Written evidence submitted by the Open University


Open University[1] Submission (November 2020)

Education Select Committee Consultation on Home Education


1.      The Open University (OU) welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Education Select Committee’s Call for Evidence on Home Education.


2.      This submission covers the final point of this call for evidence: the impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children, and what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts. It also covers the support local authorities could provide home learners.


Supporting temporary home learners


3.      Parents in England are not required to register their children as electively home educated, but the total number of children local authorities reported as being electively home educated was an estimated 60,544 as of March 2019[2]. This means that approximately only around 0.7% of children in England were electively home schooled prior to the pandemic. Between 7 May and 7 June 2020, however, 87% of parents said a child in their household had received some form of school assisted learning at home homeschooled because of the pandemic[3]. Yet only 49% of parents with children undertaking home schooling during the pandemic agreed that they were confident in their abilities to homeschool their children[4]. Furthermore, 25% did not have access to the materials they needed, and 42% agreed home education was negatively affecting the wellbeing of their children.


Where an oldest or only child was struggling, 42.7% stated this was due to lack of guidance and support, and 35.8% stated this was because parent or carer subject knowledge to support is limited. Almost 40% of parents who had children undertaking school assisted learning at home were doing it with digital online learning resources they have found themselves[5].


4.      Free online courses – through the OU’s OpenLearn platform – have helped address home education challenges for students and parents alike, and could help further support school assisted learning at home with greater awareness.


5.      Some useful Open University courses that have helped parents support their children include:


-          Am I ready to Be a Distance Learner: A short introductory course that helps boost confidence and develop new study skills for distance learning.

-          Children’s experiences with digital technologies: An introductory course on how children use digital technologies and learn from them, and how adults should engage with and manage children’s interaction with technology.

-          A series of Learning to Teach and Learning to Learn courses; courses that  explore different approaches to teaching and learning, to develop more personalised delivery methods.

-          Supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing: Covers what factors can promote good mental health for young children, and how education settings support children’s mental health and wellbeing.

-          Teaching and learning Tricky Topics: A course designed to help individuals identify students’ barriers in their learning and understanding, and design learning to overcome those barriers.


6.      We also offer a range of courses that will help young learners with subjects they are currently studying from home. Whilst these free courses will not fully replace formal education, they can help students’ in areas where they may be struggling to understand key concepts, or may help them approach an issue from a different angle, as well as introducing them to new concepts to give a basic understanding to build upon. These include (but are not limited to):

-          Approaching Poetry: A course designed to develop the analytical skills you need for a more in-depth study of literary texts.

-          Beginners’ French: Food and Drink: Gaining an insight into French societies and cultures through  focusing on food and drink. Learners listen to French speakers in a variety of situations, and are provided with skills for coping with reading texts.

-          An Introduction to Music Theory: Providing learners with an understanding of the basic building blocks of musical theory and notation to a level equivalent to Grades 1-3 of the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music theory exams.

-          Mathematics for science and technology: This introductory course recognises that maths is intimately entwined with science and technology. The course therefore helps learners build a stronger grip with the maths helping hand. Students learn about the power of algebra, get a sense of scientific notation, and basic trigonometry, among other topics.


7.      It is worth noting that courses like these not only help learners tackle new topics, but may also help them understand topics they’ve been struggling with, by approaching them in a different way.


8.      Between the months of March-July 2020 4.51% of OpenLearn users were aged 18 or under, meaning a possible 3000+ young people were developing their skills and knowledge during the period on our platform when the schools were closed.[6] Many also utilised our educational resources; including videos, posters, and interactive activities. The appeal is typified by an 11 year child from County Meath in Ireland who completed 11 OpenLearn courses during lockdown– ranging from ‘An Introduction to sustainable energy’ to ‘Square Roots and Powers


9.      We also have a wide range of open educational resources available via our joint ownership of the FutureLearn platform, alongside SEEK, Australia’s top employment marketplace,which partners with education providers across the UK and around the world.[7] During the first national lockdown FutureLearn launched FutureLearn Schools in partnership with Pearson and the TES Institute, a new intiative that gives millions of students aged 13+ free, upgraded access to over a hundred relevant short courses to support their learning during the Covid-19 lockdown.[8]


10.  As the pandemic continues with students still facing the possibility of having to self-isolate away from school whilst lessons continue, the UK Government should continue to raise awareness of free-to-use resources that may be of use to young people whilst they are undertaking home education, and to those tasked with teaching children at home. The OU in Wales, for example, helped deliver innovative training during the first lockdown, to assist Cardiff’s teachers in continuing to provide education and learning to children and young people. Delivered via an online seminar, a series of areas were covered with the aim to assist teachers in providing ways to approach and deliver the best learning outcomes for both primary and secondary age pupils, even where they are not physically in the classroom.


Supporting children who are electively home educated


11.  Children who are electively home educated, who were meant to take exams in summer, did not receive grades this year, as the Government was not able to validate predicted grades. This has hampered access to university and colleges for many and, furthermore, as few have any formal qualifications, many may also struggle to access any meaningful employment in the interim.


12.  As this issues is addressed, the Government should therefore ensure that these young people are prioritised in terms of the support measures that the Department for Education has already put in place for those who have deferred their university studies this academic year.  This could include awareness of courses or opportunities that promote continuing professional development and that show young people are making use of their time until they can undertake exams and formally enrol on the next stage of their education journey.


13.  On OpenLearn, for example, we offer a range of badged-content in our ‘Skills for Worksection, that may demonstrate a commitment to continuing professional development to employers. These include:


-          The importance of interpersonal skills: Teaches learners an awareness of their own skills, and of how the interpersonal skills of others can help in dealing with work tasks.

-          Discovering Management: This course introduces learners to the role of the manager. It covers management activities looking at leadership, human resources, finance, project management, change management, operations management, and stakeholder management.

Developing Career Resilience: This course helps learners understand the factors that influence career resilience, and offer examples and tactics for them to develop theirs further.

The Duty of Local Authorities

14.  Local authorities are, rightfully, expected to provide support for children who are formally home educated. This support, however, is not comprehensive; currently limited to areas such as safeguarding and PREVENT. Local welfare officers should be trained to support students transition between school and the home, and vice versa. Furthermore, local authorities should provide more training on what learning pedagogies look like in the home. The OU has experience of learning pedagogies in the home environment and could therefore work with academic and parent-groups to develop a courses that could then be rolled out by local councils.


About The Open University

15.  The OU’s mission is to be Open to people, places, methods and ideas. We play a unique role in society, making higher education open to all, and promote social justice through the development of knowledge and skills. For most of our undergraduate qualifications there are no academic entry requirements. We believe students should have the opportunity to succeed irrespective of their previous experiences of education. We are also responsive, responding to the needs of individuals and employers, and the communities in which they live and work, and are dedicated to supporting our students’ learning success.


16.  The OU is a world leader in distance learning. Our undergraduates do not attend a campus; they live in their own homes throughout the UK.  Our students study flexibly and value the ability to fit their study around the demands of their home and work lives.


17.  We make a wide range of open educational resources available for free on our OpenLearn platform across a wide range of different subjects as part of our social mission. This includes:


18.  The OU also founded and now jointly owns FutureLearn - a leading online social learning platform jointly owned with The SEEK Group. Its purpose is to transform access to education: partnering with over a quarter of the world’s top universities to support over 12 million learners across the globe to develop skills and achieve their personal and professional goals. It offers microcredentials and courses where learners can earn credits to put towards the completion of a degree. Over 3,3000 unique courses have run or are scheduled to run online on FutureLearn since its launch in 2012, and 13m learners across the world have registered on the platform.


19.  There are OU students in every single local area in the UK – we are among the five biggest providers in nine out of ten Parliamentary constituencies in England – and tend to be stronger in HE “cold spots” with limited face-to-face provision and/or low young HE participation rates.




December 2020


[1] For further information about The Open University, please contact Louis Trupia (louis.trupia@open.ac.uk

[2] Office of the Schools Adjudicator Annual Report. January 2020.

[3] Coronavirus and homeschooling in Great Britain: April to June 2020. ONS. July 2020.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] OU Internal Data. This only accounts for those who received completed courses and filled in our final survey. The number of learners under the age of 18 could be far higher.

[7] See https://www.futurelearn.com/

[8] See https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/collections/futurelearn-schools