A question that the media is asking increasingly as September school start dates loom over parents, is ‘are those parents going to decide not to send their children back to school’? The answer is ‘we do not know’.
Recent weeks have seen increasing numbers of parents coming to the Education Otherwise Facebook group and calling our helpline, to ask about home education. Many of those parents are saying that they do not want to send their child back to school. They are a mixture of those concerned about Covid 19 and those who have just enjoyed having their children with them to learn at home.
Covid 19 has terrified families all over the Country, with many worried about vulnerable children and other family members, so it is no surprise that some do not want to send their children back to school. For them it is usually a case of home education being planned until they feel that it is safe for their child to return, but the pitfalls of that are not always obvious to parents. Most of those parents ask if the school can hold the child’s place open and the answer is ‘no’. Schools are legally required to remove the child’s name from the roll as soon as they become aware that the child is home educated, so anyone who removes a child from school, does so knowing that they can not guarantee that a place will be available if they decide to return the child to the school system. For many families, that is not a barrier, but work might well be. We find ourselves reminding families that they will at some point need to work, unless they can afford for one parent to work from home long term, or not at all.
Parents worried about Covid 19 are not the only group asking about home education currently, there are significant numbers who just want more of their children’s time to be spent in the family and they are the prospective lifestyle home educators. Some may well fall by the wayside and back into school, as the reality of planning education provision, paying for resources and having to juggle other responsibilities starts to bite, but not all. Some parents will be fast discovering what home educators have known for many years: that home education gives you the freedom you need to be the family you want to be, freedom to learn at your own pace , freedom to explore topics beyond a narrow school curriculum and to do so anywhere you care to travel to, within restrictions of course. Some will say “I have my child back” and reference how their once stressed child is now laughing, smiling and enjoying life again, now that the pressure to perform in school has gone from their lives.
This leaves us wondering what will happen to the number of home educating children, will it rise, or not rise. It seems to us that there is going to be an initially rapid rise as we inch toward September, which will probably continue into that month, but that a steady drop from the peak will probably follow. It may not go down to March 2020 levels, but we doubt that it will be considerably higher, as home education will find those whose children it is the right fit for and school retain those for whom that is the right fit.
Another question is ‘does it matter’? and we would probably don our hopeful caps and say that with a bit of luck, the glimpse into the world of home education that every parent of a school age child has recently had, will maybe, just maybe, bring home educating families the respect that they so richly deserve from Central Government, local authorities and the media alike.
Optimism may be our middle name, but we know that Covid 19 has brought community spirit to the fore once more and by doing so, it might just sway the naysayers and help them to recognise that home education is viable, vibrant and of equal legal status to school.