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Children taught at home learn more
Youngsters of all social classes do better if they avoid school, study discovers
by Amelia Hill
The Observer, Sunday 13 August 2000
Children taught at home significantly outperform their contemporaries who go to school, the first comparative study has found.
It discovered that home-educated children of working-class parents achieved considerably higher marks in tests than the children of professional, middle-class parents and that gender differences in exam results disappear among home-taught children.
The study, to be published by the University of Durham in the autumn, will support a call for the Government to introduce legislation to help the growing army of parents who are choosing to remove their children from schools.
The numbers of home-educated children in Britain has grown from practically none 20 years ago to about 150,000 today - around 1 per cent of the school age population. By the end of the decade, the figure is expected to have tripled. Home education has won so much support in Scotland that more than 200 campaigners from across Britain are to march to the Scottish Parliament next month to demand a relaxation in legislation which makes it harder for parents to educate their children at home in Scotland than in England and Wales.
'Home-educated children do better in conventional terms and in every other way too,' said Paula Rothermel, a lecturer in learning in early childhood at the University of Durham, who spent three years conducting the survey. She said: 'This study is the first evidence we have proving that home education is a huge benefit to large numbers of children. Society just assumes that school is best but because there have never been any comparative studies before this one, the assumption is baseless.'
Rothermel questioned 100 home-educating families chosen randomly across the UK, conducting face-to-face interviews and detailed appraisals of their children's academic progress, in line with recognised Government tests. She found that 65 per cent of home-educated children scored more than 75 per cent in a general mathematics and literacy test, compared to a national figure of only 5.1 per cent. The average national score for school-educated pupils in the same test was 45 per cent, while that of the home-educated children was 81 per cent.
Rothermel said: 'The improved exam results could be down to the sheer quantity of parental attention and the sense of long-term security that gives them... It could also be down to the fact that families who home educate from birth had worked with their children from the word go and without the disruptive transition at an early age to the very different environment of school.'
Rothermel found that the children of working-class, poorly-educated parents significantly outperformed their middle-class contemporaries. While the five- to six-year old children of professional parents scored only 55.2 per cent in the test, children far lower down the social scale scored 71 per cent. Rothermel said: 'This was really a staggering finding, but better-educated parents are probably more laid back than poorly-educated parents and so are less likely to push their children.'
Alison Preuss, a mother of three, has been home teaching for six years and is director of Schoolhouse, a Scottish support group for parents who have opted out of conventional schooling. She said: 'In school [children] have knowledge poured into them, while at home they're proactive in choosing what they learn. It's a better preparation for university because they are used to motivating themselves.
'Their social skills and general knowledge are more advanced because they're not restricted by the confines of a national curriculum. They can explore a huge variety of subjects, concentrating in depth on whichever ones capture their imagination.'
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