Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Where are the adults?

I have been wondering recently what sort of things happen to home educated children after the age of sixteen. Do a lot of them go on to college and university? Do they start their own businesses? Go on the dole? Of course nobody really knows, because official interest ends on the last Friday in June of the academic year that they turn sixteen. My thoughts have turned to this topic because I have been reading a new edition of an American book called Real Lives - eleven teenagers who don't go to school tell their own stories. I can thoroughly recommend this book, which was first published in 1993 by Lowry House Publishers. The woman who edited it, grace Llewellyn, also wrote a book called The teenage Liberation handbook.

All the children featured in the books were autonomously educated, although being American the do not actually use the expression. What is interesting is that the latest edition of Real Lives, which was published in 2005, follows up on the teenagers and tells what they are doing in their mid twenties. It also includes their comments upon the whole experience of home education. By and large, they all seem to have turned out OK. By which I mean that they are not drop-outs or drug addicts and seem to be enjoying their lives. Their adult perspective on being home educated is very enlightening. Although none have any major regrets, some of them acknowledge that the problems which led their parents to withdraw them from school were partly of their own making. A couple say that it is a matter of regret that they did not at least try being at school.

The accounts in this book are the only attempt that I know to follow up the long-term outcomes for a group of home educated children. I know of nothing similar that has been done in this country. A few days ago, I mentioned Ruth Lawrence and was promptly accused by somebody of using an extreme case. The reason for this is that we only seem to hear of the extreme or freakishly atypical cases. Alex Dowty at Oxford, Ruth Lawrence falling out with her father, Sufiah Yusof, who ended up on the game, these are the only home educated children whom we ever seem to hear about after the age of sixteen! This does not of course mean that all home educated children are like these; simply that we never hear about the rest and have no idea how they turn out.

I have to say that I find it a little curious that with all the fuss about the Badman report, the select committee, Children, Schools and Families Bill and so on, that no adults have come forward and said, " We were home educated and we've all turned out just fine!" After all, there must by now be thousands, probably tens of thousands of people in their twenties and thirties who were taught at home. Where are they now and what are they doing? Are any of them architects or solicitors? Vets or doctors? Engineers, accountants or surveyors? I am puzzled that not one of them is apparently ready to come out and boast about the advantages which home education brought them. Indeed, it is not only the adults who have been home educated, from whom we never hear. One never even sees children and young people on the lists; all the opinions expressed are by parents, rather than by the young people themselves. This is a little odd. I am surprised that no teenagers go on the EO and HE-UK lists to make their views known. My daughter tried to sign up to the EO list last year, but because she was my daughter, they refused to allow her on the list. Ironic really, that there was a genuine opportunity to hear from a home educated teenager and that Education Otherwise were determined that she should not be given the chance. I can't help wondering whether it is a general policy and that some of these places actually do not want the young people themselves to muddy the waters by expressing their own opinions on the lists!

This is also the case with the long term outcomes. I have certainly seen lists drawn up by home educating parents who know of successful outcomes and children who have done well. What I have not seen is posts by home educated young people or adults themselves. There is of course the HEYC site, but this tells us only that this group of home educated teenagers and young people think that home education is a good thing. There is no information about what they are doing with their lives and what their prospects are for the future.

None of this is meant to suggest that I think that home educated children don't go on to have successful careers and satisfying lives; just that we don't hear about it from them. I have to say that I am not alone in noticing this and if a few professional types who had been home educated came forward, it might do the cause of home education a bit of good.


  1. There's Those Unschooled Minds by Julie Webb, http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED459507&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED459507

    Presumably no relation!

    "The widespread acceptance of home schooling has persisted long enough to address the question of how well home-schooled children do later in life. In this book, 20 interviews investigate the long-term effects of home schooling in Britain. In the 1980s, the author conducted interviews with several of the same students, when most were teenagers being home schooled. For this document, all interviewees were asked about their current circumstances, the advantages and disadvantages of their education, the educational philosophies of their parents, the reasons their parents gave for preferring home education, their perception of any time they spent in public school, their family's way of life, how much the student was involved in the choice of home education, how the local educational authorities reacted to the choice, and whether they would home school their own children. Most were located through individual or family membership in Education Otherwise, a home-schooling organization. All those interviewed were leading normal social lives as adults, and the vast majority had no problems making friends out of school or at college. There was great variety in work undertaken, with a slight bias toward caring and creative areas. An appendix of useful organizations and an index are provided. (Contains 20 references.) (RKJ)
    Source of the abstract: ERIC or Author; prior to 2005, abstractor initials appeared at the end of the abstract. N/A"

  2. There's also the 2009 Canadian study, Fifteen Years Later:


    226 questionnaires from previously home educated children aged between 15 and 34 (average 23.3 - only 2% aged under 17).

  3. Thanks for that AnonySue. yes, I know about Julie Webb's work of course. Most of her stuff, such as the book Children Learning at Home, was done during the eighties, before home education became a mass movement in this country. Her conclusions were encouraging. Jane Lowe of HEAS was involved in a very small scale survey of seventeen young people, about ten or twelve years ago. All thought that home education had been advantageous to them and they were pursuing a variety of paths as adults. These varied from studying at university to working as a labourer.

  4. An interesting subject Simon, thanks for the distraction! Some more web links that may be of interest:

    Third comment is from Mike, who was home educated.

    "I was home educated for a couple of years and the thing it taught me most was that enabled me to have a much greater proportion of time spent playing often outside, than was ever possible in a classroom."

    Woolspinner and smsm were home educated.


    Someone who had a bad experience of HE but went on to HE herself.

    Comment from Maya who was autonomously HE from 7 and currently in 2nd year of college.

    Joshua Mostafa comment - HE until 15

    Part of comment from rosiee:
    "I am 21, now studying University and I was home educated 0-16. I think that the dedication and involvement of my parents in my learning was incredibly supportive and if people ask me "Don't you wish you went to school?" I always reply "No, because at home I learned to love to learn"."

    " I was then expecting the usual socialisation/teacher qualification questions but instead got "Ah, that's interesting, because I was home educated" from one of my colleagues! I nearly dropped my pint!"

    "The 19-year-old who won an Exeter College award for his achievements is now deciding on whether to accept a place at Bristol to read history or take a gap year.
    He said: “I was home-educated because my family moved around quite a lot so I hadn’t done any GCSEs when I got to college.
    “But I did the Fast Track programme where I could do two years’ worth of GCSEs in one year and then went on to do A-levels.” "

  5. "Most of her stuff, such as the book Children Learning at Home, was done during the eighties, before home education became a mass movement in this country."

    Yes, the book I linked to is a follow up from that research and published in 1999, so a little more up to date than the American book you mention.

    "In the 1980s, the author conducted interviews with several of the same students, when most were teenagers being home schooled. For this document, all interviewees were asked about their current circumstances..."

  6. Interesting stuff, AnonySue. Thanks.

  7. Maybe they can't be bothered? Maybe they are involved in other campaigns as adults?

    When writers attack single sex schooling I get momentarily irked but can't be bothered to write comments in blogs or in news articles defending it. I know it was GREAT for me. That's all I care about. But do I want to spend any time defending it? Not really, I have plenty of other things I care about which are preoccupying me much more.

    I don't think you can deduce too much from the lack of vociferous support in the media from ex-HE students. Who would want to be in the spotlight anyway? Unless you are already a journalist or celebrity of some sort, most sane people try to avoid the glare of publicity.

    Mrs Anon