It is almost a battle cry of British home education and has been since the Badman Report in 2009; you must not conflate education with welfare! The problem is of course that when you are talking about home education it is almost impossible not to do so. The reason is simple. My decision to educate my daughter at home was made on purely educational grounds. I thought that one-to-one tuition in a relaxed setting would yield better educational results than having her in a classroom with thirty other children. This is very rarely the case with home educating parents in this country though. Time after time, research shows that education is not a major factor in the decision to home educate. Lifestyle, family closeness, bullying, religion and things like school phobia are common reasons for choosing this option; education by itself is not. Indeed, in many cases, education has no bearing at all on the parents’ decision to educate their child at home.
An example of home education being undertaken for motives wholly unconnected with education cropped up on one of the big internet support groups recently. I found this quite infuriating and I shall explain why. A mother said that she had recently deregistered her nine year-old son from school, because he was screaming, crying, being sick and threatening to kill himself; so anxious was he not to be separated from her. She wondered if she had made the right decision. Needless to say, other members of the group hastened to assure her that she had, even telling her that her son would be fine when he was older and that she didn’t need to worry. School was the only problem and once that was taken out of the equation, everything would be fine.
Now very few nine year-olds threaten to commit suicide; it is one of the greatest warning signs that something is terribly wrong, that you can imagine. What is happening in that child’s life that he should feel that way? Is he afraid of school, or just fearful of being separated from his mother? Why has the matter only now reached crisis point, after he has been at school for four or five years? Has there been some trauma in his life unconnected with school, such as a relative dying? Has the mother got a new partner? Have they moved house? Is there a possibility that the child is being abused? Does the mother actually want to educate her own child? Is she capable of doing so? These are the kind of questions one would wish to know the answer to before telling the mother that the only thing wrong is school and that once he is removed from there, everything will be fine. At any rate, this case illustrates perfectly what I was saying about home education very often not being about education at all. Here is a mother making the decision to home educate for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with education. This is why the advice not to conflate education with welfare is a bit of a red herring. In almost every example of home education in this country that I have ever come across, education is only one of the factors which precipitate the decision to home educate. Often, as in the case above, education is completely irrelevant and welfare concerns are the only motive.