Challenging Underlying Assumptions

Educational professional suggests parents’ role is secondary to that of schools

What’s been said?

On 20 March 2020, in response to school closures due to COVID-19, Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) wrote an article for the Tes.  Published just before UK lockdown, the article was also subsequently posted on the EEF’s own website.

Having praised the Government’s decision to close schools for all but key workers’ and the most vulnerable children, Prof Francis goes on to state that “schools don’t just educate pupils – they care for them in a whole range of ways: feeding, safeguarding, enriching.”

She continues, “I know that school leaders are rightly and commendably prioritising the wellbeing of their students and staff and ensuring – to the best extent that they can – that learning continues. But let us be clear: we know that children learn less when they are not in school.” This is further impressed upon the reader with the Tes heading immediately below, “Children learn less well at home.”

However, she also states that “we already live in a world where the majority of all 18-year-olds who have been eligible for free school meals leave education without a good standard of recognised qualifications in English and maths.”  This of course is unrelated to coronavirus!  It is the ongoing effect of an education system which has not provided a suitable education for those young people.  Aligning this with the current mass home-learning simply muddies the waters.

In addition, Prof Francis appears to assume that parents are unable to teach or care for their children without officially-provided input: “It is also essential that parents have advice about their role. This isn’t about parents replacing the teacher. It’s about encouraging parents to help their children create regular routines and study habits, offering practical steps to take…” [Emphasis added]

Clearly for most parents, who are used to sending their children to school every morning, these new waters are strange and potentially stressful to navigate, especially where parents are working from home themselves.  However, the tone adopted by Prof Francis suggests that parents need to be ‘parented’ by teachers.

Why does it matter?

It is important to note the underlying assumptions of this piece.

Prof Francis is no doubt genuinely concerned about children’s education.  Yet the list of non education-related activities that, in her opinion, schools undertake for all pupils shows a disdainful disregard for parents. She may be correct that the most vulnerable children require some extra support, which is currently provided via schools.

Yet in the vast majority of cases it is – quite rightly – parents who feed and safeguard their children and provide enriching, nurturing environments.  It is also, in law, a parent’s responsibility to ensure that their child “receive(s) efficient full-time education…” and it is a parent’s choice as to how they fulfil that duty, “either by (their children’s) regular attendance at school or otherwise.”  It is parents who are primary providers for their children, not schools.

When Prof Francis writes “It is very hard to reproduce the crucial learning relationships between teachers and pupils that exist in the classroom,” it is a reminder to home educators of the clear (and familiar) belief held by some education officials that only trained teachers are able to provide a child’s education.  This is a flawed tenet, as both children and home educators will attest.  Children can, and do, successfully learn at home!

It is interesting to contrast Prof Francis’ piece with extracts from another Tes article  in which Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), Dr Mary Bousted, tells schools to “calm down and focus on what is possible.” She advises that “for pupils, a maximum of two to three hours’ work a day is plenty, keeping minds active and enthusiastic. Flexible tasks that cover different areas of the curriculum, allowing pupils to choose those tasks that interest them, will make it more likely that they will complete them.”

This way of working will sound refreshingly familiar to elective home educators, and it is very interesting that much of the ‘how to home-school’ advice currently on offer across mainstream media characterises everyday life for home educating families. Clearly, and contrary to Prof Francis’ opinion, parents don’t have to be provided with input from education professionals to educate their children.

However, it is important for elective home educators to note that there will always be those who remain firmly opposed to home education, regardless of evidence, and who subscribe to the views presented by Becky Francis.  These views will resurface publicly once the current crisis has passed.

What can I do?

Be alert for articles along the lines of Becky Francis’s.  Think about how to counter suggestions that children learn less well at home by explaining your own experience of home education and how your children are learning, or have learned, at home.

It is also important that home educators are very clear on the difference between elective home education and the Covid-19 imposed home-schoolingThe currently-popular term ‘home-schooling’ is for school pupils precisely that, i.e. “school at home.”  Most people will not understand the difference, using the terms interchangeably.  So when it is appropriate, sensitively explain the difference to friends and family.