Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Local authorities and their attitude to home educators; or, why Desforges was right
One of the difficulties sometimes faced by local authorities is what to do when some parent whom they suspect of being incapable of providing a decent education to her child, announces that she is withdrawing him from school. Should they just leave her to get on with it? Warn her that it might prove harder than she thinks? Offer her help and support? Most local authorities adopt all three of these strategies, but ultimately it is the parent’s choice; it is after all, the parent who remains responsible for her child’s education and not the local authority. This does not mean that the teachers at the school and others in the education department might not be profoundly uneasy about the course of events; more that there is little that they can do about it.
Here is a simple fact; one which is well known to schools. When a child without special educational needs fails to thrive academically at school and take advantage of the education on offer, this usually has more to do with her parents and home circumstances than it does with the school. All the available research suggests strongly that parental influence is the single greatest factor which affects how well children will do at school. Indeed, many home educators know this perfectly well. We recently saw a home educating parent come on here and ask why I was not addressing the implications of the report, The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review by Charles Desforge and Alberto Abouchaar. I am now doing so.
It has long been known that academically high achieving pupils tend to have parents who support them in their learning. This is far more important than parental income or education. There is an uncomfortable corollary to this and that is that those children who fall behind academically are often being failed by their parents, rather than the school. Interestingly, many of the tens of thousands of children who are being home educated in this country were taken out of school by their parents for this very reason; that they were not doing very well there from an educational point of view. Here is the problem. Many of these children were doing poorly at school because of their parents’ attitude to education and learning. Once they are out of school, they often lose any other influence upon their education. This means that they can slip behind drastically, very quickly. Teachers are appalled about this, as are many local authority officers. Not all children being deregistered from school to be educated at home are in this category of course; but it is a recognised phenomenon. The outlook for such children is not good.
This tendency for parents whose children are not doing well at school to withdraw them and keep them at home has only in the last decade or two reached the tens of thousands. These numbers are still, as readers have pointed out here many times, low; at least compared with the numbers of children at school. It is of course their parents’ responsibility and if the children reach the age of sixteen or seventeen without any qualifications; that too is a matter of parental choice. Perhaps before making such a serious decision, it might be helpful for such parents to ask themselves why their child is not doing well at school. If those who do do well are associated with parents who support them in their learning, could it be that those whose children struggle might do better to look at their own attitudes to education, rather than simply blaming the school and deregistering the child? There are signs that the outlook for a lot of these children is bleak. Many Further Education Colleges are reporting attempts by parents whose children have been taken out of school to enrol them for A levels and so on. Since very few of these children have any GCSEs, this is seldom possible. It would be interesting to see what the long-term prospects are for these kids.