Even when sympathetic people or organisations such as Education Otherwise or Paula Rothermel distribute questionnaires, 80% of parents refuse to answer any questions. Ofsted met somewhat of a blank wall last Autumn when they tried to find out about children being educated home and this new piece of research will probably do no better.
It's a pity really. Home educators are often saying that research shows that home education is better than schooling, but as soon as they are offered the chance to demonstrate the truth of this assertion, they run for cover! There are several possible explanations for this shyness. One is that the DCSF and Ofsted are such a tricksy bunch of bastards that nobody can trust them not to twist their findings. They are after all ultimately working for the government and everybody knows that the government is resolutely opposed to home education. There is also the argument that such research would be an invasion of privacy. A third possibility is that many of these children are not doing very well academically and their parents don't want anybody to find out. Let's look at these ideas a little.
It's quite true that the DCSF will be funding this new research, but that does not mean that it will be biased. Whoever gets the job will carry out the work and then publish a report. I have no doubt that the results will be open to exploitation by both sides in order to argue their case, but I can't see what harm having the facts could do anybody. Suppose that it was found that half of all home educated children had no GCSE's. Of course the government could use this to argue that home education needed close monitoring. On the other hand, home educators could point out that fewer than 50% of children in schools gain five good GCSE's. The raw data itself would still be good to have, even if it could be manipulated subsequently by either side.
As far as the idea that this would be an invasion of privacy goes, this could easily be met by meeting parents in the local McDonalds and seeing copies of GCSE certificates and so on. Or the whole thing could be conducted by post, with parents just sending details of the boards which their children sat for examinations. This leaves us with the final possibility; that parents are worried that their children are under-achieving academically. This is perhaps more plausible than the other reasons for objecting to research about educational outcomes. Let's face it, hardly any parent is backward in talking of her child's achievements. They all boast about the early GCSE's , the guitar examinations, the place at university. Even those whose children have special educational needs are pleased to talk about what their children have managed to do; the place at college, the music examinations passed and so on. The only parents I know who keep quiet about all this are those whose kids aren't doing too well at school. Is this the case with home educating parents? Could this be the true explanation for their curious reluctance to participate in research in this subject?
I have to say that home educators are often keen to talk about research from America which shows how well home educated children are doing. They are also happy to go on about Paula Rothermel's findings. One sees this sort of thing mentioned a lot when people are trying to justify their decision to home educate. The one thing they don't want to do is let anybody look at their kids now and see how well home education is doing for them. I would be keen to hear of other explanations for this, besides the obvious one which I outline above.