When schools and nurseries around the country closed in March, many parents felt as if they’d been thrown in at the deep end, trying to step into the role of teacher without any training or preparation.
While the number of UK children being educated at home has been on the rise in recent years, it’s unclear whether more parents will decide to homeschool after this crisis has passed. What is clear, though, is that parents and teachers alike are reporting some positive side-effects to home education in lockdown, and many are hopeful that these will continue to have an impact in a post-pandemic world.
Jessica Bailey, teacher of history and politics at The Priory School in Dorking, Surrey, says: “Homeschooling has provided a brilliant opportunity to engage with parents … I think teachers are feeling far more respected by parents [as a result].” In her experience, the relationship between teachers and parents can often feel quite “adversarial”, but she and her colleagues have been receiving emails from parents telling them that they have a newfound appreciation for what teachers do. She hopes this will lead to a more “collaborative approach” to education.
Camilla Rowland, a mother of three living in Winchester, said that the experience is not making her “enthusiastic to homeschool at all”, but that it hasn’t been entirely negative. “It’s been fun to see some moments of learning first-hand that you wouldn’t usually get to witness as a parent.” It’s also provided an opportunity to strengthen the bond between siblings: “Watching them grow in their friendship and the way that they play together has been really lovely.”
But homeschooling during lockdown is hardly a fair representation of homeschooling under normal circumstances. “If you were actually homeschooling you could go to all sorts of wonderful places,” she said. “You also wouldn’t be trying to do it by yourself.” Lockdown homeschooling involves some unique challenges.
With Google searches for “home-schooling” around six times higher than average in March, parents are turning to the internet to find support and guidance. Erin Loechner, founder of Other Goose, welcomed over 10,000 parents into her international home-schooling co-op in the space of just a few days. Something that had a fringe-movement feel to it became mainstream overnight.
“We’ve had many families write in to tell us how much they’re enjoying home-schooling, and how surprised they are by the fruits of this sudden transition,” Ms Loechner reports. “It’s been such a joy to be able to empower parents to rediscover their natural talents and connection with their children. Many have found the energy in their home has been transformed. Without the rushing deadlines of homework and pick-up and extra-curriculars, the kids are free to play, discover, and explore – skills that are largely missing from today’s high-pressure educational framework.”
Charlotte Barclay, mother of three in West Sussex and a primary school teacher, says: “My oldest child who would usually come back from school grumpy, often with tantrums, is now much calmer and moods are less volatile.”
She says not trying to recreate a school environment at home has been key to making things work in their family. “Achievement in a day consists of some reading, a creative task, a long walk and playing together with kindness. Playing is most important for me, and an idea that keeps them occupied for a day is the best.”
One thing has become clear, though: people need community to flourish. Whether that means more homeschooling co-operatives, or a deeper respect between parents and teachers, the new normal could be an improvement on what came before.