The apparent reasons behind the Department for Education’s recent comment and what it may or may not achieve.
What’s been said?
On 20 October the DfE published a blog post entitled, “All you need to know about home-schooling and elective home education (EHE).” The purpose of this is undoubtedly to inform parents of the difference between what has been happening since schools everywhere were effectively closed in the response to Covid-19, and electing to educate children at home.
In March the media immediately named this new national obsession “home schooling,” a phrase which had been in increasingly common usage as the rhetoric against elective home education has grown louder.
From the start this website has made clear that there is “a world of difference between elective home education and pandemic-enforced home schooling.” It seems that the Government now agrees:
“During the period when schools were closed to all but vulnerable children and children of key workers, most pupils were educated at home. This is known as home-schooling. While being home-schooled, children remained on their school roll and received a combination of support from schools, online learning resources such as Oak Academy, and other resources parents may have provided themselves. Home schooling in this instance is different to elective home education, which is where parents choose not to send their child to school full-time on a long term basis.”
What is behind this move to distinguish genuine EHE from pandemic schooling at home? A large clue is to be found in a Schools Week article “Investigation: Minister intervenes as home education soars” published on 23 October. The Minister concerned is Baroness Berridge, Under Secretary of State for the School System, who is quoted as saying,
“Home education is never a decision that should be entered into lightly. Now, more than ever, it is absolutely vital that any decision to home-educate is made with the child’s best interests at the forefront of everyone’s minds.”
Her comments are not reported anywhere else, not even on the DfE’s website, leaving readers to assume they were made in an interview conducted by chief reporter Freddie Whittaker. He stitches together reports of increased numbers of recent EHE [de]registrations in several English LA areas with comments from a headteacher and two Councillors.
Readers will note the lack of any comment from those well versed in genuine EHE. They will also be somewhat irked by Whittaker’s terminology when reporting comments by the head of Hartsdown Academy, Matthew Tate, where fifty-six students did not return in September “due to Covid.” Whittaker continues in his own words by stating that “after meeting with parents, the school had managed to get all but two of the pupils back.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
Many in British HE circles are weary of the increasing use of the Americanism “home schooling” by journalists and politicians. Elective Home Education is a description which has long been officially recognised here, and it must not be surrendered.
Most HE parents understand “schooling” to involve not only the content taught, but the manner in which this is delivered. In that sense “school” is a collective noun (e.g. whales) and “schooling” therefore focused on training the masses, rather than providing an individual education suitable for each child. This important distinction remains unrecognised by most politicians and reporters. Is it any wonder therefore that many parents now frightened by Covid-19 rumours are also uninformed about the difference between EHE and schooling at home?
There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of parents expecting schools to continue providing work for their children if they keep them at home due to Covid-related fears. In August one such mother told the Fife Times, “We have been asking for schoolwork, to be told the teachers are too busy teaching in classes.” The response from the LA when she contacted them was plainly wrong, but so were the family’s expectations. How many other parents have misinformed presumptions resulting from the conflation of pandemic schooling at home with EHE? Plenty, it seems, if the Schools Week report is anywhere near correct!
There is probably another reason for the timing of the DfE’s attempts to differentiate between home schooling and EHE. Two days after their article, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson imposed a “new legal obligation to provide remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
According to the Tes, teachers’ unions have called this development “‘draconian’ and ‘demoralising’,” whilst a Labour MP has described the requirements as an “impossible task,” placing extra pressure on schools.
Coming in the same week as the “Coronavirus – Temporary continuity directions etc: education, training and childcare” were implemented, it seems reasonable to perceive the Department’s interventions as offering clarity in order to help schools lighten demands made on them by parents seeking to demand state education for their children whilst keeping them at home out of fear.
What can I do?
First, welcome this clarification of terminology as helpful, even if there are mixed motives behind its publication.
Secondly, especially if you are new to the world of elective home education, resist the temptation to fall into the sloppy use of “home schooling” to describe your relationship with your children.
If you find politicians, the media or family and friends using the “HS” phrase, gently but firmly take up any opportunity to refer them to the DfE’s article. If you have yet to submit your response to the Education Committee’s Call for Evidence, consider challenging them over the omission of “Elective” from the title of their Inquiry!
Finally, if you are speaking with parents who are considering deregistering their children from school because of fears over Covid-19, do not automatically assume the more home educators the merrier. If parents are unprepared or unmotivated for the demands of EHE, it is unlikely to work out well for them and their children.
Encourage such families to take a long hard look before they leap – if they do, they may very well be grateful to you in years to come for helping them make one of their most important decisions. If a significant number of those who are fleeing schools out of fear fail in the future, their experiences will be weaponised by people like Anne Longfield in their campaigns to bring about registration and monitoring.