According to what little research has been conducted in this country about home education, one of the main reasons for deregistering children from school and educating them at home is because they have been bullied at school. The Education Otherwise survey in 2003 found this, as did the study by York Consulting in 2007. It is probably a fair guess that this is still the chief motive for the home education of previously schooled children in Britain.
One of the problems with bullied children is that they all too often go on to become bullied teenagers and then bullied adults as well. You frequently find that a child who was bullied at primary school, even if he is transferred to a secondary school where nobody knows him will be bullied there as well. Just as there is a bullying type of child, so too is there a bullied kind of child. It is a complicated subject, but the Americans have name for this; they call it ’victim precipitation’. It is nothing to the purpose here to consider why some children are prone to being bullied, it is enough to realise that it happens. In such cases, withdrawing the child from school and educating him at home is not always the best course of action; not by a long chalk.
Some of those children who get picked on are socially awkward, others might be on the autistic spectrum. There are also those whose home background might have made them appear a little strange to their classmates. It only takes something slightly different and out of the ordinary to attract the attention of the bullying type. I hope this does not sound like victim-blaming, because it is nothing of the sort. I am rather thinking about how things are in the real world. Unfortunately, colleges and the workplace can mirror the situation in schools. The peculiar work colleague can also come to the attention of those of a bullying disposition and have his or her life made a misery in the workplace.
If a child is slightly different from others and has as a result been bullied, then withdrawing him from school and causing him to spend all day with an adult is unlikely to help him be more like his peers. Indeed, it is likely to have quite the opposite effect. If after spending years like this, he then goes to college, then the slight differences in the eight year-old might have grown into the frankly odd behaviour of the young man of sixteen. The bullying can then begin anew. I know of a number of cases where this has happened.
I am perfectly well aware that many schools fail lamentably to tackle bullying with sufficient rigour. Obviously, no parent will stand by and see her child being picked on and taking him away from the bullies can often seem the best solution. It may well be a good short term solution, but it is also quite possible that by doing this one is storing up even more trouble for the child in the future. Ideally, the school and other services should help the child; try to find out whether there is a way of preventing him from providing such a tempting target to bullies. This could be done by psychological assessments, counselling and behavioural therapy. Of course the bullies should also be dealt with ruthlessly; they too need help to make them behave like decent human beings and not like cruel young savages.
All parents fight fiercely to protect their children and will do anything at all that they feel necessary to look after their interests. If schools were to do their job properly and deal with bullying by referring both bullies and bullied to the appropriate services, then a lot of home education would no longer be necessary. I cannot think in general that it is healthy for children who are having difficulty surviving in a group of their peers, to be taken out of this social setting to spend all day with their mums. At the very least, it will hardly serve to make them more normal and like other children of their age! Perhaps when the Education Committee considers what support local authorities are providing for home educated children, this is something at which they could look. By putting in enough resources and help earlier on when problems rear their head, it might not be necessary for most of those children to be taken out of school in the first place.
Incidentally, may I beg anybody commenting on this piece not to use the neologism 'bullicide', nor to repeat claims that sixteen children a year are driven to suicide by bullying? A couple of charities make a good income from bullying and they have a vested interest in the phenomenon; it is what brings in their funding. The 'sixteen suicides a year' gag is part of their mythology and bears no relation to the real situation.