As is well known, I am a great believer in the efficacy of home education. That is why I did not send my daughter to school for a single day. I found the whole process enormous fun, but also very hard work. In all the cases which I have personally encountered, home educated children have succeeded academically only with the input of a huge amount of teaching and encouragement from their parents. It is alleged though, that all this effort may be quite unnecessary. Some parents apparently restrict their role to that of facilitator. The child learns to read without much work on the part of the parents, then goes on to ask to study at the Open University and ends up at a real university; the whole enterprise driven by the child’s desire to learn. In this scenario, the parent only helps when specifically requested and hardly does any teaching at all and that only when the child asks to be taught. It is an enticing vision and could in theory save much trouble and anxiety on the part of home educating parents!
Something which I have observed about both home educating parents known to me and also to the parents of children at school known to me, is that the more that they are involved with their child’s education, the better the child does academically. Another thing that I have noticed is that the harder they have worked, the more that they are prone to deny that they have put any particular effort into the business of their child’s education. I have seen teenagers do marvellously well at sixth form and go on to a Russell Group university and heard the parents express surprise and tell all their friends that they do not understand how the kid managed it. From their accounts, you would think that the child was lazy and that the parents themselves had never bothered overmuch with involving themselves in the matter and yet, here it is; the child is off to the London School of Economics. All this with no hard work on the part of either parent or child. Of course it is all nonsense. These parents have conveniently forgotten the tutors that they paid for every week, the summer schools they arranged, the arguments with the child in which they forbade the kid to go out at weekends and made him stay in and revise instead, the music lessons, the attending church for ten years to get the child into the right school, the appeals when the place was turned down, the letters to teachers; all the paraphernalia of the parent who wants her child to get on.
Why do parents airbrush all this from their family history? There are two reasons. First, nobody likes a pushy parent and it looks a bit sad when a mother is so desperately anxious for her child to succeed. Secondly, the less effort put in by both parents and child, the cleverer the kid appears to be. Nobody went to any trouble and hey, he got to the LSE anyway. Must be a genius!
If the children that end up at good universities are those whose parents put in the most effort, the ones who fail academically often have parents who do not involve themselves in the education and just let the kid get on with it. Most schools see this a lot. Is this the case with home education as well as school? It is hard to say. I know that quite a few home educating parents start off with the idea that Jimmy will organise his own studying and that left to his own devices he will learn not only to read but also pick up calculus and eventually beg his parents to let him study physics with the OU. I have no idea how often this actually happens, but there are certainly quite a few parents who realise in dismay that at the age of fourteen, their son can barely write his own name and has no intention of doing anything much other than cruising the net all day. Some of these parents regret their chosen educational approach and wish that they had organised the child’s education more methodically. I have no idea what the proportions are between these two groups. That is to say, I do not know how many go on to shine academically after being given charge of their own learning and how many just slump in front of a television of computer screen. Judging by my experiences with schooled children, the prognosis for home educated children whose parents push them is likely to be better than those who give them unlimited choice, but it could well be argued that home education and school are so radically different as to make such comparisons meaningless.