Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review Response from The Institute of Education (University of London)

...drafted by Alan Thomas, and was submitted largely without change. Whilst he isn't on the Review panel, he is being consulted by them.

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1. Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.

• Not Sure

We assume that “safeguarding” is to be understood in the “child protection” sense and not with regard to education in the academic sense which is addressed in Question 5.

The current system for safeguarding children educated at home is inadequate partly because children who do not start school are not required to make themselves known to the LA. On the other hand the only way to ensure that home educated children are safe would be to visit all homes on a regular basis without notice. To the home education community this might appear draconian. It might also be perceived to be discriminatory if similar action were not taken with regard to children who attend school. The fact that they are in school during the day does not ensure they are safeguarded when they are at home.

Note: In answering this first question we assume there is a possibility that a child educated at home might not be safeguarded. In the following Questions 2 – 5 our answers are based on what we know about the home educated population in general, though for the most part there is little research evidence to go on. Research undertaken at the Institute of Education (IOE) has focused mainly on the methods that parents use, especially informal and autonomous ones, including their application to literacy and numeracy (Thomas, A (1998) Educating Children at Home London, Continuum International Publishing Group; Thomas A & Pattison, H (2007) How Children Learn at Home Continuum International Publishing Group). As part of this research we have of course accumulated information on other aspects of home education, both from our own work and research undertaken elsewhere.

2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

2 a) Be healthy

• Yes

The Five Outcomes
There is every reason to believe that almost all parents, whether their children go to school or not, will want to ensure their children achieve all five outcomes. They are so culturally embedded they hardly need stating. Indeed many parents in research by the IOE (and research elsewhere) cite the desire to achieve the first three outcomes as their reasons for turning to home education (Thomas, 1998, op cit; Rothermel, P (2003) “Can We Classify Motives for Home Education?” Evaluation and Research in Education Vol 17, No 2 & 3).

There is simply no reason to expect that home educated children might not be able to achieve this first outcome (be healthy). On the contrary, we might expect home educating parents to be more aware than the general population in promoting their children’s health though we know of no supporting research evidence.

2 b) Stay safe

• Yes

See response to Question 2a. In addition, in research carried out at the IOE and elsewhere, a number of home educating parents actually turn to home education in order to ensure their children’s safety (e.g. Thomas, 1998, op cit).

2 c) Enjoy and achieve

• Yes

Research carried out at the IOE and elsewhere demonstrates that the motivation of many parents in undertaking home education is precisely to raise their children’s achievement and enjoyment in their education (e.g. Thomas, 1998, op cit; Rothermel, P (2002) Home Education: Rationales, Practicess and Outcomes Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Durham).

A very thorough review of determinants of achievement in school identified parental involvement (both intellectual and emotional) as the critical factor over and above all others including socioeconomic background, ability and school factors (Desforges, C & Abouchaar, A (2003) The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Review London, Department for Education and Skills, Research Report No 433).

There is a considerable amount of research in the USA which points to home educated children being in advance of attainment norms. The only study in this country had similar findings (Rothermel, 2002, op cit). However, any comparisons are fraught with difficulties, the greatest being that they do not tell us how these children would have fared had they been in school.

Notwithstanding the above, the possibilities which home education offers in terms of following the child’s individual interests and allowing them to learn at their own pace are paramount (see Thomas, 1998, op cit; Thomas & Pattison, 2007, op cit, which describe research undertaken at the IOE).

2 d) Make a positive contribution.

• Yes

Home educated children have the opportunity to engage in their communities at least as much as children in school if not more so because they are not tied to school hours. To what extent they actually do so is not known. However, research in Canada has shown the involvement of home educated children in their communities to be as high as or higher than that of schooled peers (Mattox, W Jr (1999) “Hidden Virtues in Homeschooling Spur Growth” USA Today quoted in Basham P, Marriefield J, Hepburn C, Homeschooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream (2007) Studies in Education Policy Oct 2007 A Fraser Institute Occasional Paper; Van Peltz, D (2003) Home Education in Canda London ON: Canadian Centre for Home Education quoted in Basham P, Marriefield J, Hepburn C, Homeschooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream (2007) Studies in Education Policy Oct 2007 A Fraser Institute Occasional Paper).

2 e) achieve economic well-being

• Yes

Research from the USA shows home educated young people go on to pursue a range of employment alternatives and further studies. There is very little research pertaining to the UK though what there is suggests positive outcomes (Webb (2001) Unschooled Minds: Home Educated Children Growing Up Educational Heretics Press).

3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?

• Not Sure

How can Government possibly “ensure” that children “achieve” these “outcomes”? The Government can only ensure that all children have the opportunity to achieve them, supporting their education in any way possible whether educated at home or in school.

4. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?

• Yes

Currently home educating families receive no financial support. Financial support (e.g. for educational materials, correspondence courses, GCSE examinations) would seem appropriate. Also, permitting and encouraging part-time schooling, flexi-schooling, and increased flexibility to join FE colleges for those under 16 years of age.

At a general level, increased recognition of home education as a valid alternative to school would help strengthen relationships between government agencies and home educators. Existing DCSF guidelines for LAs already make a positive contribution in this respect.

5. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?

• Yes

The present system lacks clarity and is unsatisfactory for both families and LAs. Part of the problem is that LA officials generally lack an understanding of the range of home educating approaches.

To our knowledge, the only in depth research into home educating methods has been conducted here at IOE during the last ten years (Thomas, 1998, op cit; Thomas & Pattison, 2007, op cit). Home educators adopt a very wide range of approaches which are often very different from school ones, especially those that are informal or autonomous. Prospective monitors therefore would need to be fully trained in an understanding of the differences between school-based and home-based education.

A good model for monitoring is provided in Australia by the Tasmanian Home Education Advisory Council, a government body with equal input from home educators and Education Department officials. The system in place in Ireland is also worth considering. There has been input into both these through research carried out at the IOE.

6. Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?

Although a possibility, to our knowledge there is no research evidence to support the concern. However Michael Apple in the US has voiced concern over the potential effects of home schooling in relation to particular groups such as the religious right (see Apple, M (2000) “The Cultural Politics of Home Schooling” Peabody Journal of Education Vol 75, No 1).

The only way to ensure, as far as possible, that home education is not used as a cover would be to require all home educators to register with LAs and then to make regular and unannounced home visits with legal right of entry. From knowledge gained through our contact with home educating families and organizations this would undoubtedly be viewed as draconian and discriminatory.

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