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Bridging the gap: how do we make sure universities are open to home educators?

Laura Duncan, University of Southampton

Excitement levels had reached fever pitch.  Our home ed group had just arrived at the University of Southampton to be shown around the Engineering Design Show by Dr Tim Woolman.  The event was a huge success – the kids left inspired; the parents extremely impressed by Tim’s ability to engage such a diverse group.

I was left struck by what a precious opportunity universities have to inspire young minds.  I felt thankful that as both a home educator and member of staff at the university, I could help bridge the gap between these two worlds. 

But I’m also aware that there often is an unintentional gap, so what can we do to help bridge this?

  1. Make sure language is inclusive

Take a look at how university outreach or widening participation events are promoted, and even the job titles or names of the teams involved.  You’ll probably find language that (unintentionally) excludes:

School students from under-represented groups”

“We work with schools and colleges…”

Or unhelpful cultural reference points:

“pupils”, “classrooms”, “teachers”, “Year 12”, “Year 13”, “free school meals”

In the UK, using the term ‘homeschooling’ still generally communicates you don’t really know us.  Home education, rather than homeschooling, is generally preferred and it is an important distinction.

The importance of inclusive language and cultural reference points follows through to outreach activities themselves.  Very often, the first question children/young people get asked relates to school – “Which school do you go to?” “What’s your favourite class/subject?”   Not everyone thinks of learning being divided into different subjects, and although we learn with others, we’d probably talk about a ‘meet up’ or ‘group’ rather than class. 

  • Be aware of the factors affecting qualifications

Home educators usually have to pay to sit qualifications e.g. GCSEs and A-levels as external candidates.  They may not have an exam centre locally to sit the exams,  so may have to travel long distances. 

Many home educators spread exams over a longer period, and may take fewer or different qualifications for a wide range of practical and pedagogical reasons.

Can home educators access relevant, timely advice about their qualifications/experience?

How could you support access to the necessary qualifications?

  • Be aware of transition differences

The transition to higher education may be different for those who have been home educated.  It’s a crude generalisation, but home edders may be more familiar with independent learning, but lectures/formal classes might present a bit of a culture shock, potentially the reverse of a ‘typical’ school leaver.

Given the potential for additional barriers and different transition needs, should home educators be considered as a new target group under WP/outreach agendas?

  • Expect diversity

If you have met one home ed family… you have met one home ed family.  There is huge variation in the reasons why people home educate; the length of time they have home educated, and the educational philosophies that shape their learning experience.  Moreover, the beauty of home ed is the flexibility to make space for learning according to individual needs and interests, so it will be a different experience in each family.

Don’t let experiences of emergency schooling at home during the pandemic shape your image of elective home education.  The numbers of home educations has grown significantly in recent years.  Yes, it is still a minority life style, but it is far from insignificant.  Museums and private companies are increasingly recognising home edders as a specific group to target.   Personally, I think this also presents great opportunities for higher education too under university outreach, widening participation and civic agendas, but we must recognise and bridge the

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