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Education other than school

Victoria Bamsey, Lecturer, University of Plymouth

The phenomenon of a global pandemic has locked down society, closed schools and placed the role of educator squarely into the hands of parents. Instead of home education being the realm of the few, it has now become the norm as children of all ages access online learning, and parents become teachers. I question how the experiences of today will impact upon the practices for tomorrow, and if parental attitudes towards education as school may change.

In January 2020, 94 per cent of four-year-olds were registered in some form of funded education in England (DfE, 2020). This percentage represents a year-on-year decrease since 2013 with a corresponding increase in alternative forms of education (DfE, 2020) and home education (Ball, 2018). Research carried out before the pandemic with six sets of parents choosing different forms of education for their four-year-old child emphasised the role of history, society and relationalities within the choice process. The parents in this study were not making a choice of school but a choice of educational approach with an interest in alternative forms of education and home education as well as the local primary school. For these parents, education was not about the achievement in standard assessment tests, but about a sense of belonging, feeling a part of the local community, friendships and wellbeing.

‘For these parents, education was not about the achievement in standard assessment tests, but about a sense of belonging, feeling a part of the local community, friendships and wellbeing.’

Today there is a concern that the lockdown has had an adverse impact on children’s learning, and that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers will widen by as much as 36 per cent (EEF, 2020). What reports neglect to acknowledge is what children were learning at home during lockdown: to value skills such as cooking, gardening and exercise, as well as an improved awareness of self in terms of health and wellbeing. A child’s education, particularly during the early years, should not be just about school readiness and exam success but about the development of an individual who is a creative, independent critical thinker and problem solver (Fielding & Moss, 2011). Home education enables children to follow their own interests and needs, to learn in ways that schools may not be able to facilitate.

The family who are home-educating in my research have adopted an un-schooling philosophy of learning (Holt & Farenga, 2003) that follows the interests of their children. Learning comes to these children as naturally as breathing, with parent and child working together pursuing questions or following an interest in much the same way as children learn before going to school. These children may not have completed standard assessment tests, nine GCSEs and three A-levels, but they are forging their own paths in life. The eldest child has been accepted into Oxford University, and her brother has started a programming business (he is still only a teenager). At five, the youngest child is articulate, passionate, social and artistic; what she will decide to do in the future is full of possibilities, not limited by exam grades and attainment gaps.

Education as school has become a deficit model of learning whereby pupils must do well in standardised assessments in order to achieve in life. It is time to take stock and value education outside of the school gate, to recognise the interests and needs of the individual child and to move away from an overreliance on examination grades. The experiences of home education during lockdown casts light on education other than school, and the educational choices made by parents in the future will inevitably be influenced by their experiences today. For some this may mean continued home education, for others relief after children started school in September. Inevitably, the landscape of education has shifted as the lived experiences of home education over the past six months can never be undone.


References

Ball, S. (2018). The tragedy of state education in England: Reluctance, compromise and muddle – a system in disarray. Journal of the British Academy, 6, 207–238. https://doi.org/10.5871/jba/006.207

Department for Education [DfE]. (2020). Education provision: Children under 5 years of age. Retrieved from https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/education-provision-children-under-5

Education Endowment Foundation [EEF]. (2020). Impact of school closures on the attainment gap: Rapid evidence assessment. Retrieved from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/covid-19-resources/best-evidence-on-impact-of-school-closures-on-the-attainment-gap/

Fielding, M., & Moss, P. (2011). Radical education and the common school. A democratic alternative. Abingdon: Routledge.

Holt, J., & Farenga, P. (2003). Teach your own. The John Holt book of home schooling. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.