A couple of people have pointed out lately that just because one or two people on Internet lists relating to home education are fretting about some topic or other, does not mean to say that this is representative of home educating parents in general. This is of course absolutely true. The main lists might typically have a few hundred people on them and only forty or fifty who regularly take part in debates there. If we assume that there are eighty thousand parents of home educated children in this country, these forty or fifty individuals, many of whom are not technically home educators anyway, are not indicative of the feelings and concerns of ordinary parents. I have myself made this point strongly in the past, including to the Children, Schools and Families select committee.
The problem is that those handful of people on the Internet lists tend to be pretty powerful in shaping opinion among home educators, even the opinions of those who do not hang out on the Internet overmuch. They are a major source of rumour and misinformation. It only takes one person to visit the HE-UK list, for example, and pick up a story about local authorities demanding to weigh and measure home educated children, and before you know it she has told people in the home educating group which she goes to with her child. From there, these fantasies take on a life of their own. So even people who do not even own a computer can get to hear that there is a sinister plan by local authorities to weigh and measure their children in order to check whether they are being starved to death.
To ignore the influence of the home education Internet lists would be a great mistake. It is true, as I have remarked, that they contain a fairly high percentage of cranks and nutcases, far higher than in the home educating community generally, but the nonsense which they come up with there filters through to the wider community. Some of those on these lists make it their life's work to spread the stories dreamed up their fellow conspiracy theorists into the outside world. Every time an article on home education appears, whether in a national or local newspaper, members of those lists will fill the comments section of any online editions with the latest rumour from the lists to which they belong. This means that people outside the home educating community also become affected by the foolishness which is frequently on display in places like the EO and HE-UK lists. The delusions of what somebody here called, 'four or five people on the Internet' thus end up becoming a background to any debate on home education.