Before looking at the only real evidence about the proportion of home educated children in this country with special needs, which I shall be doing either tomorrow or the day after, I would like to address one or two points made here in the comments yesterday. The first of these was an attempt to limit the definition of a child with special educational needs to those with a statement issued by the local authority. There are a number of problems with this approach. The first is of course that a child, even one with the most serious, medically diagnosed difficulties, who had never attended school would not show up in these figures. The second is that there are many children at school with diagnoses of autistic spectrum disorder, to give one example, who do not have statements nor are likely ever to do so.
Some local authorities, the London Borough of Hackney was one, have in the past had official policies of avoiding statements for children in its schools. Elsewhere, there have been individual schools which are keen on them as a way of securing extra funding. Simply counting the number of statements issued to children who are subsequently home educated is a terrible way of working out how many children have special educational needs and disabilities!
Commenting a couple of days ago, somebody drew attention to the fact that Fiona Nicholson had earlier this year made Freedom of Information requests to every local authority in the country and established the fact that 5% of home educated children have statements. This was a worthy endeavor, but that figure has actually been around for six years. York Consulting carried out a study in 2007, (Hopwood et al, 2007), which sampled nine local authorities and found the percentage of home educated children with statements to be 5%. This has implications for the reliability of such sampling, something at which we shall be looking in the next few days.
Another suggestion made yesterday was that there was a correlation between the severity of a child’s special educational needs and the likelihood of abuse. No such correlation exists; or rather none has been discovered during research. If this were so, then you might reasonably expect a quadriplegic, blind and non-verbal child in a wheelchair to be more likely to be abused than an active, intelligent child with a relatively minor problem such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder. It is not so. The kid with ODD is several times more likely to be abused than the one in a wheelchair. This is because the levels of abuse of children with special educational needs relate not to the severity of the disability, but rather according to how irritating these difficulties make the child to their parents. Deaf children are four times as likely to be hit by their parents than those whose hearing is normal. Children with conduct disorders are seven times as likely to be abused or neglected as children who do not have this condition. Those with learning difficulties are far more likely to be abused than those with physical disabilities. It is often those children with relatively mild disorders who are at the greatest risk of being abused. These are the children with special needs who are least likely to be statemented.
I hope that this has cleared up one or two points and left the ground clear to look at how we may calculate both the proportion of home educated children in this country with special needs and also the overall abuse rates among home educated children , compared with children at school.