Record: Lynne Kendall and Elizabeth Taylor, “‘We can’t make him fit into the system’: parental reflections on the reasons why home education is the only option for their child who has special educational needs.” International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, 44, No. 3 (2016): 297-310. [Abstract]
Summary: This small-scale study by Lynne Kendall and Elizabeth Taylor from the Department of Education, Health, and Community at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK investigates the perspectives of parents who withdrew their children from the state-maintained education system due to their children’s special educational needs.
The study grows from the 2009 Badman Report which was commissioned by the government to assess the status of home education in England. That report found that some parents withdraw their children from the school system as a result of their children’s needs not being adequately met. It has been suggested by previous studies that there is a higher ratio of students with special needs who are home educated than in the general population of the state-maintained system.
This study’s sample consists of seven mothers who home educate their children. The children’s ages ranged from 6 to 15, and six were on the autistic spectrum. The other child was diagnosed with dyspraxia, hyper mobility, and food allergies. Three of the children with ASD had another disability as well. The amount of time that they had been home educated ranged from 1 to 10 years. The data was collected through semi-structured phone interviews in the summer of 2010, and the sample was located through a home education support forum.
First the researchers investigated the parents’ motivations for home educating. The parents primarily chose home education because they believed that their children’s social, emotional, and educational needs were not being met in mainstream schools. Rather than being elective about home education, they felt that home educating was necessary to ensure the well-being of their children. All of the parents stated that they would be willing to allow their children to return to school in the future if that was the child’s will.
While all children in the UK have a right to a broad, balanced, and relevant education, the parents of the children with ASD in the study did not believe that their children had received an appropriate education in schools. For example, one child with ASD was engaged in learning activities for about 30 minutes each day and then left to disengage.
Parents felt that there was a lack of understanding about autism spectrum disorder among school staff and an unwillingness to listen to parents when they tried to provide information on the best ways to work with their child. For example, one teacher reportedly said, “I have been teaching for forty odd years. I know what I’m doing and he will do what I want” (p. 304). Another teacher, who happened to be the school’s special needs coordinator, was perceived equally as clueless by one of the mothers. To support students with ASD, teachers tend to transfer their responsibility for the student onto a teaching assistant.
The interviewed parents believed that their children’s health and well-being were negatively affected by their experiences at school. One child was locked in a “calm down room” on a regular basis and suffered due to the seclusion and claustrophobia. All of the parents reported that their children were happier schooling at home.
Appraisal: This article was quite eye-opening about the state of special education in the UK, at least as perceived by these parents. While the laws theoretically guarantee equal rights to students with special needs, it is clear that this does not always happen in practice. However, it is also critical to remember that this sample was entirely self-selected, which means that the parents who chose to respond to the reseachers’ posting may have been the ones with the most negative experiences in school. Their accounts of their experiences with the school system are biased for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the study still sheds a lot of light on why parents of children with special needs may choose to home educate their children. It also corroborates what other scholars studying the special-needs subset of home educators have found–most of these families are “accidental homeschoolers,” or what Jennifer Lois has called “second choice” homeschoolers. They do it because they feel like they have no other option, not because they are committed a priori to home education.
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