Most parents who choose not to send their children to school make this decision because they believe this to be in the best interests of the children themselves. This is true whatever the educational methods used and regardless of the circumstances which lead up to home education. This is good and healthy parenting; putting the child first and working around her needs rather than the parent's wishes. Unfortunately, not all home educating parents are like this. Some fail to send their children to school because the children are answering a need in the adult. Both mothers and fathers can behave in this way, although as we shall see there is a difference in their reasons for doing so.
Let us look first at fathers. Many, perhaps most of the famous or notorious home educators have been men. John Stuart Mills, Ruth Lawrence, Judit Polgar, Edith Stern and Sufiah Yusof are all well known products of home education by fathers. Why did these fathers educate their own children? The answer is simple; they wished to produce geniuses. Now there is nothing wrong with that as such, provided of course that the child's welfare is at the centre of the enterprise. In cases of this sort though, it often appears that the whole project is a weird obsession of the father, that the object of the exercise is not a child's happiness, but a peculiar man proving something to the world. Judit Polgar for instance spent eight hours a day working on chess when she was a child. Neither Ruth Lawrence or John Stuart Mills were allowed to meet children their own age. Sufiah Yosef's father used to keep the house cold so that his daughter would concentrate more. Hard to believe that the child's happiness and fulfilment lay at the heart of projects such as these! In some sense, these children were fulfilling their fathers' needs and ambitions.
So much for the dysfunctional home educating father. What of mothers? It has to be said straight away that there are very few mothers like this around; the sort who are obsessed with making their children into geniuses. I have certainly never even heard of a home educating mother who behaves in this way. There are however mothers who keep their kids at home because the children are fulfilling the mother's needs. Some local authorities expressed the fear during the Ofsted survey, that some home educated children were kept at home in order to act as companions. There is no doubt at all that this happens; I have myself seen cases of lonely women who want their child at home to provide them with company. This has been a trend for many years. One of the earliest cases of precedent after the 1944 education Act which was used in the fifties against parents who wished to home educate was Jenkins v Howell in 1949. In this case a mother who was an invalid needed her child to stay with her to help around the house. She claimed to be educating the kid too.
I don't know how common this sort of thing is, mothers who want their child to stay home to act as companions. It happens and just as in the case of the fathers who are trying to create a genius, the child's welfare is being forced to give way to the parent's needs.
The danger to a home educated child of having a parent who is a homicidal maniac intent upon abusing or killing her is very small. Cases do crop up from times to time, but one cannot really legislate such things out of existence. Somebody wishing to murder her child will manage to do it just as well during the school holidays; being at school will not and cannot prevent such things. Such parents might be rare, but the sort of parent who keeps the child at home to satisfy his or her own needs is a good deal more common. Thinking for example of Judit Polgar, somebody who comments regularly here is obsessed with turning his child into a chess genius. His own father was very keen on chess and he always regretted that his own chess did not become better. Now, he is determined to sublimate his past regrets in his own son, achieving a measure of vicarious glory in this way. There is no shortage of home educating mothers who speak of their children in a way that would be more appropriate for husbands and best friends. It is hard to escape the conclusion that these children are filling a gap in their mothers' lives. This would also go some way to explaining why education often takes second place to the actual lifestyle when such women are asked what home education means to them.
As I said to begin with, I have no doubt at all that the majority of parents who educate their children at home are doing so because they feel it is the best course of action for the child. There is though a substantial minority who are keeping their kids at home for other purposes. It is right and proper to consider this matter when talking of home education. Both parents and educational professionals tend to become sidetracked into arguing about the very rare murders and cases of sexual abuse of home educated children. The greater danger lies in the prevalence of home education being undertaken not for the child's benefit, but the parent's.