Once again, somebody commenting here has suggested that I look at the research on home education, research which apparently shows autonomous education to be a wise and good course of action for parents who wish to educate their own children. There are three problems with research in this country on autonomous home education. These are that the research is confusing and contradictory, that it involves ridiculously small numbers and that those conducting the research are usually very biased in favour of home education. Let's look a little at these points.
The work of two people invariably comes up when this subject is discussed; Alan Thomas and Paula Rothermel. Indeed, I have yet to read anything about autonomous home education in this country which fails to mention one or both of these two researchers. This should at once set alarm bells ringing. If we look at, say for example, the acquisition of literacy in schools; hundreds of different names will crop up. The same goes for any aspect of education; there are always hundreds, if not thousands of people's work to look at. Not so with autonomous home education; it is Rothermel or Thomas and that is pretty much it.
Why do I say that much of the research on the subject of autonomous home education is confusing and contradictory? To take one example, the standard view among many home educators is that children who learn in this way may read later than children at school, but it does not matter, because when they do start they soon catch up. This is a point of view which Alan Thomas shares. Paula Rothermel though, when conducting research among much the same families at the same time, discovered that over 90% of the home educated children were actually fantastically early readers. On the tests used, one would have expected 16% of the six year olds to be in the top band, whereas 94% were on that level! Both beliefs cannot be correct. If many home educated children start reading a little later than children at school, then clearly 94% of them cannot also start reading fluently very early. More research needed there, I fancy.
That the numbers involved in this sort of research are ludicrously small is self evident. Thomas examined a hundred or so home educated children. Rothermel's literacy tests were with a sample of thirty five. Research on the academic achievements of schooled children runs into millions every year from all over the country.
I remarked a few days ago that many home educating parents seemed reluctant to become involved in objective testing of their children's abilities. The only people with whom they will work are researchers who are enthusiastic about home education and who assure parents that they think that it is a good thing. This means that such researchers often abandon all objectivity and become friends with the families. The results of work under these conditions is automatically suspect. Whenever the possibility presents itself that home educated children might be examined or their educational attainment tested by anybody who is not a dedicated supporter of the home education movement, parents refuse to have anything to do with it. Witness the reaction to the DCSF's proposed longitudinal study recently.
It would be nice to see some large scale research by objective or even sceptical workers looking at home education in general and autonomous home education in particular. It could well show, as many parents claim, that this is a brilliant scheme. However, until this happens, the rest of us will have to suspend judgement. One thing is for sure, it would be fatal to rely upon the anecdotal evidence from parents themselves. All parents tend to have grossly exaggerated and wildly optimistic views and opinions about their children's abilities. I would be the worst possible person to ask about my own daughter's achievements!