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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about lots of permanent changes as well as many temporary ones. One change has been the increase in the number of school-aged children being home educated. Though the pandemic has certainly been a causal factor in this shift away from traditional school-based education, it isn’t the only reason.
Interestingly, levels of home-schooling had already been on the rise in the UK for a number of years. According to the BBC, there were around 34,000 young people receiving home education in the 2014/15 academic year. By 2016/17, this figure was 48,000.
What it seems then, is that Coronavirus simply sped up the rise in people choosing to home-school their children. Some of the largest local authorities in the country reported an increase of de-registrations of 200% in one term alone.
So, with so many people taking up the challenge, could home-schooling be an option for you? In this article, we’ll discuss all of the things you need to know about home education including the pros and cons, and how to know if this would be the right thing for your child and family.
What do we mean by home-schooling?
In the United Kingdom, it is a legal requirement for all children to receive an education. This doesn’t have to be in a formal school, however. Home-schooling means that a parent has officially de-registered their child from school, choosing to educate them at home instead. Other terms include ‘home educating’ and ‘elective home education’.
Typically, parents in the home education sphere distinguish between the terms ‘home-schooling’ and EHE (elective home education). The government uses all of the terms interchangeably, however.
For many home educators, the term ‘home-schooling’ is more temporary, just like when schools were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. These parents believe that the home-schooling that went on during lockdown was nothing like the education their home-educated children typically received because they would usually attend groups and activities outside of the home as well as education within the home. According to statistics, 90% of parents home-schooled at some point during the beginning of 2021, and 50% of these said it affected their wellbeing.
The responsibility of home-schooling
Unlike when a child attends school, the responsibility of home-schooled children’s education lies solely with the parents. This means they’re responsible for what the child learns and how they learn and have to find their own home-schooling resources.
Being responsible for their education doesn’t mean that they have to be their child’s teacher. Many home educators hire tutors or use tuition online, which is much more plentiful since 2020! It does mean, though, that they will be monitored by the local authority to ensure their child is receiving an adequate education.
Parents and carers can even be issued with an Education Supervision Order or a School Attendance Order if what they’re providing isn’t good enough.
Home-schooling also comes with a cost. While state education is free and includes all exam entries and access to special educational needs support, parents and carers are responsible for these costs when they de-register their children from school.
When de-registering a child, you also give up their place at the school. This means you can’t always go back to the same school should home-schooling not work.
Rarely, a flexi-schooling arrangement can be made. This means the child receives some of their education in a traditional school while having the rest of their education at home.
Reasons why people opt for home-schooling
All parents and carers have different reasons for choosing home-schooling for their child.
Among the most common are:
- SEN (Special Educational Needs) or Additional Needs aren’t being met in school. This could be autism, dyslexia or even gifted needs.
- Health issues – Especially poor mental health like depression, anxiety and phobias.
- Bulling – By their peers or teachers.
- A child being unable to physically attend school.
- The parent or carer’s philosophical or ideological views – Wanting to follow the ‘unschooling’ way of thinking.
- The parent or carer being dissatisfied with formal education in the UK – Feeling unfavourable to the National Curriculum/school tests, etc.
- The distance to the school.
- Avoiding permanent exclusion (the government advises against this).
How does home-schooling work?
If a child is approaching school age, the government recommends informing the local authority that you intend to homeschool your child, though you don’t have to do this. For children currently on a school roll, it’s good practice to inform both the school and the local authority that you would like to de-register your child.
Once de-registered, it is completely up to the parents and carers how they educate their child. Some home educators join up with others to support one another and even teach children together.
There isn’t an exact formula when it comes to home-schooling. Some people adopt a more traditional school-like approach with a timetable and set lessons, while others have a freer approach.
Here is some basic information about what is and is not required when it comes to home-schooling:
- You don’t need to be qualified.
- You don’t need to follow the UK National Curriculum.
- You don’t need to take tests like SATs or GCSEs.
- You don’t have to observe term dates, school days or school hours.
- You don’t need to have a strict timetable.
- Your lessons don’t need to be formal.
- You must recognise any SEN or additional needs your child has.
- You need to provide all home-schooling resources out of your own budget.
Is home-schooling right for your child?
Home-schooling success is entirely individual and depends on each child and how they learn. If you have a child that thrives socially and loves the structure of a school environment, then home educating them might not be what’s best for them. If you have a child who prefers learning in a quiet environment with less structure, home-schooling might work better.
Each child is different – even within families – so what works for one child, won’t work for another. It’s difficult to decide whether or not home-schooling is the right choice for your child.
You’ll need to consider the following questions when making your decision:
- Why do you want to home-school? Would it be in your child’s best interests?
- What does your child think about it?
- Do you have the resources, ability and time to properly educate your child?
- Is your home a suitable environment for learning?
- What support do you have? Consider what would happen if you were ill and couldn’t provide an education for your child. Do you have a backup plan?
- Can you provide cultural, social and physical experiences?
- Would you like to home-school long term or just for a few years?
What are the advantages to home-schooling?
There are many positive aspects to home-schooling.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
When a parent opts for home education, it means they can really personalise what their child learns. They can link it to their interests, learning style, ability and needs. If the child enjoys being outdoors, they can spend time outside doing their learning. It’s also possible to take whole days out to focus on a particular project or subject.
When children struggle with a certain topic, time can be taken to break it down and focus on it much more. In traditional schools, this isn’t often possible. Even when the teacher is great at differentiation, it’s impossible to have all children doing what they need to be doing at the same time.
If parents are keen on pedagogy and choose to read up on things like effective questioning, their children will flourish in a home-education environment.
Individualised learning can be so efficient that some home-education parents say they only spend two hours per day on formal learning because it’s much more efficient. This efficiency means you can include lots of projects, experiments and skill building. You can also visit science centres, parks and museums.
Even if parents do decide to follow the curriculum so that their child can take formal exams, it is a much less stressful experience. Instead of taking 11 GCSEs and being really stressed, you can focus on the ones your child really wants to do.
Home-schooling can be done wherever, whenever. This means home-education families can move home or travel. It is for this reason that many Armed Forces families choose to home educate.
Home education also works better around work shifts, holidays and appointments. Not having to do the school run also means a more pleasurable start to the day.
When you choose to home-school, your children will learn social skills differently. They will be less likely to be dependent on peers and will not suffer bullying or peer pressure. It’s also much less likely that they’ll be exposed to things like drugs and alcohol.
Being home-schooled doesn’t take away the social interaction that many people fear. Many home-educated children are very involved in their local community and mix with people of all backgrounds and ages.
There are lots of home-schooling groups where similar-minded families can socialise. Groups like scouts and sports clubs are also great for socialising.
Parent/carer continuous education
When parents choose to home educate, they also learn things along the way. Continuous learning is really beneficial for adults. When you educate a child in algebra, history or a foreign language, it’s likely that you’ll be learning alongside them too.
As with everything, though, there are some disadvantages to home-schooling.
Let’s explore these.
What are the disadvantages to home-schooling?
When considering home-schooling, it’s important to take its disadvantages and challenges into account.
Some of these include:
When parents choose to home educate, the responsibility comes on their shoulders. Education takes energy and time. Even if parents choose to hire tutors, they are still responsible for what their child learns during this time. It’s also the parents’ responsibility to ensure any tutor has references and DBS checks up to date.
If parents choose for their child to sit an exam, they then need to prepare them for this while also finding an external examination centre where they can sit the exam. Taking exams this way also has cost implications.
Parents who choose home education are more than just educators; they’re administrators too!
While home-schooling itself can be pretty inexpensive, you can’t choose home education if you also want to keep a full-time job. Giving up work will mean different things to different people. For some, home-schooling just isn’t a viable option. It’s also important to factor in that energy bills will also increase because of how much time is spent at home.
As well as not being able to work, parents also need to provide things like IT equipment, stationery and textbooks. Educational visits and sports clubs will also have a fee attached.
When considering exam costs, you’re looking at £100s depending on how many exams are taken.
Although home-schooling does provide lots of opportunities for experiences, it’s important to acknowledge that some children might wish for experiences they are unable to have, like time away from parents on school trips or residentials, for example.
Depending on how home education is run, some children might become somewhat out of touch with people their age. They might have fewer chances to interact with their peers and could develop a biased and narrow worldview.
Schools are also great at providing opportunities like work experience and sporting tournaments that just aren’t replicable in the home-schooling community.
Imbalances between school and home
When you choose home-schooling, it’s not really possible to separate school and home. It’s important to instil intense focus and self-discipline into children who are home educated. It’s much easier for distractions to get in the way. This could be electronics, food, the family pet or toys. Parents need to think of strategies to get around this, but it will never be easy.
Difficulties accessing further education
Though children who have been home-schooled might be more than able to get a place in a university, applying isn’t always straightforward for these young people. School staff are experts in filling in the forms, supporting with personal statements, and writing references. It is possible to hire help from admissions tutors but this comes at a cost.
What’s more, choosing home-schooling is often easier when children are younger. Parents often struggle to provide the home-schooling resources and information that students need at higher levels, especially post-16. Getting this wrong can really affect a child’s future.
Stretching local authorities
Since the local authority (LA) has to check on each home-schooling family with assessments and inspections, their capacity is becoming more and more stretched. This means that safeguarding isn’t happening as much as it should.
Both LA staff and school staff receive training on safeguarding and what to look out for in terms of abuse and grooming, for example. Choosing to home educate stretches these services but potentially also puts children at risk.
Since Covid-19, more and more parents are considering what home-schooling on a permanent basis would be like for their family. There are lots of reasons for choosing to home educate a child, and they’re all very individual.
What works for one family (or even one child in one family) won’t necessarily work for another. The two most important things to consider are whether it is possible and whether it is in the child’s best interests.