Some Positives and Negatives of Pandemic Schooling

Will home education now be viewed through the filter of negative ‘home-schooling’ experiences during lockdown?

What’s been said?

On 30 June 2020, shortly after the government abandoned plans to fully reopen primary schools in England before September, an report appeared on the ITV News Granada Region website which examined how Covid-19-enforced home schooling has caused some parents to reassess their children’s education.

One parent, former teacher Emma Lashbrook, has decided that although “school is the best environment for two of her sons who have special education needs, it’s not the right learning environment for her nine-year-old daughter.” She explained that “lockdown has given us the opportunity to try (home schooling) out and for (my daughter) it’s absolutely the best thing. She is completely blossoming and flourishing at home.”

Asked by journalist Anna Youssef to respond to parents who might think “I’m not a teacher like she is; I don’t have the skills or the confidence,” Ms Lashbrook replied, “I think HE is different – what I’m giving them is a life education as opposed to schooling. Confidence comes from saying I’m not going to follow the school curriculum, I’m going to do what’s best for us as a family.”

By contrast, on 5 June 2020, the BBC Radio 2, Jeremy Vine Show held a phone-in discussion on home-schooling during lockdown, [see below] specifically focusing on problems with how “parents all over the country have been dealing with the reality of home schooling over a long period of time”, and suggesting that “many are reaching the end of their tether”.

Callers’ comments included:

  • “My wife & I are both teachers… and home schooling our (three) children, even as teachers has been one of the most stressful things that we’ve ever done.”
  • “..schools seem to assume that everybody has computer access…. There’s too much emphasis on on-line teaching.”
  • “you kind of know it in your head, but (are) trying to articulate that (to your children) in a way that they will understand it. Ways of learning have moved on since I was at school.”

Happily, however, the discussion concluded on a very positive note with a call from a grandmother, Rowena, who had been looking after her two grandchildren during lockdown. She brought a breath of fresh air to an otherwise negative discussion by commenting on her style of educating, a style familiar to elective home educators, “I would say relax and go with the flow basically… if it’s a nice day we’ll go out and do something alternative and come back to work later on.” She went on to describe her overall experience of teaching her grandchildren as “a real treasured time.”

Crucially, she reminded listeners that “a lot of parents are worrying desperately about (home schooling), but they need to remember that parents are a child’s first educator and…you shouldn’t worry.” [Emphasis added]

This perceptive observation is a truth much ignored, and even undermined, by many government officials and education professionals, who imply that parents are untrustworthy. For example, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England has been pushing for ‘summer schools’ to “give children the kind of safe space to be with each other, socialise and but also learn new skills as well.” Clearly she does not hold parental abilities in high regard at all, inferring an inability to provide a safe home and teach new skills!

Why does it matter?

It is encouraging to hear how some parents plan to continue with home education having found their children thriving in recent months, and to read that, according to the Understanding Society May COVID-19 survey carried out by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, there has been an improvement in many parent-child relationships. Interestingly, the survey also concluded that “investing in home schooling and caring seems to be related to closer relationships.”

Yet the experience of lockdown ‘home schooling’ – or pandemic schooling as it should be more accurately titled – has undoubtedly proved difficult for many parents, who have found themselves trying to juggle work commitments with overseeing their children’s school work. During the Jeremy Vine Show, the Guardian’s education columnist Laura McInerney remarked that home-schooling is “not normal”. Parental experiences of sudden, unexpected lockdown learning, expressed alongside Ms McInnery’s view have reinforced the belief that school attendance is the only way to educate a child. Indeed, the underlying supposition is that being out of school means that children are receiving no education. Elective home educators need to be alert to this narrative.

What can I do?

Be alert to the negative talk surrounding lockdown learning, being aware that elective home educators will very likely be judged alongside the difficulties and failures of the rapidly-enforced pandemic schooling.

Educate yourself on the differing experiences and consider how to respond to any negative views that may come up in discussions with family and friends. If you are confident enough, you may be able to contribute both to social media and local media debates on this issue by explaining your experiences of elective home education, as opposed to emergency, pandemic schooling. This may be something you could consider undertaking as part of a group of home educating friends.

It is also possible that there will be some “HE refugees” after the summer holidays as parents decide to keep their children away from school, either due to health concerns or because they have observed their child thriving whilst out of a school environment. Be prepared to welcome and support these families in the best way you can.