The fascinating reasons why some students will never go back to school

By Rebecca English

While homeschool, distance education and pandemic school are terms that were used interchangeably during the pandemic, when schools closed, went online, reopened, perhaps closed again or went back online, parents weren’t homeschooling or doing distance then. However, in the wake of this experience, more parents have opted for home and distance education. These terms have been used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. 

Homeschool/home education

Homeschooling or home education, the preferred, legal term, is a legal educational option enshrined in every state or territory Education Act. While the precise definition differs, there are some key elements to home education that separate it from distance education and pandemic schooling.

First, home education is always the responsibility of the parent (or in some states a registered teacher can be designated). They accept full responsibility for the planning, implementation, management and monitoring of the child’s learning in a suitable, home-based environment.

Second, parents must be responsible for providing a high quality education for their children. The state or territory will check the education is high-quality through reviewing the parent’s learning plan.

Third, the parent is the primary person who is responsible for learning, usually in consultation with the child.

Fourth, the parent must show that the child is learning, just as a regular school reports to parents. Some states, such as Queensland, require all parents to prepare a report. Some states, such as Victoria, audit families. Some states, such as NSW, send department representatives to check on the child and their learning.

Fifth, home education is time limited to the ‘compulsory school age’. In Queensland and South Australia for example, compulsory school age is between six and 16 years (on completion of year 10). In other states, it is 17 (such as New South Wales and Victoria). After this age, a parent can no longer enrol in home education.

There are some providers that offer curriculum and planning services to home educators. These can be Christian or secular. Many of these providers offer registration and reporting assistance with staff available to answer parents’ questions. Some services offer resources that parents put together as they see fit.

These groups straddle the divide between homeschooling and distance education but always place the onus on parents to provide the education. In addition, at no point is the child enrolled in a school. These providers simply support parents in educating the child. The key difference between home and distance education is the parents’ role.

Distance education

Distance education is a different but also legal educational option enshrined in every state or territory Education Act. However, access differs across states and territories.

Unlike home education, in distance education, the parent enrols their child in a school of distance education where teachers plan, implement and report on the child’s progress. The parent is responsible for overseeing that education or they can outsource that responsibility to a home tutor.

Not every state or territory allows the same access to distance education. In some states, like Queensland, if you’re prepared to facilitate your child’s learning and pay the fees, your child can be enrolled in public distance education regardless of geographic location.

Other states or territories do not offer access to public distance education without a strong, usually geographic, caring or health, reason. In New South Wales for example, public distance education may also be offered as a means of transitioning back to face to face school.

While some state distance education options charge fees, these can be waived for a number of reasons including if the student lives rural or remote, if the student has caring responsibilities, if the student is excluded from state schools, if the student is suffering from a medical condition or if the student is in jail.

In the ACT, enrolment in distance education is through a local state school, but the student is not expected to attend that school and does their education through distance at home instead.

There are also private distance education providers. Many of these are based in a strong Christian foundation and offer a Christian lens on their students’ learning. There are some private, non-religious options for families who prefer a secular education.

But none of this is what happened when schools were forced into preparing for pandemic learning

Pandemic school

Pandemic school was neither home nor distance education. While parents were expected to oversee the education of their children, it was not the same.

When schools closed during the pandemic, the child was still enrolled in their school. Their classroom teachers were still responsible for their education, the parents were facilitating the on- and off-line components of their education.

Parents were not, or should not have been, expected to be heavily engaged in their learning. Parents were facilitators not teachers.

What does this mean going forward?

There has been an increase in the enrolments in home and distance education after the pandemic. While, for some families, the experience was nightmare fuel they never, ever, ever want to repeat, for others, it was really positive.

The ACT recently held an inquiry into the experiences of students and parents who were schooling during the pandemic. That inquiry found many parents and students wanted more flexibility in school delivery after the period of pandemic schooling.

For a growing group of parents, this time was found to be beneficial for their children.

There is also a Catch-22 for schools which has led to an increase in enrolments in home and distance education.

Some families fear the reopening of face-to-face schools may mean their children will get sick with COVID at school.

Other families fear their children will be forced to be vaccinated.

Another group of parents are upset about school vaccination policies that mandate vaccinations for entering school sites, effectively locking them out of their children’s schools.

It may be that, in the fall out from the pandemic, the difference between home and distance education is less academic and more real for many families.

Rebecca English is a senior lecturer in the School of Teacher Education & Leadership in the Faculty of CI, Education & Social Justice at Queensland University of Technology. She teaches into the BCT Curriculum area as well as the sociocultural studies units and was a teacher in both the Catholic Education and Education Queensland sectors for seven years.

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

One thought on “The fascinating reasons why some students will never go back to school

  1. The options of campus, homeschool, distance education and pandemic school appear to be designed for administrative convenience, not to help students, or parents. Perhaps it is time to rethink school, with learning resources provided to all students online, supplemented by campuses, leaving students and their parents, free to choose what is suitable for them, day to day.

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