Memorandum submitted by Louisa Bird
Elective Home Education Inquiry.
Summary of submission.
- Literature search. The result of short, web-based search for relevant literature pertaining to Home Education performed by myself and brief comparison of these results to those apparently achieved by the author of the literature review.
- Contactpoint. Highlighting of the context in which mention of the Contactpoint database is made within the literature review
- Analysis of the literature review. Breakdown of the literature review section by section discussing the quality of the research and conclusions.
1.1 There are many, many areas of the Badman Review into Home Education that are highly problematic, so much so that it is impossible to discuss them all, let alone in any particular detail, in a document limited to only a few thousand words in length.
Because of this, I have chosen to focus in depth on one specific area that is likely to have had little attention in other submissions rather than attempt to cover the entire review and to hope that others will have covered the rest in their submissions.
I have chosen the literature review on which the Badman Review was based for my submission, as while the quality of the literature review is very poor, the timing of it's entrance into the public domain means that many submissions would have been provided to you before their authors were aware that it was available.
1.3 Henceforth, in order to reduce verbosity while avoiding confusion wherever possible, I will refer to the Badman Review into Home Education itself as 'the Review' with a capitalised R to distinguish it from references to the literature review that I am scrutinising.
1.2 The literature review entered the public domain in response to a Freedom Of Information request and can be found here;
It was not included as part of the Review itself, an odd omission given that the primary function of a literature review is to inform the researcher on a subject they are studying and influence the decisions and actions that are taken in the course of that research. It would have been more than reasonable to expect it's inclusion within the published Review, particularly so as very little independent research was taking place and the main body of the document was based upon what the author had learned from other sources including the literature studied. By not including it, the author made it difficult for any reader to discern the quality of the research done.
2. Literature search
Study into the effect of state regulation on the SAT scores of home educated children in the US, citing numerous other studies into the effectiveness of Home education, including multiple nationwide studies in both the US and Canada. Points out that debates over regulation are rarely based on concern over academic achievement. Findings strongly suggest that the degree of state regulation over home education has no bearing on the academic outcomes for the children concerned as all three groups studied (low, medium and high levels of regulation) produced comparable SAT scores. Published 2008.
summary of findings of nationwide
Findings include: a lack of statistical difference with factors such as length of time home educated prior to testing, use of a full-service curriculum and amount of regulation by the state, and of those areas where a statistical difference was found, only one, that of level of education of the parent, was a significant variable, with the other factors, such as gender, no. of children living at home, amount of structure or whether either parent had ever been a certified teacher (which slightly decreased achievement levels) only amounting to a portion each of 1% of the variance.
Literature review put together by the Home Education Research Initiative who are currently conducting studies into home education in the UK, giving links to numerous studies into home education with specific reference to it's relevance to Britain where international literature is concerned. It includes research into social and emotional wellbeing of home educated children, as well as case history studies that detail the success of the home educated person in adult life.
The website of one of the
An article by Alan Thomas, whose main research interest is in informal, autonomous methods of home education, that reviews the literature concerning this area and tries to show both how different this type of learning is to 'formal' school-based education and to explain it's effectiveness. It concludes that autonomous learning is highly complex and not easy to understand how it works but that does not preclude it from being effective. The bibliography is extensive and contains a number of publications concerned primarily with informal learning.
2.6 I obtained these links within a matter of hours through a web search, restricting myself to UK and American studies for relevance, ease of reading (they are in English!) and proliferation (the US being commonly regarded as having the largest and most thriving home education community and therefore likely to have the most comprehensive and up-to-date studies available for reference). This is only the tip of the research available for viewing , even using this basic criteria there were many more publications I could have read in full, particularly US-based ones, and yet others where I as a non-subscriber only had restricted access to a title and/or abstract of a paper in electronic format. The limitations of a web search would also lead me to the assumption that I could find even more literature if I were to combine it with other resources. Given that the author of the review should have had much more time and access to resources than I and his scope included examining studies from a wider range of countries, I would have expected his literature review to express this by having a far more extensive bibliography than it does.
Most reprehensibly, no citation of the three previously published consultations into home education that have taken place over the last few years, the last in 2007, occurs. Considering these previous consultations have covered very similar ground so recently, it would be a reasonable expectation to see them in the literature review, if only to save covering the same ground yet again and/or to compare the changes in society over the last two years that necessitate a new law so soon after it had been established that changes to the status quo were unnecessary.
2.7 Based on this, I would take issue with the statement within the literature review 'There is very limited evidence on the attainment of home educated children; from this evidence there appears to be better performance amongst home educated children; however, the scale of the research means that generalisations are not appropriate. The diverse characteristics of home educated children makes it difficult to generalise about their academic performance'
The large number of publications I found with ease gives the lie to the first part of the statement concerning 'limited evidence' on attainment since this is what many of these studies concern themselves with to a large extent. Since a number of the studies I found in the first few minutes of my search were on a national scale (allbeit in the US) and amongst the most up-to-date of them all, there is no reason why a generalisation cannot be made based on studies of this size and every reason to wonder why the reviewer did not include them. And to suggest that the home education population is too diverse to generalise about suggests that the school-educated population is homogenous, which is patently untrue thanks to the wide variation in both quality of state-run schools and, in the private sector, that of the philosophies and methods available to choose from. It also implies this diversity is somehow a problem, but, while making it more difficult to establish 'pure' populations to study (a problem which is endemic in studies into human populations that every researcher, including the author of this review himself, comes up against in every case) this diversity is considered by many to be one of Home Education's biggest strengths. The conclusion also contains a statement to the effect that the attainment of home educators has only been measured in studies with small sample sizes. Again, I refer to the large scale recent studies I found as proof that the author need not have relied solely on these. I would also point out that 'small sample size' is another factor that affects his own work on the Review, particularly in relation to the percentage of LAs responding in total to calls for information and the abridged version of the questionnaire sent out to home educators compared to the much more detailed one given to LAs and other organisations.
3.1 In it's early paragraphs, the literature review makes a point of noting Contactpoint and it's facility for collecting data on where a child is educated (though no specific reasons for why it is so concerning that no accurate numbers currently exist, it appears to simply be assumed that the lack of them must be a concern with no thought put in as to why). Having thus established that a method of 'counting' home educated children will be readily available in the near future should this go ahead as planned, it begs the question "Why does the Review itself then go on to recommend an entirely separate 'registration' if the main purpose of this is to keep track of numbers?" It further supports the general suspicion that the word 'registration' is being used throughout the Review as a substitute for 'application to home educate' in order to disguise the true nature of the recommendation.
4. Analysis of the literature review
4.1 The literature review looks at: the current law - a reasonable starting point as this is the legislation that is under review - however, it stresses lack of requirement for state regulation, specifically regarding monitoring and identification of home educating families, and makes no attempt to investigate any of the advantages, or indeed, any other possible disadvantages, such an open law may confer on both state and public. Since education is a lengthy and complex process and the current law is perceived as being flawed enough to merit the massive changes being recommended in the Review. As it stands, it appears more in the light of a statement of bureaucratic box-ticking concerns than a real investigation into the real, practical evidence-based strengths and weaknesses of the law.
4.2 Evidence relating to prevalence of home education - the evidence used appears to consist only of two feasibility studies. However, these correlate well with the greater body of evidence in the public domain which in general tends to agree that it is impossible to do more than guess at numbers without a requirement on all families to make known their educational provision for each of their children. Once again, no explanation of why this might be necessary to know this is given.
4.3a Monitoring and supporting Home educators - the evidence here mainly comes from a series of NEFR studies. I believe some home educating groups have also done some studies into this and it would have been good practice to include these. Even if not in the public domain, it would be highly unlikely that such groups would withhold evidence of this kind from the reviewer had it been asked for. There also does not appear to have been any evidence gathered for the literature review in relation to the experience of Home Educators where monitoring was concerned, all the information here is LA-orientated in point of view, relating what LAs have reported with regard to the situation, creating an unbalanced response unalleviated by the viewpoint of any other affected party. One area in particular, that of some LAs having robust procedures to prevent children being lost from the system, highlights one of the reasons this is a serious flaw - LAs have no legal obligation to keep children in the system if their parents wish to withdraw them, therefore this could easily be construed as malpractice on the part of these LAs, yet no critique of such practices is made in any way and while the variable practices seen between different LAs is mentioned no attempt is made to study the evidence properly to discover either the strengths and weaknesses of the practices themselves or their position with regards to the current law.
4.3b Support is mentioned very briefly, and consists of only one study that detailed the type of support home educators turn to at various points. No analysis is made of these support systems, despite many being websites and groups with literature within the public domain and the LA role being classed mainly as also providing literature - samples from these could easily have been used to further inform this area.
4.4 Provision and practice of home education - one flaw here is a singling out of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families as a separate group with criticism of their educational provision being made on the basis of a single study which is widely regarded as deeply flawed itself. As for the rest, while the conclusions on the range of methods employed by home educators are those which are commonly accepted, it would have been good practice to have more than one study cited as a reference for this as it is one area that is not lacking in evidence.
4.5 Attainment of home educated children - I have covered this at the beginning, but would like to add that at no point in the Review did the author call for adults who had been home educated to come forward to fill out one of the questionnaires developed for the express purpose of collecting data to supplement the literature. I find this omission concerning, considering that it is only in the adult that we find the truth about the effectiveness of the method of education they have been subjected to.
4.6 Motives for choosing to home educate - I do not understand why this section is in the literature review. The reason a person embarks on a course of action is of little relevance to their effectiveness in carrying it out, or, indeed, the choice of method they decide to employ to achieve their goal which is far more likely to rely on personal philosophies and practicalities than the initial reason for taking the decision. Moreover, it is further complicated by the fact that few home educators are motivated by a single reason that remains constant throughout. There is no real stated purpose for including this, except to further prove home educators are a diverse community. Though it could be easily assumed the author included it in case there appeared to be an underlying trend that could give clues to the rise in popularity of home education which would be a legitimate reason for inclusion, no such intent is stated and leaves this section a vague and pointless waste of space, enforced further by the conclusions, where it is stated vaguely that this wide range of motivations makes it difficult to generalise about the impact of home education academically and socially, though no details are given as to how this factor could affect these things. This could have easily been dispensed with and other, more important factors, such as social and emotional wellbeing ( an area completely neglected in this literature review despite one of the main purposes of the Review being stated as a concern for the welfare of the children involved) could have been looked at instead.
4.7a International evidence - this is the largest section on the literature review, somewhat surprisingly. Since home education is by its nature often deeply connected to the culture of the country, or part thereof, in which it takes place, the relevance of reams of research into foreign practices is not relevant for the most part, particularly when the cultural context is ignored (at no point in the literature review is it mentioned that the ban on Home Education in Germany is an unrepealed law created in the 30's by the Nazi party in order to ensure all children would be subjected to the indoctrination of Nazi beliefs taught mandatorily in schools at the time, for example) Without knowing the reasoning behind the creation of a particular law, it is impossible to determine what, if any, relevance it has to the current culture and society of a different country.
4.7b While looking beyond our own borders for
new ideas is laudable, written as it is, with no cultural or historical context
to support it, the list of other countries laws on home education appears to
have been compiled with the main intention of 'proving' that the UK is
uncommonly lax compared to the rest of the world where home education laws are
concerned. However, this evidence could also be used to make the case that the
Overall, this literature review is of a poor standard. Only a tiny amount of the available research was looked at, often with only one or two citations given for each area examined thus allowing a narrow viewpoint to develop, and the choice of literature did not include the larger or most up to date studies. A number of documents which would reasonably be expected to have been included are noticeably absent from the bibliography. Some of the literature reviewed has little relevance to the remit of the Review, while studies that do examine areas that would be expected to be highly relevant, such as those on the social and emotional wellbeing of home educated children, are not represented at all. Relevance and context is missing in a number of places, thereby reducing the usefulness of the research, and the conclusions drawn are based on a single point of view and avoid discussing alternative interpretations of the data. The lazy and undirected fashion in which this literature review has been put together casts a shadow over any research that it informs.