Home education, once viewed as an unusual, or even fringe method of education, has, at least for a while, become the norm for the vast majority of parents and children across the country. Since schools closed and the lockdown began, parents have suddenly found themselves forced to help teach or source educational resources for their children in a way they may never have expected or prepared for.
However, as schools are soon to re-open, parents, perhaps for the first time, will be able to make a considered choice whether to return to the (albeit slightly modified) conventional school system, or to continue to home-educate their children. In order to best consider this it is worth exploring the advantages and disadvantages of home education today.
According to some figures, prior to COVID-19, around 0.34% of the overall school population were in home education. It is a small number, but over the past few years that number has grown substantially. For example, between 2013-2015 there were roughly 34,000 children being home-educated; by 2017 that number had risen to 48,000.
The reasons a parent might take a child out of the school system are numerous. A child may be being bullied, a parent might feel that schools are a bad fit for their child, and oftentimes children are home educated partly out of dissatisfaction with the schooling available (the Isle of Wight and more rural areas of the country have a large percentage of home-educated children).
The rise in numbers of home-educated children over the past few years is unsurprising. We are living in a golden age of online and distance learning. Today, a person can, without much difficulty, virtually attend world-class lectures, learn languages or new skills, and even pursue accredited GCSEs, A-Levels, and degrees. Home education can also lessen or eliminate the pressures and anxieties children can feel in the fixed and rigid traditional school environment. They may also struggle with its accompanying forced socialisation and homework demands. Yet home education is not a perfect system. In one report, parents mentioned that they struggled to keep up to date and informed about the national curriculum or where their child stood in relation to it. Neither should it go unstated that providing a home education is a full-time job.
Now schools have closed and parents have found themselves as either home educators or co-educators alongside their children’s teachers, there are some divisions in society that have begun to show themselves. Indeed, according to one report, 12% – 15% of teachers in deprived schools noted that around ⅓ of their students may not have a suitable device or sufficient internet connection for them to receive a quality education – this compared to 2% of affluent state-school educators. Educators have also reported that they are receiving less work back from students at disadvantaged schools, when compared to their more advantaged counterparts.
This isn’t to say that home education is something reserved for the wealthy and privileged. Indeed, all children can, and do, benefit from a quality home education. But to ensure that it is an effective option for parents, both for the rest of lockdown and the foreseeable future, greater support and information should be made available to parents in order to make quality home education a fair and valuable alternative to traditional school-based teaching.