‘Bloody Awful’: The Reality of Home-Schooling Inequalities

Elizabeth Fitton

There are currently 12 children’s learning books on the Amazon Best Sellers Book Charts.With the third national lockdown dragging in a second round of home-schooling kicking and screaming, parents are turning to the largest online retailer for numeracy, handwriting and phonics workbooks. From “Practise with Peppa: First letters” to various ‘writing workbooks’, learning resources are making their debut in the Amazon charts. Begging the question: why are parents ordering these materials? 

The workbooks in the charts are aimed at pre-school and primary school children. This may be because children ages 3-9 are much more dependent on their parents for learning support compared to secondary school children. But I’d argue it most likely suggests parents of children this age are actively seeking out extra materials for their children beyond the work set by teachers. It seems, then, work sent from schools is not adequate in either content or quantity- or both- for a day’s home-schooling. 

It is great that parents are actively contributing to their children’s learning by buying them these extra workbooks. However, it generates a much wider problem: access to education. While the “Collins Addition and Subtraction Ages 5-7” workbook and its literacy companion “Handwriting: Ages 5-7” are only £2.99 and £2.34 respectively, other items such as Read Write Inc’s “Phonics Flashcards” are currently number 21 in the chart and sold for £6.99. 

These materials- readily available to students in classrooms- have now become resources children can only access if their parents can afford them. This is going to have a knock-on effect on academic development as children whose parents can afford these resources are inevitably going to make greater progress than children whose parents cannot. 

Home-schooling is undoing the previous progress that has been made in closing the attainment gap, which disproportionately impacts children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Research recently released by The Sutton Trust reveals that “40% of children in middle class homes are doing over 5 hours [of school work] a day, compared to 26% of those in working class households”. Surely, this- among several other reasons- is because working class households cannot afford to access the same quantity of learning resources as middle class households.

Such disparities within education should simply not exist, but going forward, what can actually be done to remedy this unequal access to education? It would be ridiculous to suggest that parents in the financial position to do so should not be purchasing these extra materials on Amazon because of the inequality it generates. 

Instead, schools need greater funding from the government to support their disadvantaged pupils as a form of “catch-up” (a problematic term in itself). Either workbooks, like those on Amazon, should be accessible to all or schools should simply be providing children with enough work to complete a full day of home-schooling, so parents do not feel the necessity to buy extra resources to match the work children would have been receiving if they were in the classroom. Perhaps, then, parents won’t be making fake Ofsted reports rating their children’s home-schooling as ‘bloody awful’. 

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