The lack of properly conducted research on home education

Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that I frequently bemoan the fact that there is no properly conducted research on home education in this country. That which has been undertaken is either lamentably poor in construction, like that of Paula Rothermel or centres around grotesquely small, self-selected samples, as in the case of Alan Thomas. While re-reading Thomas’ books recently, it occurred to me that what I would describe as ’proper’ research never will be carried out on home educating families. It might be literally impossible.

When one has millions of children all being taught in very similar ways to learn roughly the same things, as is the case with the maintained sector in Britain, then one only needs to take a couple of hundred pupils at random to get a flavour of the process. Two hundred kids drawn at random from a variety of schools in one part of the country are likely to be pretty much the same in their attainments and knowledge as a couple of hundred drawn from elsewhere. This is not at all the case with home educated children. In the group of children from state schools, most will be of broadly similar achievement. There will be outliers; children who are doing very much better or a good deal worse than average, but these will be exceptions and will not skew the overall picture. The problem is with home education is that any sample group is likely to consist of nothing but outliers!

For instance there are quite a number of home educating parents like me; slave drivers who expect their kids to be reading at two and to have mastered calculus by the age of eleven. (Both perfectly true, I regret to say). There are also those whose children are unable to read at twelve and can barely write their own name at fourteen. Both these types of children would be very much the exception in state schools. There would be few of them and one could disregard their achievements as being wildly atypical. In the crazy world of home education though, these children are not so much rarities as archetypes! In other words, whereas in an average school one would have look hard for a child able to read at two, it is not at all uncommon among a certain type of home educator. In the same way, a boy who cannot read at twelve is unusual in schools but not among home educated children.

The point which I am making here is that because there is no standardised curriculum and indeed in many cases no curriculum at all, it is probably not possible to find a ‘typical’ home educated child. Some such children would, if compared with schooled children, present as being very much advanced. Others would appear to be far behind, at least when compared to children of the same age at school. What we lack and are never likely to have, is a reference group of average home educated children with whom other home educated children may be compared. Such a group almost certainly does not exist.


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