Tuesday, 2 October 2012
If closer monitoring of home education in New Zealand and the USA does no good, why would we need it in this country?
In recent days two linked objections have been raised to the proposition that new legislation is needed in this country to regulate home education. The first is that increasing or decreasing monitoring in two other countries does not seem to affect the outcomes for home education there; the second that there is no evidence that there is anything wrong with the current arrangements in this country and that consequently there is no need for any new law. I want today to examine the first of these ideas, that it is possible and worthwhile to compare home education in this country with that in New Zealand and America. I strongly suspect that those making this claim know as well as I do why it is impossible to compare home education in this country with either New Zealand or the United States, but working on the assumption that there will be readers who do not understand the difficulties, I shall try briefly to outline the problem.
Let us begin by looking at the most recent investigation into motives for home education in the United Kingdom. This was conducted in Wales, but there is no reason to suppose that the findings are not also applicable to England. The full report may be found here:
What was discovered about the motives for home education? The report says:
Broadly, from the responses gathered at this stage, the motivations of the Home Educating community can be seen to fall into four categories on a spectrum and, in this description, in no order of percentage choice.
1. Response to behavioural /attendance issues
The extreme stance expressed by some authorities that the majority of HE parents choose HE to avoid prosecution when they and/or their children simply disengage with education is not endorsed by this initial scoping, but it is the primary experience of the EWS in relation to HE and, as such, is perceived to be a much more significant motivation than it is in actuality.
2. Lifestyle choices
At the other end of the spectrum, the political position of some home educators is that the family unit and not the state has primary responsibility for the education of the child and therefore that education is most suitably and efficiently delivered in the family context. Other ‘alternative’ lifestyle choices include those of the traveller communities, or various religious perspectives.
3. Curricular/structural issues
Between these two poles are children and families opting out of the mainstream, not to disengage from education, but after struggling with, and giving up on, the curriculum or structural difficulties of school life, be it the size, the length of day or the interaction with some teachers.
4. Special social, emotional, health or learning needs
Towards the choice of HE as a lifestyle are those opting out of the mainstream because of social, emotional or other learning challenges, delicate health issues, difficulties with transition, or, most particularly, the experience of bullying. This appears to be the largest group in the spectrum. Many of these, though originally choosing reactively away from school, do seem to find HE particularly suitable to meeting, or allowing for, those particular needs and come to embrace this alternative educational experience as a proactive and positive decision.
Lest anybody object that this research was carried out by those opposed to home education and accordingly biased against the practice, let us recall that Paula Rothermel found pretty much the same thing when she surveyed British home educators. The main motives that she found were things such as, ‘having a close family relationship and being together’.
Now I find all this pretty astounding. I was sure that I could provide my daughter with a better education than she would receive at school and it therefore made sense from a purely educational perspective not to send her to school. Such people as me are mentioned in the list of motives, but one does not get the impression that they are a majority or even a significant proportion. I have an idea, which is borne out by what little research has been conducted in this country, that very few parents in Britain home educate for purely educational motives of this sort. Research by both Paula Rothermel and Education Otherwise confirms this. When Education Otherwise sent out two and a half thousand questionairres, the main reasons that were given for home education were bullying and lifestyle. Education per se did not seem to be a big factor in the decision to home educate.
In America, the situation is very different. The largest piece of research carried out there into the motives for home education, that carried out by The National Centre for Education Statistics in America, showed that 50% of those asked about their motives gave as the answer, ‘Can give child a better education at home’. This indicates that the commonest motives for home education in America are very different from those in this country. There, parents tend to choose the practice because they believe that they can provide a better academic education. In the UK, it is at best a lifestyle choice relating to wanting to be close to the children and at worst, a reaction to problems at school. In other words, British parents are not in general choosing home education for educational reasons.
It must be fairly clear that if, as tends more commonly to be the case, American home educators are primarily concerned with good academic education, then their children are likely to be achieving highly; regardless of whether or not they are being checked by the authorities. To try and compare this situation with that in this country is pointless. Most parents here are either forced into a position where they feel they have no choice in the matter or wish to keep their children at home as part of a lifestyle choice. This means that we are not able to draw any useful conclusions by the American experience of monitoring and regulation. Unless somebody is able to come up with evidence that home educating parents in New Zealand are very similar in their motivations to those in this country, we may probably disregard what has happened there as well. All of which means that when considering new legislation, we would be well advised to restrict ourselves to thinking about what is happening in this country and not trying to rope in America and New Zealand.
What is happening in this country and what does the evidence suggest? I shall be looking at this in the next few days.