Peer pressure in the world of British home education

Nobody knows how many children in this country are educated at home; nor are we likely to find out in the future. One estimate widely bandied about during the Badman review was 80,000. In a book published last year, Mike Fortune-Wood argued for a figure of 150,000. Let us split the difference and assume that perhaps as many as 115,000 are being educated out of school. Some families contain more than one child and so this might give us roughly 200,000 parents of home educated children in this country. The vast majority of these parents do not belong either to groups which meet physically nor to forums, lists and online support groups. Obviously, a list which boasts 1000 members really represents only 0.5% of British home educators. Since only about 50 members post regularly, the views expressed even on a list such as this are only those of a tiny minority of home educating parents. The same applies to groups of home educating parents who meet in libraries, church halls and so on; they are very much a minority of home educating parents taken as a whole.

Commenting here yesterday, somebody said:

Some of us need the services of the LA, especially those with children with SEND. However on some lists they daren't speak out and say that they are involved with the LA in that way for fear of being attacked.’

It is of course not only on Internet lists and forums that people are nervous of speaking out in favour of visits; the same thing happens at groups which meet. Somebody else commenting, said:

I know, it can be a real pain when you want a visit and people try to talk you out of it.’

All clubs and societies have various unwritten rules to which members are assumed to subscribe. For those belonging to the larger home education lists and forums, one of these is that members are expected to be in opposition to local authority involvement in home education. Those who feel differently are often ridiculed and accused of making life difficult for other parents. An argument frequently advanced is that if some home educating parents accept visits, then the local authority will expect everybody to have them. Parents who have amicable dealings with their local authority are thus represented as traitors and fifth columnists whose actions have an adverse effect on other home educators. This conformity of views is enforced by anti-local authority parents forming impromptu pecking parties and bullying others until they stop expressing their own views. Sometimes, the dissenters are removed by the list owner in order to create the illusion of unanimity. This happened recently on the HE-UK list when a member asked for one person to try and make her posts a little clearer. The owner of the HE-UK list is famous for chucking off people who speak out in favour of either visits from the local authority or even for structured teaching of children.

The result of all this is that many home educating parents feel under pressure to pay lip-service to principles to which they do not subscribe. This enables those with extremist views on the subject of home education to make out that theirs are really the mainstream opinions of British home educators. We have seen a lot of this ’tail wagging the dog’ type activity on the home education scene in this country. Most home educating parents simply get on with the business of educating their children as best they can. An awful lot of them come to some accommodation with their local authority about visits or annual reports and relations are more or less good natured on both sides. When an organisation claims to represent home educating parents and their interests, we must bear in mind that even if it is a fairly large groups by home education standards, one containing say 2000 members, this is still only 1% or so of the parents of home educated children. It is unfortunate that sometimes, as in the case of visits from local authorities, this tiny minority seeks to shape the opinions and actions of others by cold shouldering and bullying those who express what are seen as unorthodox views on the subject.


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