Researchers Recognise the Benefits of Home Education

How parents might use academic research to challenge the prejudicial way in which home education is viewed

What’s been said?

Here we comment on two brief and very readable comment pieces from academics with a research interest in home education.

On 6 November BERA (British Educational Research Association) posted an article entitled “Education other than school,” written by Victoria Bamsey, lecturer in Education and Early Childhood Studies at the University of Plymouth. Her interest areas include early years and the increasing number of children in home or alternative forms of education.

Bamsey points out how the pandemic served to “place the role of educator squarely into the hands of parents.” No longer “the realm of the few,” home education became the norm. She seeks to explore how today’s experiences will impact tomorrow’s practices. Will parents continue to equate education with school?

On 12 November the Psychreg site published a measured and informative four minute read entitled, Ignorance and Stigma Surrounds Home Education – Proposed New Rules Could Vilify It Further.

Triggered by the recently-closed Education Committee’s Inquiry and Call for Evidence, this piece features the views of Dr Harriet Pattison, and is particularly relevant in that it addresses all the current bogey men preoccupying the minds of government, children’s organisations and local authorities – registration, inspection, monitoring, risk and the need for safeguarding.

Pattison, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool Hope University, has researched and written extensively on home education, so her comments on the way home educators are currently perceived, and on the proposals to tighten oversight of them, merit careful consideration.

Why does it matter?

Bamsey notes an interesting trend going back seven years before the pandemic. From 2013, the proportion of four-year-olds registered in some form of funded education in England decreased from year to year, with a corresponding increase in alternative forms of education and home education.

Other pre-pandemic research observed that parents were “not making a choice of school but a choice of educational approach.” They held a far wider definition of education, prioritising “a sense of belonging, feeling a part of the local community, friendships and wellbeing” over achievement in SATs, for example.

The ubiquitous assumption that lockdown had an adverse affect on children’s learning is then examined. As Dr Amelia Roberts asserted in Radio 4’s recent Bringing up Britain programme, Bamsey affirms that children were learning at home during lockdown – because there is much more to early years education than school readiness or ultimate exam success.

Her own research followed an unschooling family where there is no artificial divide between life and learning, and learning “comes to these children as naturally as breathing.” Bamsey reached some significant conclusions. Education as school has become “a deficit model of learning,” where achieving in life has become equated purely with success in standardised assessments.

Yet she draws hope from the fact that lockdown moved the focus, albeit temporarily, onto education other than school. “It is time to take stock and value education outside of the school gate,” she reasons, and now the genie is out of the bottle, she is sure that “the landscape of education has shifted as the lived experiences of home education over the past six months can never be undone.”

Pattison also comments on increased parental involvement in children’s education during lockdown, but emphasises that, though it may have been a gateway into true home education for some, pandemic home schooling was not the same animal at all. “All too often,” she notes, “home education is equated with ‘school at home’ without any proper understanding of how different it is to educate a child in this way.”

Her closing words will offer encouragement to any parents who feel that their decision to home educate is under continual assault because of the generally accepted public narrative. In Pattison’s opinion, “My research, and that of others, shows home education is viable and successful. Rather than vilify it, we need to learn more about it and more from it.”

Her comments on matters related to the Education Committee’s current investigations are very topical, so key points are cited below:

  • “any policy changes would be knee-jerk – simply because home education is still so misunderstood by policymakers, local authorities and the public in general.”
  • The “almost continual cycle of reviews and consultations… signify a political unease based on concerns about safeguarding, radicalisation, and educational underachievement.”
  • “The proposed solution is always increased monitoring, registration and inspection.”
  • “From a policy point of view these arguments play into the bigger picture of increasing state intervention over childhood, but they are not evidence-based.”
  • “There is widespread ignorance and misinformation about home education and a lack of political will to listen to or support research in this area.”
  • “Analysis of serious case reviews in which home education has been cited as a factor reveals that in every case the child concerned was already known to professionals and that safeguarding action could have been, but was not, taken.”

[Emphasis added in all cases]

What can I do?

Read these relatively short items yourself and think carefully about the conclusions.

We all know that elective home education has been much maligned in the public arena and by the media. The next step is to figure out why that is. It surely must have something to do with the media and other opinion formers repeating the same seemingly convincing narrative sufficiently often to mould public opinion into the desired view.

Can home educators use research findings like these to take back control of the narrative, and change public opinion one person at a time?

Rather than being on the defensive, grow your confidence in speaking authoritatively about elective home education. Share items like these with your MP, your local councillors and anyone willing to engage with them.