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Home Education: The Modern Folk Devil

The Need for Independent Research


Home education seems to be a subject which everyone has an opinion on or worse is an ‘expert’.


Take children centric non-governmental organisations or professional bodies: who take a stance on home education without real world insight into the practice of home education or engagement with home educators and their families.


Typically, they express anxieties about the practice of home citing specific concerns: unknown numbers of EHE-children; the lack of registration; the inability to monitor education; parents versus childrens’ rights and the child’s voice; safeguarding and welfare / seeing the child educated (e.g. Monk, 2004; Badman 2009; Brandon et al, 2013; NSPCC, 2014; Hansard, 2017, 2017a, 2017b).


Home education and home-educators provoke a ‘moral panic’ among many: e.g. certain MPs, Governmental organisations (e.g. Childrens Commissioner, OFSTED, Local Government Association), non-governmental organisations (e.g. NSPCC, National Children’s Bureau), professionals (e.g. social workers, teachers, education officers, health), media.


Those expressing concern about home education have also cited the risk of forced marriage, fabricated induced illness, female genital mutilation, social isolation, radicalisation, illegal schools.


To borrow from Cohen (1973) home educators have become a societal ‘folk devil’.


Concerns around perceived ‘risk’ predominates the narrative of home-education, despite the lack of statistical evidence or rigorous research to support such opinion (Charles-Warner, 2015).


Some concerned stakeholder commission targeted exploration into perceived risks of home education (e.g. Brandon et al, 2013; NSPCC, 2014a; Forrester et al., 2017).


Mostly, they fail to engage with the community they are ‘concerned about’, rather drawing on analysing literature.


For instance, the NSPCC admitted that their Reports into home education and safeguarding (2014a, 2014b) that the reports were written from Executive Summaries of the individual Serious Case Reviews rather than consulting the full review, nor did they consider/include any relevant Court judgments (NSPCC, 2016). These Reports were therefore written without thorough research, had factual inaccuracies, and provided inadequate evidence (Education Otherwise, 2015; Evans, 2015).


More generally, concerned stakeholders tend to pass judgement on home education, based solely on ‘knowledge’ or opinion rather than sound academic enquiry. The stream of often negative Reports not only informs the ‘public’ but becomes but ‘knowledge’ for those who question the ‘right’ to home educate (e.g. Balls, 2010; Parliament UK, 2014; Soley, 2017, 2018).


To challenge the veracity of concerned stakeholder research, UK home education is crying out for our universities to take up the challenge of conducting good quality, verifiable, independent, academic research.


Home education has benefited from those who have, researched facets of home education for Master dissertations of Doctoral thesis’ (e.g. Daniels, 2017; Lees, 2010; Morton, 2011; Mukwamba-Sendall, 2019; Nelson, 2010; Petrie, 1992; Rothermel, 2002;). Along with additional contributions by independent scholars (e.g.; Safran 2008, 2009, 2012; Fortune-Wood, 2005a, 2005b, 2006, 2011, 2012; Mountney, 2008; Charles-Warner, 2014, 2015).


However, beyond doctoral study home education with our universities is very much the orphan child of educational or wider academic study: although interest has risen in the last decade (e.g. Bhopal and Myers, 2016; Fensham-Smith 2017, 2017; Lees, 2014, 2017; Patterson 2015, 2016, 2018, Rothermel, 1999 a, b, c, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2010, a, b, 2015) it is still under researched.


There is a need for instance for robust creditable and ethical research into the claims that home education is a safeguarding risk, e.g. an intensive study into comparative levels of safeguarding risk for EHE-children, and/or a comparative study of EHE safeguarding risk evaluated against their schooled peers.


Or research into the perceptions and realities of stigmatisation of home-education: to assess the level of fact (or myth) in respect of perceived risks for harm e.g. welfare or lack of socialisation. Or a longitudinal case study of the home educated child through to adulthood, reflective of Ray’s (1997, 2005, 2013, 2015) US exploration of ‘home-schooled’ adults.


UK focused research could examine various attainments: academic, social, employment and community.


Are you a researcher genuinely interested in exploring the exciting world of home education?

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With special thanks to home educated Emily, aged 13, for sharing a unique worldview through the medium of art.