I have been grappling recently with the assertion made on several lists and blogs that the passage of the CSF Bill will result in the death of children who will commit suicide if forced to attend school. It sounded very implausible to me, but I thought it worth looking into the question in a little depth. To begin with, I telephoned an old friend to whom I have not spoken for a couple of years. She is a Community Psychiatric Nurse who works with adolescents. I put to her the thesis that problems at school or the fear of school were major factors in the suicide or attempted suicide of children and young people. I have to report that she laughed unpleasantly at the idea and gave the kind of snort which is usually rendered as, 'Huh!' Her view was that most of the kids who attempt suicide are disturbed and that their parents often blame schools or bullying as a way of diverting attention from problems at home which have actually had more bearing on the matter. She pointed out that an awful lot of bullying actually takes place within families! She then directed me towards a lot of research, which I am bound to say seems to bear out her opinion. I have listed some of this at the bottom of the post for those who wish to check for themselves.
To begin with, over 90% of children and adolescents who attempt suicide are indeed suffering from psychiatric disorders. Chief among these are emotional disorders including anxiety and depression. Mental illness in children is associated with a number of risk factors such as family conflict, living in rented housing, having a parent with mental heath problems and having a low reading age. A very big factor is the child living apart from the father; in other words being part of a fractured family. This increases the risk of mental illness in a child by 40%. Normal, well balanced and healthy adolescents do not tend to attempt suicide in response to stressful life events, whether involving school or anything else.
It seems to me, after looking into this carefully, that the idea that home educated children would kill themselves if sent back to school is pretty unlikely. I suppose that there would be a slight risk with any such child who was already suffering from a mental illness. Since only 4% of children are in this category, I should think that the chances of any child actually dying as a result of the passage of the Children, Schools and Families Bill is remote in the extreme. It must also be borne in mind that suicide in this age group is very rare, with only eleven cases a year being recorded. This means that on average each year only one child without a psychiatric problem commits suicide. Those wishing to look into this matter for themselves, rather than relying upon Internet gossip, could start by reading Ford, Goodman and Meltzer's article; The relative importance of child, family, school and neighbourhood correlates of childhood psychiatric disorder. This may be found in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 39, 487-96 2004. They might also care to read a publication by the Office of National Statistics called, Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain, 2004.
I am sorry to dispel a popular myth, but suicides of this sort do seem, as my friend suggested, to be connected with psychiatric disorders and unfavourable home circumstances rather than schools. I find it interesting that living with a single mother is the greatest risk factor of all in such conditions and I would be curious to know whether the proportion of home educated children living apart from their fathers is higher than in the general population. The fact that having a low reading age is associated with mental health problems in children and adolescents might also prove of interest to some home educating parents. I think that these would be more productive lines of enquiry than looking at the educational setting itself as a precipitating factor for suicide.