More parents opt for home education post-lockdown, survey finds

Now that education secretary John Swinney has confirmed that schools in Scotland are to re-open in August, many families are considering their options after educating their children from home under lockdown conditions for the past several months.

We decided to survey a selected segment of our membership in order to ascertain the post-lockdown educational plans of parents whose children had previously been in school. We wondered how many would continue to home educate and how many would return their children to school.

The results are reported below, but first some background…

By March, our forum had begun to see a surge in membership requests as panicking parents sought out ‘home schooling’ advice, many being unaware that elective home education differs fundamentally from the school-at-home they envisioned. The former is inclusive of myriad approaches, from autonomous child-led learning to structured or semi-structured provision, the key aspect being that it is tailored to the individual child’s needs. As a group, we take a children’s rights-based, rather than a state outcomes-based, view of education.

It became something of a slog to keep explaining the legal framework, the need for correct terminology (‘home education’, not ‘home schooling’) and the benefits of facilitating learning rather than delivering a school-type curriculum to the flood of new members. Parents who had never anticipated being thrust into the role of full-time educators were understandably fearful, believing their children would ‘fall behind’ and would need to ‘catch up’. We reassured them that learning is lifelong and not a race, and that home educated young people were equally able to access higher education and pursue careers of their choosing, often by alternative means than conventional schooling. 

Media coverage that focused on the trials and tribulations of ‘home schooling’ (American terminology that has no basis in law in the UK) did not help. Parents were barraged on a daily basis with often-useless tips and advice (mostly pulled from the Internet) by self-promoting ‘experts’ who had spotted a profitable new niche, despite no one having experience of, let alone expertise in, home education (or even home schooling) in the unprecedented circumstances we all found ourselves in. That so few were able to use correct terminology, articulate the legal framework or even acknowledge the benefits of informal learning – yet were given a platform to panic the public – was frankly irresponsible. We had, however, long since given up on trying to educate those who are unwilling to listen and lazily revert to ‘home-eduphobic’ rhetoric by default.

We have highlighted some recent examples here and here. And just as we were preparing to publish this article, the damaging conflation was further amplified by Sky News reporting on a ‘home schooling’ survey by the ONS whose headline screamed ‘Coronavirus: Most children struggled to learn at home during lockdown, survey finds’. There was no need to read further to predict a new pandemic of home-eduphobia amidst ‘calls’ for intervention in the form of parent policing by the neoliberal wellbeing industry.  

We made a conscious decision not to engage with the fake news narrative that had failed to consider the equally detrimental impact of the lockdown on home educators and quietly got on with what we do best: providing  accurate information, peer support and advocacy to families. While schooling parents had lost their free childcare and school-teachers overnight, home educators had also lost out on access to their regular local groups and activities, yet the ignorant misrepresentation of lockdown schooling-from-home as being equivalent to home education in ‘normal’ times continued unabated and unchallenged.

Nonetheless, it soon became apparent that the home educating community was better equipped to deal with the many new adversities presented by Covid-19 as they were already adept at overcoming barriers, finding solutions and sharing knowledge and skills via dedicated networks built up over many years. Yes, it was hard, but the community pulled together, all the while fielding hundreds of enquiries from ‘new-age’ parent educators and a fickle media – not least  the BBC who have fully signed up to disseminating the ‘home schooling’ propaganda that is damaging to elective home educators.

We were also able to share with new members our recently published (unsurprisingly ignored by the media) research report, Home Truths, which serves as a stark reminder that most councils and schools cannot be trusted to get the law right, and that their advice should always be fact-checked and all communications kept in writing. During lockdown, significant delays were reported in obtaining responses from council staff, and those parents who required consent to withdraw their children were rightly concerned at the lack of adherence to statutory guidance, non-acknowledgement of requests and failure to meet timescales. 

Those new members who could not conceive of education not being synonymous with schooling, were gently ushered to other groups that had sprung up to support lockdown ‘home schoolers’, and we became more selective about admission to our forum as we are categorically not a ‘home schooling’ network. We no doubt offended a few teachers (who had been thrown into the same boat as their pupils’ parents) by asking them to desist from ‘schoolsplaining’, i.e. offering school-centric advice on timetabling, structure, curriculum and routine that are anathema to many home educators. Then there were the opportunists who came along just to flog their services, who were quickly ejected but added to the pressure on our team of volunteers.

Happily, a significant number of newbies stayed, asked questions, researched home education and made new friends. A few weeks into the ‘experiment’, they had gained new-found confidence and were reporting how their children were flourishing out of school. While many teachers were still valiantly trying to deliver lessons virtually on an ad hoc basis without adequate support, the majority of families eschewed them in favour of doing it their way – and it worked! Some said they found the quality of school offerings to be inconsistent and often poor, and the expectations of replicating school-at-home to be both unrealistic and damaging to children’s wellbeing. Others did not appreciate the intrusion into family homes where they were often working as well as caring for and educating their children. 

A new ‘normal’ gradually began to emerge for families as they relaxed into a different way of working and learning from home. We engaged in much online discussion and debate around sculpting more flexible patterns of employment and education to achieve a more balanced lifestyle in the wake of such phenomenal disruption. Having boned up on the law and home education guidance, several parents proceeded to submit formal requests for consent to withdraw their children from school in advance of the new term, while others enthusiastically investigated flexischooling.

It was the unprecedented circumstances that had led to enforced home-based lockdown learning which prompted us to conduct our informal survey of parents who had joined us since March and previously ‘undecided’ group members. Of our overall membership of nearly 3600, many of whom are established home educators, 110 of our target sub-set responded, with some offering commentary on how they had arrived at their decision to home educate (or not). 


 

Nearly half of our lockdown learners had decided to home educate full-time from August, while 27% were considering or had requested a flexischooling arrangement. A further 4% were considering temporary home education until satisfied that their children’s safety and additional support needs would be met, and 16% remained undecided. Only 8% had decided to send their children back to school, with some adding a caveat that they would home educate if schooling proved unviable.

Some of the parents commented on the thinking behind their choices. 

The home educators

My decision isn’t based on Covid worries, the lockdown just happened to be the catalyst I needed to make me seriously look at home education. I have considered it a lot over the past five years my children have been in school but always just went with the ‘normal’ flow.

Lockdown forced me to do in-depth research into how to educate at home and it didn’t seem as hard or as scary as I’d made it in my mind to be; then seeing how much better my children thrived was all the push I needed.

Not home educating because of Covid but it gave us the push that I wanted. (Husband still to be convinced about its permanence though).

It’s been the one positive thing to come from the pandemic (which is weird but true).

My decision isn’t based on Covid worries but on how during lockdown I was able to see how much damage school was doing to my son. We actually achieved very little during the official lockdown home education period because we just focused on healing that damage. Slowly beginning to start our learning journey now. I joined the group when it became clear to me this was a route we were seriously considering. Have just this morning received confirmation that he is withdrawn! 

I was flexi before, but during lockdown my oldest came on so much. He’s deaf and has a severe speech and language delay but his speech came on so much due to the lack of pressure at school and being more relaxed at home. His SLT who hadn’t spoken to him for three months did an assessment via Facetime and the difference was astounding. He still has a long way to go but the improvement has been vast! Our request for withdrawal was accepted so there’s a huge sigh of relief in our household and I look forward to seeing him and his younger sibling, who was never registered anyway, progress in the future. Exciting times!

Lockdown has given the nudge to HE all the children. Just one is uncertain on whether she wants to return or not. My only concern is finding a way to make an income to support the home education journey

I have applied to home ed my 10-year-old. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for her for years and this situation just gave me the push I needed.

Lockdown gave me an insight into how much school was negatively affecting my son and what he was capable of at home.

I was already considering it as my son is SEND and he asked me at Christmas to home educate him.

Lockdown did many things for us. It showed me I could do it, it showed me how little my son had been taught, how behind he was, it highlighted other potential disabilities the school didn’t pick up on and demonstrated why mo son gets upset in school. I also learnt how to teach him so he doesn’t get upset and what to do when he does, which I kind of knew anyway. The only issue that wasn’t clear is why the school managed very little and had to resort to seclusion and restraint, neither of which I do.

My 13-year-old daughter suffers from stress, anxiety and is awaiting a diagnosis for ASD. Being educated at home has been a revelation. She is a different person. She can focus on the subjects she is passionate about at a time of day that works for her and at a more rapid pace. We are fortunate that I am home based anyway, and my husband and I have degrees covering the arts and STEM.

For us, the main reason is Covid, we don’t think is a good idea opening the school just yet, but another reason is that lockdown showed me how little the school was doing, and during those three months, we did more maths and learned more about how the wold works in 2-3 hours a day instead of 6. The withdrawal request is already sent

Consent to withdraw was approved back in May. We aren’t worried about Covid, we’re more worried about the psychological effect it could have on our children.

My 12-year-old son has high functioning ASD. The change in him since lockdown has been amazing. My husband and I are both home based too so makes sense to build a firm and stable foundation for him with HE no matter what’s happening out there in the world!

Just submitted consent request and will be home educating from August for the first time. Many reasons, Covid transmission risk but also disruption, new systems and uncertainty. As a family, we feel home education offers more stability for our kids right now. We plan to follow CfE as best we can so that if and when the children would like to re-enter mainstream school they will be able.

It’s so reassuring to see other families going through similar processes right now. I don’t personally know anyone else making similar decisions so it’s heartening to know we’re no alone (even if many folk think we’re mad!)

The flexischoolers

Flexischooling approved – hooray! It’s flexi or home ed from now on.

I started off doing bits of counting and spellings but they’re just 3 and 6, so after reading Gatto and finding it hard to get them to sit and comply, decided to just let them be kids. They planted a garden, made food, built dens and fires. Youngest called me to see a peacock butterfly he spotted today. The elder one noted a shield bug. He has also learnt to paddle a kayak solo. Clambering over rocks at the seaside, splashing about with friends and being so excited about seeing a heron feels valuable whereas I would have been concerned with lack of progress pre-Covid. We just started flexischooling before and will do it again. If it’s all masks and tape I’ll withdraw them.

The returners

I have homeschooled <sic> and flexischooled but my son loves school and is keen to return to his friends. I think its important to not live in fear too. If the R number increases again I will just home school for the government are being very accommodating. I got a letter about if from them

My 6-year-old is going back to school although I’m considering flexischooling.

I home educated my son for two years but he now wants to try high school. My daughter loves school but is now on the fence about wanting to be home educated, so we have both decided she will go back to school and see how she feels in a couple of months.

The undecided 

I’m waiting to hear what the school are planning for the P1 class.

The latest  government guidance acknowledges that:

some parents and carers may be concerned about their child returning to school, and consider withholding their child until reassurance is provided. In these circumstances schools and local authorities should engage with those parents and carers to provide reassurance on any concerns, overcome any barriers to learning, and support attendance.

Yet  ‘some parents’ remain to be convinced. 

We home educated for P6/7, then returned for S1 (my boy’s choice, with a half day off to visit a tutor). I’m not happy the schools are returning, so we have requested that he be home educated until we think it’s safe, then we will discuss flexischooling.

My decision is based on Covid, I did take my girls out earlier than when the schools originally stopped. And I still think it’s to dangerous to send them back at the moment. I have applied and hoping I get word soon. Don’t think It will be long term as I don’t think I am the best teacher, but it’s now the safest way forward just now for them, and I will continue until there is such a thing as normal back.

Never saw it as an option as I work full time, but now full time from home. Sons 13 and 14 years old are going back for a bit . Husband not convinced re home education as he they are too lazy and don’t take enough responsibility. My older son has been a changed lad since being out of school. Had bad mental health due to school pre-lockdown and struggled academically. Going into third year might be different with different classes. I expect we will lock down again and revert to blended learning. I would prefer to home educate with the school’s resources so am taking the gamble, but if my son’s mental health deteriorates he will be out of school. It helps to see lots of others now considering home education.

We will end with a reminder from Section 28(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 that:

pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.

 

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