Written evidence submitted by Parentkind

Parentkind response to inquiry into Home Education


Written evidence submitted to the Education Select Committee



5th November 2020


1. Parentkind is a national charity based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We enable and champion all the ways parents can participate in their child’s school life and education. We are also the largest membership body for Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) in schools nationwide. We are submitting to the inquiry to ensure that parent voice and parental concerns are heard, as parents are the major education stakeholder. When schools closed to most pupils in March 2020, parents became more involved in home learning. We present evidence from our surveys and polls about the greater involvement of parents in children's learning this year.

Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

2. Parentkind is supportive of the principle of introducing a register of home-educated children. It could lead to an increase in child safety by increasing oversight and accountability. However, the most successful way to implement it would be to avoid parental sanctions, such as a school attendance order for parental non-compliance with registration. Such measures against parents may create distrust. Alternatives to sanctions should be strongly considered. Parents are much more likely to cooperate with local authorities when they feel supported. 

The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face

3. Parents are the primary educator of their child, and the major stakeholder in a child’s education. They have a fundamental right to oversee the education of their child, though most elect to educate their child in partnership with a school. Home-educating parents are dedicated, and provide children with focussed one-to-one learning. Potential disadvantages home-educated pupils may face arise when the child is home-educated for reasons other than parental choice.

4. In the current climate, where the Covid-19 pandemic and social restrictions are having an impact on children’s schooling, many pupils are being sent home to self-isolate, spending consecutive weeks out of school. This is leading to long periods of home-learning even in this academic year, following the last academic year when almost all of the spring and summer terms were spent learning at home for the majority of pupils. Throughout lockdown and beyond, Parentkind released snapshot surveys to find out how parents were coping with having their children learning at home, and more recently, their experiences of the return to school in autumn. In our second coronavirus survey (which ran online between 23rd April and 9am on 4th May and gathered 247,022 responses from parents based in England) we asked parents how confident they felt supporting their child's learning. This was a month after schools had closed to most pupils, and after the DfE had issued substantial guidance to schools. The majority of parents in England reported that they felt confident in supporting their child’s learning, out of which 19% were 'very confident' and 47% 'quite confident', amounting to two thirds (66%) registering some degree of confidence. Worryingly, that left just over a third of parents (34%) lacking confidence, with 26% feeling 'not very confident' and 8% 'not at all confident'. Almost a third (32%) had grown in confidence over the weeks, but 16% were less confident, suggesting they had coped less well than they had expected with the school closures and additional pressures of supporting their child's learning at home.

5. In our third coronavirus survey (active between 5pm on 29th June and 9am on 13th July 2020 and completed by 4,864 parents, out of which 3,629 respondents were based in England, 937 in Wales and 298 in Northern Ireland) we asked parents how much time on average they estimated that their child was spending studying each day. The main categories broke down as follows:

6. We asked if they felt the amount of time they were studying per day was sufficient. More than half (53%) said it was about right, but more than a third (37%) felt it was too little, in spite of 45% of parents saying they oversaw their child’s school work for at least 75% of the time.

7. We asked parents, 'How satisfied are you with various aspects of learning support given?' The highest proportion of dissatisfaction came from the question of the number of live online lessons provided by the school. Only 22% were satisfied, and 10% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, but half of parents (50%) registered dissatisfaction, where a full 38% of those were "not at all satisfied". A majority of parents also did not feel that they had all of the resources they needed to support their child's learning at home. 38% were satisfied by the frequency of check-ins with parents, but 45% were dissatisfied. 37% were satisfied by the learning resources so parents can help their child engage in a new topic, but 38% were dissatisfied.

8. Despite that, a majority of parents had something positive to say about their role in home-learning. More than half (53%) said that they were 'very engaged' with their child's learning, with a further 35% 'quite engaged', which meant that 88% of respondents felt engaged. For 53% of respondents, they were more engaged with their child's learning compared to before lockdown, and only 9% were less engaged, with most of the rest (38%) registering no change. This, however, was counteracted by the question, "To what extent is your child engaged in their learning currently?" Over half (59%) said their child was very or quite engaged, but 30% said quite or very disengaged. We are concerned that more than half (54%) felt that their child was less engaged in learning compared to before lockdown, where a third (33%) said there was no change and only 12% said they were more engaged.

9. Our third coronavirus survey also looked at the issue of digital poverty. 73% of parents in England said their child had access to a laptop/PC with internet access during school hours. However, 3/10 (30%) of all respondents said that their child had to share the laptop/PC with another person in the household during school hours. This suggests that there is a sizeable proportion of children who may not be eligible to apply for the free laptop scheme but who nevertheless would not have full access to a device at home to complete coursework throughout the course of every school day. This will inevitably translate into missed learning. Only three quarters (75%) said that their child had access to a printer at home. There is likely to be a disadvantage to those students without a printer, if they do not have the option of having supplementary materials or drafts of assignments to hand.

The quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities, and those making the transition to further and higher education

10. To find out how parents of children with SEND were coping during lockdown when their child was home-learning, we ran a short online survey which we specifically promoted to parents of school-aged children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND/SEN) via social media. It was active between 5pm on 29th June and 9am on 13th July.  658 parents completed it.  71% of respondents were based in England, 12% in Wales and 17% in Northern Ireland.

11. We found that, overall, there was not sufficient support for parents of SEND children who were supporting their child's home learning. Whilst nearly 10% were very confident and almost a third (32%) quite confident, more than a third (36%) said they were not very confident and another 20% not at all confident in supporting their child’s home-learning. This meant over half lacked confidence to some degree. Worse, almost a third (32%) said they felt less confident than at the start of school closures, where 52% felt the same, and only 14% more confident. 50% were more worried now that at the start of the school closures about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their child's development. Almost a third (31%) had the same level of worry, and only 17% were less worried.

12. Lockdown led to parents reporting an increase in challenging behaviours from their child (51%) as well as in a range of other areas such as disrupted sleep (55%) and higher levels of anxiety/depression (44%).  More than a third of parents (38%) felt their child had regressed in terms of their skills development during the lockdown period and a quarter (26%) regressed in respect of their behaviour.

13. We asked to what extent home learning support provision from the school had been adjusted to be accessible to their child. Less than a quarter (24%) said all of the work set was accessible. A further 21% said most was accessible and 36% some of it was accessible. However, a sizeable minority of 15% said that none of the home-learning support given was accessible to their child. This was reflected in overall satisfaction with levels of home-learning support given by the school. Half (50%) were very or quite satisfied, but more than a quarter (26%) 'not very satisfied’ and more than one in five (21%) 'not at all satisfied'.

14. We believe the government needs to consider more oversight of how schools are supporting parents of children with SEND in the home-learning environment. This is especially critical in the event of further localised or regional/national school closures.

Whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home-educated children is safeguarded, including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to 'off-rolling'.

15. The Education Select Committee’s earlier inquiry into Alternative Provision raised questions about the rise of temporary or permanent school exclusions. We created a survey for parents of children who had experienced exclusion. The sample size of nineteen respondents is too low to draw firm conclusions, but it gives some anecdotal evidence of parents’ experiences of exclusion. Only one out of nineteen respondents said that their child’s school referred them on for additional help at the time of the exclusion.

16. Our data also bore out the suggestion that there is a disproportionately high number of SEND children affected by exclusion, which the Education Committee has discussed. From our survey respondents, sixteen out of eighteen parents said that their child has a SEND or mental health diagnosis. Only one out of thirteen responses to the question, “Did you speak to your child's teacher or the school's head teacher about your child's exclusion? If so, was it a positive experience and were you satisfied by the outcome?” recorded a positive experience. Only one out of 19 respondents said that the school took their views into consideration, with a further two respondents feeling that the school partially took their views into consideration. That left 16/19 parents feeling they were not listened to. Only two out of eighteen respondents said that their child was given an opportunity to give their view. The common theme in the free text response to the question, “Do you have any suggestions of ways in which schools can support parents when their child is being excluded?” was that schools should listen to parents, inferring that parents largely do not feel listened to in cases of exclusion. This suggests a wider problem of schools not engaging well with parents when it comes to exclusion, and more work can be done in helping parents to feel supported when their child is faced with exclusion. Effective home/school partnerships require parents to feel supported, as well as wishing to support their child’s school, and according to our Annual Parent Survey 2020, with a sample size of 1,500 parents, 84% of parents agree or strongly agree with the statement “I would describe myself as supportive of my child’s school”. Better parental engagement, making schools more accountable to parents and encouraging a parent-friendly ethos will help schools to build and maintain positive partnerships with parents.

17. To this end, Parentkind developed its Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools which provides strategies and resources for school leaders and teachers to achieve positive change in building parental engagement into their school's culture.


18. Whatever their circumstances or reasons for home-schooling or supporting learning at home, all parents must feel prepared and equipped to support their child, and they must be provided with adequate support by the school (even in the event of exclusion) or the local authority where they need it.

19. Ensuring that parents feel well-supported when they home-educate their child should be a primary concern for government and local authorities, as well as schools once children leave their register. Home-educating parents should be made aware of any specific duties required of them, in writing, by local authorities, and this should be followed up by local authorities posting the same requirements, plus additional online resources to support home-educating parents. If home-educating parents are aware of specific duties, and know who is accountable to them within the local authority, it will create better relations based on transparency and trust. In addition to providing home-educating parents with resources, every effort should be made to maintain good lines of communication to ensure that all interested parties are working towards the same end goal – a good education for the home-schooled child in a safe environment, with a positive partnership between home and local authority.

20. During the Education Select Committee’s Alternative Provision enquiry, chair Robert Halfon MP raised the possibility of a parents’ bill of rights, to give parents a right of appeal in the exclusion process. Parentkind is supportive of measures to increase accountability of the education system to parents. Such a bill of rights would be a useful way for local authorities (or multi-academy trusts) to be held to account by parents on issues including exclusion and beyond, establishing direct lines of communication between parents and local authorities/MATs.

21. We would also like to see the government introduce a standardised approach to home-learning, as this is something that parents want. When we asked the question in our third coronavirus survey, we found that the proposal was backed by more than two thirds (68%) of parents, who said they would like to see government provide minimum standards of home learning provision that all schools should be expected to meet (17% would not). This would both set parental expectations about what and how their child should learn from home, and hold schools to account in the provision of home-learning classes and materials. This should ensure that every child is receiving an adequate standard of education whilst learning at home.

November 2020