I am a great enthusiast for home education. I take any and every opportunity to talk about it and defend it and I get very irritated when people display ignorance about it by, for example, claiming that one cannot learn chemistry at home or that socialisation would be a problem. I would like home education to be regarded by everybody as being at least as effective as school. The only way that the educational establishment are likely to accept this is by being provided with plenty of solid evidence.
School has become so ingrained into our culture that for most people it is synonymous with learning. No school = no learning, is how many people think. I have a horrible suspicion that this mindset might not be uncommon in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. It is certainly prevalent among many teachers and local authority officers. I would very much like to see this crazy idea proved wrong. Now of course, I know perfectly well that home education can be an astonishingly efficient way of teaching. I know this for one thing because of my own daughter's educational attainment. Still, that's only one child. Maybe she's some sort of geek who would have flourished academically anywhere? One child does not prove anything. The way to show that home education is working and can be a viable alternative for school is to look at a lot of children and see how well they do in this educational setting.
This is precisely what the Department for Children, Schools and Families are hoping to do and yet there are already murmurings of discontent about the idea among home educators. This is very strange. Home educators are quite happy to quote from various research, both in this country and the USA. They are also ready to talk about the achievements of home educated young people who have gained places at Oxford or Cambridge. It is quite possible of course that such academic outcomes are quite common among home educated children. It is equally possible that they are vanishingly rare. We simply don't know. We have a pretty good idea of how effective schools are. We know that independent schools usually give better results than maintained schools. We have a good idea of how effective one to one tutoring is and various other aspects of education. By and large, when it comes to home education, we don't have a clue as to how effective it is. I for one am not satisfied with this situation.
The study currently being arranged by the DCSF will be a longitudinal one. This means that instead of just examining a cross section of home educated children at a certain point, perhaps after their GCSEs, it will look at their lives and achievements at intervals. This way it will be possible to see what progress they make, whether it is faster than those children at school or slower, whether it results in more GCSEs or fewer, things like that. I can see only good coming from such a study. Perhaps those who stand to gain most from such a study are autonomous educators. There is, in educational circles, a good deal of scepticism about the advantages of autonomous education. Indeed, I share these misgivings. I am however quite prepared to be proved wrong. This will be the perfect opportunity for autonomous education to be examined and possibly proved to be at least as effective as any other pedagogical technique. There has not been any proper and rigorous research of this sort, which will compare and contrast different methods of home education and then track the children over the course of years. My own feeling is that this will be a triumphant vindication of home education.
As I said, home educating parents are quite willing to cite research which apparently shows home education to be an effective means of teaching a child. Now the chance is being presented to take part in a modern and up to date study which will look closely at the whole business. This is exciting and it is to be hoped that parents will take the opportunity to show that home education is as good as and probably better than schooling. When I posted on this a couple of days ago, two objections were raised. one was that it was bad timing and the other was that the DCSF did not have a good record at this sort of thing. When York Consulting carried out some research on home education for the DCSF in 2006, the result was the the 2007 Guidelines. These were very favourable to home educators, so favourable in fact that many local authorities were livid with rage. The Guidelines emphasised the lack of duties and powers of the local authorities. That being so, there is no reason to think that something good will not emerge from the projected pilot research.
Graham Badman and others, myself included, have criticised much of the existing research on home education. If the DCSF carry out a study and this finds that home education is a brilliantly successful way of educating children, I can see that as being only a good thing.