how effective is home education?

Much of home education is based on conversational, informal, non-structured and opportunistic methodologies and its mechanisms are difficult to quantify. However, there is no doubt among researchers in home education, of the effectiveness of the process. It can be difficult to quantify and compare schooled children with home educated children, particularly when there is little traditional record of the child’s learning process.

A major problem is in the definition and the characterisation of education in a broad context. In the few attempts to map a comparison between comparable groups, results have shown that children who are home educated have a significant advantage over their school educated peers. Alan Thomas concludes his 1999 research by saying “At the very least, the research described in this book confirms that education at home is a viable alternative to school.”

Roland Meighan in his 1997 “The Next Learning System: and why home-schoolers are trail blazers”, has a chapter devoted to effectiveness research. Social skills research by Julie Webb (1990) and Gary Knowles (1993) concluded that “the idea of there being social disadvantages to home-based education was not supported by the evidence. Indeed, the evidence suggested the reverse.” This is echoed in the research of Alan Thomas (1999) who found that “Socially, research shows broader and more applicable skills sets in home educated children when compared with their peers.”

On the issue of intellectual and academic development, the academic excellence of home-schooled children has been repeatedly demonstrated in research in the USA and the UK. Summarising earlier findings, they found that home-based children consistently score at or above the 50th percentile on standardised tests, with more than half scoring at the 70th and 80th percentile. (Alaska Dept. of Education 1985, Hewitt Research Foundation 1985, 1986.)

Later studies from the USA put home schooled children at least two years in front of their schooled counterparts in intellectual achievements. In Brian Ray’s 1991 study it put home schooled children up to 10 years ahead in some areas. More recently these findings have been replicated by Paula Rothermel at the University of Durham. Her findings, published in 2002, which demonstrate the remarkable success of home educated children, can be found under the Academic research section of HEN’s website.

Curiously Dennis Littky has used those methods favoured within home schooling in a newly formed high school (The Met School) in Rhode Island, USA and it has produced astonishingly successful results, with a 97% college acceptance level.

Reasons Why People Home Educate

The motivation behind home education is highly diverse. The principal motivations (in no particular order) are:

  • Philosophical, e.g., looking for child led education.
  • Child centred, e.g., some children respond badly to the structure of school.
  • As a response to non-educational problems in school, e.g., bullying by pupils and teachers.
  • Medical related, e.g., Dyslexia, autism, other special needs.
  • Religiously related, e.g. Catholic, Muslim.
  • Culturally related, e.g., resident foreign nationals, travelling community.

There is no research available on the prevalence of these motivations nationally or internationally. (Much of the research done in other countries has oriented around one or other of these motivations or around a specific pedagogy.) There are other reasons, less often stated e.g., parental convenience or geographical location. Frequently it is a combination of several of these. In some instances the process is child-driven, in some, parent driven. In almost all circumstances, it is the child’s choice to remain outside the traditional schooling situation. The first of these motivations appears to be predominantly middle class in nature. The last is found most significantly among travellers and ethnic minorities.

The sociological divisions within home education await research. In a recent study by Dr. Rothermel, involving over 1000 home educated children in the UK, she stated, “For half the sample home-education was a lifestyle choice. Families valued the freedom and flexibility that home-education brought them” (Rothermel, 2002.)

Many thanks to Nick Gudge for sharing his own writings.

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