One parent comments, “It’s been the one positive thing to come from the pandemic (which is weird but true).”
What’s been said?
Lockdown and attendant school closures have made life even busier for Scottish Home Education Forum’s [SHEF] co-founder Alison Preuss and their steering group of experienced volunteers. A recent post entitled “More parents opt for home education post-lockdown, survey finds” was published on 1 August.
The piece opens with some background behind their decision to “survey a selected segment of our membership in order to ascertain the post-lockdown educational plans of parents whose children had previously been in school.”
Having seen a steep rise in requests for membership since March, the team were keen to find out what proportion of parents would continue with home education and how many would send their children back to school once that option became a possibility. On 30 July BBC Scotland reported the First Minister’s intention that “all pupils [would] be at school full time from 18 August at the very latest.”
It was therefore agreed to poll previously ‘undecided’ or newly joined members with this question: “Are you planning to home educate from August rather than using schools?”
The group’s total membership is just over three and a half thousand, with many established home educators. A hundred and ten responses were received from the target group, along with commentary from some on how their decisions had been reached.
Responses are displayed graphically and described thus:
“Nearly half of our lockdown learners had decided to home educate full-time from August, while 27% were considering or had requested a flexischooling arrangement. A further 4% were considering temporary home education until satisfied that their children’s safety and additional support needs would be met, and 16% remained undecided. Only 8% had decided to send their children back to school, with some adding a caveat that they would home educate if schooling proved unviable.”
The remainder of the post features comments from respondents about how they reached their decisions, categorised as follows: the home educators; the flexischoolers; the returners; the undecided.
Why does it matter?
The circumstances described in this post demonstrate the enormous value of relational support networks within any home education community. Besides having to handle the issues raised by lockdown for their own families, the SHEF team were there to field enquiries, reassure or redirect worried parents of schooled children who turned to them for advice.
First established in 1999 as an online peer support network specifically for those subject to Scots education legislation, SHEF’s journey between then and now makes a challenging read. It shows how their years of experience enabled them to make proactive use of a crisis moment for many parents accustomed to the routines of sending their children to school.
They found themselves repeatedly clarifying the difference between EHE (which may be approached in various ways, but is essentially tailored to meet the needs of individual children) and the mentality of delivering schooling at home. Many hours were spent listening, and their own research report Home Truths containing wise advice about dealing with local authorities was shared with potential new home educators.
The team encountered widespread ignorance about this fundamental difference between EHE and replicating school at home. This manifested itself in persistently inaccurate use of terminology (the media being a major culprit here) and lack of knowledge about the legal framework.
SHEF’s decision not to follow up on various “fake news narrative[s]” or the misrepresentation of “lockdown schooling-from-home as being equivalent to home education in ‘normal’ times” is commendable, because it enabled them to put their limited time and resources to more constructive use. They have challenged “home-eduphobic rhetoric” many times already.
Self-styled experts on so-called “home schooling” and those wishing to market themselves or their services were not easy to handle, but in general SHEF’s decision to stick with what they do best – “providing accurate information, peer support and advocacy to families” – meant they could keep the main thing as the main thing. They listened and offered counsel about facilitating real learning, and assisted people to think their way through to a flexible, balanced way to cope with the dual demands of work and education during lockdown.
It is too soon to assess long term benefits, but thus far they cite positive outcomes:
“Happily, a significant number of newbies stayed, asked questions, researched home education and made new friends. A few weeks into the ‘experiment’, they had gained new-found confidence and were reporting how their children were flourishing out of school.”
“A new ‘normal’ gradually began to emerge for families as they relaxed into a different way of working and learning from home.”
What can I do?
Read the full article no matter where you live; it makes many valuable points. Note the steady approach taken by the SHEF team. They did not allow themselves to be blown about by every passing fear or criticism, but stuck to their agenda and persevered.
Be encouraged by the inspirational nature of some of the comments; several refer to the lockdown being just the needed nudge or catalyst to make people take a decision they had been on the brink of taking for a long time.
Note too the reference to the characteristic resilience of many home educators:
“.. it soon became apparent that the home educating community was better equipped to deal with the many new adversities presented by Covid-19 as they were already adept at overcoming barriers, finding solutions and sharing knowledge and skills via dedicated networks built up over many years.” [Emphasis added]