We seem to have got a little bogged down on the subject of special educational needs among home educated children in this country. I have more to say on this topic, but I think that I shall leave this subject for a while and hope that we can return to it in a week or two. Before doing so though, I want to look at one of the largest pieces of research conducted on home education in this country; one that is seldom mentioned among home educators.
Today, we shall be looking at an important piece of research shedding light upon the proportion of home educated children in this country who have special educational needs or disabilities. This is Local Authorities and Home Education, (Ofsted, 2010). Some comments here in recent days have been dismissive of this study, on the grounds that is was a self-selected sample. This requires some explanation. In 2009, during the Graham Badman enquiry, some, to say the least of it, questionable data about the possible risks of abuse to home educated children were circulating. Since then, new figures have come to light. As might have been expected, many home educators are very keen to dismiss these data too as being unreliable.
The idea that because the sample used in the Ofsted study is self-selected, it is somehow compromised or worthless is, of course, absurd. All research on home education is of self-selected samples; that is to say people choose whether or not to participate. This is as true of Paula Rothermel’s work as it is of all those large studies in the USA which show how marvellously home educated children do. If we disregard research into home education on the grounds that it involves a self-selected sample, then we are left with no information whatsoever. Ignore self-selected samples and we can no longer quote approvingly those huge studies of tens of thousands of children conducted by Rudd and Ray in the United States!
At the end of 2009, Ofsted carried out a study of home education in 10% of local authority areas in England. These fifteen local authorities ranged from urban districts such as the London Borough of Southwark and Solihull in the Midlands, to places as diverse as Norfolk, Shropshire and Poole. In those areas, every single home educated child known to the local authority, and also his or her parents, were invited to attend meetings or, if they would rather do so, fill in questionnaires. As result, 120 parents and 130 children attended meetings to talk about their views and another 158 children and 148 parents completed questionnaires. It is interesting to note that this total of 556 people whose views and opinions were examined was considerably greater than the 419 whose views Paula Rothermel examined during her research into home education. This too was of course a self-selected group.
One of the things which emerged from this large study was that a quarter of the 130 children who attended meetings either had statements of special educational needs or had, before they were deregistered, been at the stage of ‘school action plus’. Nor was this all. In addition to this;
There were also those whose parents, often supported by medical diagnosis, identified the children (many of whom were very able) as having some form of autistic spectrum disorder.
In other words, the total number of children with special educational needs was more than a quarter of the total. The local authorities’ data gave a similar picture, that is to say that the proportion present at these meetings reflected the whole population of home educated children of whom they were aware. In other words, over a quarter of the children at the meetings had special educational needs and the local authorities confirmed that this was the case in general; that these were not unrepresentative samples.
We saw yesterday that Fiona Nicholson had gone to a great deal of trouble to ask every local authority in England about the numbers of home educated children with statements. She found, after all this, that the figure was 5%. This same figure of 5% was first published six years ago in the study undertaken by York Consulting, (Hopwood et al, 2007). This is interesting, because it was obtained simply by sampling the figures from nine local authorities. Sampling of this sort can yield very accurate results. This should give us a certain amount of confidence in the figures from the Ofsted survey.
As I said earlier, I am going to move on to a different aspect of British home education in my next post. We have, I think, established that around a quarter, or rather at least a quarter, of home educated children in this country have special needs. We know that these children are between four and seven times as likely to be abused as children without such needs. In a later post, we will try putting a few different figures into those percentages and seeing what this might tell us about the increased risk of abuse for home educated children, but for now, that is all that I shall be saying about this.