Home schooling during lockdown: Inequalities in inputs and perceptions

This blog post was co-authored with Lindsey Macmillan, Patrick Sturgis and Gill Wyness and was first published on the CEPEO Blog.

The past few weeks have been challenging for parents across the country working hard to support their children to continue to learn during the COVID–19 lockdown. One of the reasons for the big push to get kids back to school is the concern over inequalities driven by differences in home learning. Using new data from a high-quality random sample collected using the Kantar Public Voice Survey, we examine the extent of inequalities in home schooling during lockdown from the end of April to the beginning of June. We find stark differences in the time spent home schooling but also in the perceptions of parents, in terms of their ability to adequately support their children’s learning, and in how the burden of home schooling is divided between mothers and fathers.

Differences in days spent home schooling

While very similar proportions (around 75%) of graduate and non-graduate parents report doing any home schooling, graduate parents report home schooling their children on more days compared to non-graduate parents. While almost 80% of graduate parents are home schooling their children at least 4 days a week, only 60% of non-graduates are home schooling this often. This is consistent with other surveys covering the same period that have found inequalities in the amount of time spent home schooling by parental income.

Differences in perception of ability to home school

These differences in time spent home schooling could be driven, in part, by graduate parents having greater confidence in their abilities to home school their children. In our survey, graduates were more likely (70%) to agree with the statement ‘I am confident in my household’s abilities to home school my child’ compared to non-graduates (60%). Similarly, graduate parents report more confidence that their child’s learning is continuing. This confidence gap in ability to home school is concerning, as studies show that children who have parents with anxiety about maths tend to perform worse in maths.

Differences in perceptions of interfering with their job

These differences in time spent home schooling seem to have a consequential effect on whether parents’ feel able to do their jobs. Graduates are substantially more likely to agree that home schooling is interfering with their job, a difference this is particularly pronounced for mothers, with nearly 80% of graduate mothers agreeing that home schooling had interfered with their ability to do their job, compared to 67% of graduate fathers, and 50% of non-graduates.

Differences in perception of who is doing the most home schooling

This inequality between mothers and fathers can also be seen when we consider who is doing the most to support their child with schoolwork during lockdown. Around half (49%) of fathers say that their partner does most of the home schooling, with the other half split between those who say that they take on the lion’s share (16%), and those reporting that this responsibility is split equally (33%). This contrasts with mothers, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying they devote most time on this task, with only one fifth (21%) reporting an equal split, and just 13% saying that their partners are doing the majority of home-schooling. These patterns are, again, particularly pronounced for graduate mothers. Similar differences in perceptions between mothers and fathers have also been found in the US, where 45% of fathers said they did most of the home schooling – but just 3% of mothers reported that their partner was making the largest contribution.

Support for children and working mothers

Taken together this new evidence from a high-quality random sample of parents suggests that inequalities arising from home schooling during lockdown will exacerbate existing inequalities in education. We know that children of graduate parents already have higher levels of cognitive and socio-emotional skills on school entry. These inequalities are only likely to widen if children from less advantaged backgrounds are spending less time on home-schooling during lockdown. Non-graduate parents are also less confident in their ability to home school their children and this may be detrimental to the quality of the support they are able to provide.

Our survey also reveals gender disparities in the impact of home schooling, with graduate mothers particularly likely to report that home schooling is interfering with their jobs. But parents perceptions do not align on who is sharing the greater burden; while half of fathers say they are doing at least an equal share, a clear majority of mothers think that this level of paternal input is exaggerated.

Catch up strategies when schools re-open should be mindful that returning children will have been exposed to different levels of home schooling. Similarly, employers should be mindful that the burden of home schooling during lockdown is more likely to have affected mothers compared to other employees, and factor this into future pay reviews and promotions.

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