Paula Rothermel, of the School of Education, University of Durham, U.K., has conducted several research studies on home educated children. An article titled "A nationwide study of home education: early indications and wider implications" was published in the Summer 1999 issue of Education Now.
Findings in brief
This three year study of home education in the U.K. involved 1000 families. Several hundred children participated in this first national assessment of children educated, by choice, outside the school system. The assessments measured psychological stability, academic attainment, and social skills. One main area of the research consisted of 135 interviews conducted with home educating families, in their own homes.
Trained school teachers made up almost 1/4 of the parents. The consensus was that teacher training equipped parents to better communicate with their local education authority. However, more parents were involved in manual and semi-skilled occupations than professional. The children whose parents were classified as from the lower end of the social scale fared substantially better.
Motivation to home educate
Over half of the reasons given for home educating related to being unhappy with school (class sizes, bullying,...). Almost one-third of motivations listed were child-centred (meeting their needs,...). One in five parents described their motivation in terms of their philosophy (ideology, lifestyle, faith,...).
The home-educated children demonstrated a high standard of literacy when contrasted with national attainment levels. Throughout the research it was observed that parents were often unable to predict their child's abilities. More home educated children fell within the early and late reading brackets than the norm. Those children identified as non-reading 7 to 11 year-olds tended to be literary minded, enjoying literature despite their not exhibiting a need to read to themselves.
Tentative results suggest that the children assessed, demonstrated high levels of ability and good social skills. They appear to benefit from a curriculum tailored to their individual needs and from the attention given to them by their families. Love and security within the family, regardless of whether the family had one parent, two parents of the same-sex, or two opposite sex parents, positively contributed to the children's ability to learn, as did the absence of academic and peer pressures often associated with schooling. The opportunity to learn through talk was also contributory. The overall implication is that children may benefit from the self motivation that stems from greater parental participation in their learning process, a more flexible curriculum and an individualised educational programme that reflects their own interests.
A growing trend
In 1997 it was suggested there may be as many as 50,000 children receiving a home-based education throughout the UK. Rothermel conjectured, in this 1999 research report, that 50,000 may be a conservative estimate. The evidence seems to suggest that the numbers are increasing, a possible indication that growing numbers of parents are uneasy with the mainstream system as it was in 1999 (and presumably still is) in the UK.
The way ahead: a third way?
What has come to light during the research is that many parents home educated because they perceive it as the only accessible alternative to school. Often the decision appeared to be a compromise. The optimum, it appeared, would be for the third alternative, the 'third way in education', whereby each child could adopt a flexible curriculum suited to his or her individual needs, in-school, out of school or flexitime by choice.