Home schooling experiences for children with SEND and their parents during the COVID-19 pandemic

Homeschooling is a new reality for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. For parents who have children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND), this means the facilities and professional training needed to educate their children are no longer available. BCU researchers aim to explore the experiences of children with SEND and their families during this difficult time to provide guidelines for schools and policy makers.

Reader in Interdisciplinary Practice and Research with Families

DR. Shannon Ludgate
Deputy Course Leader Early Childhood Studies

SEND homeschooling project secondary

During the current pandemic schools have closed, many parents have been made redundant or furloughed and mobility and goods have been restricted. Other parents have been asked by their employers to work from home. During this stressful and restricted period, parents have been asked by the UK Government to ‘home school’ their children and teachers have been asked to provide digital online learning opportunities for parents to do this.

A plethora of resources and information have been developed and made available to help with this. According to Fensham-Smith (2020), the problem with calling this temporary form of education provision ‘home schooling’ or ‘home education’ is that it obscures a growing body of research that shows that home education happens within the social context of face-to-face communities. Under normal circumstances, home schooling encompasses a broad spectrum of educational philosophies, methods, curricula, styles and approaches. It includes everything from ‘unschooling’– a philosophy of repositioning life, family relationships and learning to respond to children’s interests and needs without curriculum – right through to structured formal home-tutoring and every approach in between.

A mixed-methods doctoral research project with 242 home-educating families in the UK (Fensham-Smith, 2017), found that home schooled children’s learning primarily happened within the context of face-to-face local communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). This type and form of provision incorporated participation in family face-to-face workshops, activities groups, museum trips and so on. Socialising with, and being socialised into, learning communities offline was key to how parents positioned the relative success of home education, their identity and sense of belonging. This enabled parents to facilitate a highly personalised and flexible programme of education for their children. This study and others have helped us to move beyond understanding home education as a form of provision that is confined to didactic parent–teacher relationships, formal curriculum and the confines of learning at the kitchen table (Fensham-Smith, 2019; Fensham-Smith, 2020).

It is known that having a child with special educational needs and disabilities places additional pressure on families not to mention cost.  Children with SEND often need highly specialist resources and pedagogical approaches.  Children with SEND may need highly structured, predictable routines, calm, uncluttered learning environments and patient, specialist teachers.

This study aims to build on previous research about home schooling / home education more generally to explore and record the experiences of parents as they navigate their way through the current restrictions whilst ensuring the health and wellbeing of their family. This study will be one of the first to explore the experiences of families experiencing homeschooling of children with SEND during a pandemic in the UK.

  • Research aims: We are hoping that by exploring the experiences of parents we can provide an accurate account of the ways in which home schooling is enacted in everyday life for families.
  • Research methods: An online survey will be launched and promoted via social media.  Follow up interviews with a selection of parents will take place later in the year.
  • Projected outcomes: Reports and articles will be published and guidelines for schools and policy makers will follow.

If you are a parent homeschooling children with SEND during lockdown, or know someone who is please consider taking part or sharing the survey: https://bcu.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/parents-experiences-of-home-schooling-children-with-speci


Fensham-Smith, A. J. (2017). New technologies knowledge, networks and communities in home education. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Cardiff University. Retrieved from http://orca.cf.ac.uk/101035/

Fensham-Smith, A. J. (2019). Becoming a home educator in a networked world: Towards the democratisation of education alternatives. Other Education: The Journal of Education Alternatives, 8(1), 27–57. Retrieved from https://www.othereducation.org/index.php/OE/article/view/217

Fensham-Smith, A. J. (2020) Should we really call this home schooling? Reflections from the research field https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/should-we-really-call-this-home-schooling-reflections-from-the-research-field

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.