Home Education or Home Schooling?

What’s the difference and does it really matter? Are labels relevant? Well, the short answer is yes, in my opinion, it does matter.

In the U.K. it is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children receive a suitable education, catered to their age, aptitude and ability. Most parents may choose to outsource this educational provision by sending their child to a state or private school, but many prefer to provide the education themselves. In the U.K., the legal term for this is “Elective Home Education”. Pre-2020, if you posted in a home education group and referred to your experience as “home schooling”, you would have been gently corrected.

Then the world was plunged into a pandemic and the country’s educational establishments were forced to close. Schools hurriedly put together home learning programmes which seemed to vary wildly from school to school, area to area, teachers desperately wanting to do their best for their pupils. Working parents were somehow, inexplicably, expected to simultaneously continue doing their jobs from home and care for their children with no support or childcare and parenting groups on Facebook were suddenly full of mind-boggling questions like, “Can anyone suggest any engaging activities for my three year old that she can do independently while I work full time?”

If you are used to placing the education of your children in the hands of someone else, I can only imagine how frightening it must have been for some families to suddenly be asked to take responsibility for it when they did not choose this path. Some families felt abandoned by schools which didn’t know what provision to make, but most schools provided a thorough programme of online learning resources, from Zoom lessons to apps and games and daily check ins. Some tried to keep the sense of community alive by asking their pupils to turn up in uniform for registration at the same time every day. Parents became overwhelmed. Some families who allowed their children to disregard schoolwork worried that they would get in trouble with the teacher, or that they were letting their children down. Teachers worked extraordinarily hard to support their pupils from afar and many children returned happily to school when the time came. However, many did not. Despite the enormous stresses of the time, thousands of families reported a change in their children. Those who were stressed by busy timetables or experiencing sensory overload in the classroom, children who were just exhausted by the long school day or unhappy socially, suddenly bloomed, and they didn’t return when the schools reopened. Others were drawn to the idea of home education because they were concerned about inadequate safety measures or felt that school had lost its appeal in the Covid era.

Because of the trajectory that these families took, the language around home education has shifted dramatically. Their children were at school, then they were doing school at home, and now they consider themselves to be “homeschoolers”.

This is significant.

The use of the term “Elective Home Education” was fought for by home educating families, because home education is usually nothing like school. Currently, my children can explore the beach to look for shells and fossils, we can watch a documentary or enjoy an experiment or do more structured learning. We can read or play games or bake or climb trees and all of those things are part of our educational experience. The implication that families should practise school at home erodes our rights as home educators and can create an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Parents might worry because they’re not sitting at a table for six or seven hours a day, that they aren’t “clever” enough to “teach” their children, that they don’t know how to write a lesson plan, that they don’t know the curriculum, that they need to cajole or coerce their children into doing things for which they are not ready, or in which they show no interest, in order to adhere to external standards which were designed for pupils in schools. Of course, many families are keen to adhere to the National Curriculum or keep pace with what their child would be learning in school, and are well-supported by the home education community in doing so, but that is a choice, rather than an obligation, and that is the difference.

We are not providing school at home. We are parents and caregivers; we are learning partners for our children. We love them and care for them and provide an education, all at the same time. They are the lights of our lives and it is a joy to see them fall in love with their passions and foster their unique skills and personalities. We are privileged to walk this path with relative freedom and autonomy and this has been made possible for us by the home educators who championed our rights before us.