Turnitin Does Not Detect Plagiarism

Using Turnitin as a Positive Tool for Formative Assessment

Ref: https://acdev.orgdev.coventry.domains/application/files/2715/6293/3552/J282-19_The-Coventry-Way-eBook_V7.pdf [accessed 26.10.20]

Aims and rationale:

The use of Turnitin as a tool within Higher Education has been growing for many years. Alongside this, however, a culture of fear has been growing among students that they will somehow be caught out by the software and vilified as a cheat. This case study aims to challenge that culture and offer some insight into how Turnitin can be used as a positive tool for both staff and students. Through proper understanding of Turnitin and its intended use, staff and students can begin to use Turnitin to self-assess, to make academic improvements, and to send and receive appropriate formative feedback throughout modules and courses.


Turnitin for staff is a tool that we often only use to mark electronically. It is the GradeMark software that allows us to do just that, and not Turnitin itself. There is, as with most software, a period of training and practice that is required for us to fully understand the enormous capabilities of Turnitin and just how positive a tool it can become when embedded as part of our formative assessment processes. As there is some training needed, there is a requirement for us to set aside time to practice. However, that training need be no more than a few hours or a couple of working lunches; it is the practise that counts most. The implementation of Turnitin only requires a little extra planning and nothing more. No additional materials are required, and logistically, Turnitin will save time in the long run, improving tutorials and supervisions as well as the academic work that is submitted as part of the summative assessments. Turnitin in the right hands is a win-win for staff and students.

It is essential to remember a few golden rules when working with Turnitin within any module. For example, ignore the numerical score: this is the percentage shown at the top of the report (see Image.1 below). Turnitin isn’t, and never has been a tool for detecting plagiarism.


Image.1: Percentage of matched text found by Turnitin

‘The rapid growth in the market for such software is premised on the misconception that it identifies plagiarism’ (Mphahlele and McKenna 2019: 2).

Turnitin simply matches text found in an assignment to text found electronically. It does not recognise in-text citations or direct quotation marks.

When you start to look into the history of Turnitin, you realise that it does not detect plagiarism and this is something that is noted throughout the resources on the Turnitin webpage itself. Turnitin is a text-matching software, and the score tells us what percentage of the writing has been matched to other sources online/electronically. This is very important to understand.

‘The Turnitin originality report shows the paper’s text highlighted with any text that matches sources found in the Turnitin databases containing vast amounts of web content, previously submitted papers, and subscription-based journals and publications’(turnitin.com/resources2019)

Understanding that Turnitin does not detect plagiarism and that a student can have a very high score but equally has referenced everything correctly (very often found in research modules) leads us towards being able to integrate Turnitin into the inner workings of our modules. We get to a place where it can become a positive tool for students and staff.

‘So does Turnitin detect plagiarism? No — Turnitin offers a tool that helps educators (and their students) make informed evaluations of student work rapidly and move on to the important task of discerning what their students need in the way of instruction, correction or judicial action,’ (turnitin.com/resources 2019)


1. Create your Turnitin links before the start of your module and hide them from students’ view.

2. Create another two draft Turnitin links for say, Coursework 1 and Coursework 2, which are visible to your students before the start of your module.

3. Before any supervision or tutorials (at CU Scarborough this is usually week 3 and week 6 of a module) ensure that your student has submitted their draft work and that you have taken a few minutes to scan the work. You may want to add some comments in-text, or at the top of the page.

4. Your tutorial should then focus on how the student might use your formative feedback to make improvements. This is where you save time – you should be able to talk with a specific focus rather than sit reading a student’s draft during the tutorial. Essentially your student receives double the amount of formative feedback (written and verbal).

‘…our results demonstrated that using Turnitin as a formative writing tool, allows students to prepare an assignment in an academically acceptable way… with less plagiarism’ (Halgamuge 2017: 895).

Feedback from students:

‘It is so much easier to see where I miss citations when Turnitin highlights them.’

‘I wish every tutor gave us formative feedback through Turnitin.’

Reading the Turnitin Report – before final submission:

1. Your students should have been taught how to read their report (this may be done in addition to class time or during a module induction).

2. The score (percentage shown at the top of the report) is arbitrary and should be ignored when using the report to improve academic writing and referencing.

3. Diligently check each of the matched text sources that are highlighted by Turnitin. This is something that students should be taught to do as part of their self-assessment and as part of the editing process for their summative assessments. Staff may consider a spot-check approach to this task by randomly selecting the sources, either as part of the formative or summative assessment.

4. Turnitin will highlight any matched text, and so students should be able to identify where quotation marks are expected to be and where citations should be included.

Paraphrasing – an unexpected improvement:Poor paraphrasing is often where students fall, and where, in some institutions, students race through the academic integrity disciplinary procedures. At CU Scarborough, our graduates go on to other institutions for their postgraduate study and so it is imperative that we are confident in their ability to use Turnitin effectively.

Poor paraphrasing is usually an issue in the first year of undergraduate study, primarily down to schools accepting loosely paraphrased work without any citations needed. It can be tricky for students to break the habits they have been forming over the past 10-12 years in other areas of education, and so Turnitin can become irreplaceable.

Through the active and regular use of Turnitin, students can learn to improve their paraphrasing skills by following these simple steps, followed by submission through the draft Turnitin link on their module:

• Read the section of the textbook/article and make notes.

• Close the book or cover the article and paraphrase the notes that were taken.

• Take a break – go for a walk – make a coffee – change the music…

• Now paraphrase the first paraphrase

• Now paraphrase your paraphrase

Students should be submitting a paraphrase that was written three times. Their Turnitin report will highlight any sentences or sections that are matched against online electronic sources, and they can continue to work on the paragraph until they have expertly written a paraphrased paragraph. It is this paragraph that the students should be citing.

Advantage = citations are accurate, and the paragraph is not plagiarised (or a direct quotation)

Disadvantage = students must break the habit of relying on the original text and therefore, must begin to understand what they have read

Clearly, as academic staff, we can see the advantages of following the advice above; in fact, we may wish all of our students would undertake this use of Turnitin as they are drafting work. We are reliant on students seeing the benefit of this process, and so it is often down to how enthusiastic the staff are and just how embedded Turnitin is within our modules.

Student feedback:

‘I wish we had been taught how to paraphrase this way from the start [of the course].’

‘It seems so easy when you break it all down to [the] steps [listed above].’

Positive outcomes: Benefits to using Turnitin throughout a Module:

1. Improved academic writing grades after students use Turnitin to draft summative assessments.

2. Improved paraphrasing.

3. Better use of time during tutorials, with more open discussion and improved focus.

4. Opportunity for tutors to give targeted formative feedback electronically.

5. Students’ ability to self-assess before submission and target weaker areas such as paraphrasing and citation.

6. Reduced marking time for staff, as students will have effectively used their Turnitin report.

Plagiarism is a topic that is discussed repeatedly throughout modules and courses, across each phase and level and throughout a student’s academic career. Detecting plagiarism is the responsibility of a tutor and a keen eye can detect plagiarism in its most complicated form without the help of any type of software. It is unfortunate that Turnitin has become synonymous with plagiarism detection because as we know, Turnitin only matches text – it does not recognise quotation marks or accurate citations.

If academic staff can be trained in the proper use of Turnitin they can then share that knowledge with their students early on in the students’ academic journey, enabling them to assess their own strengths and weaknesses, identify areas of good academic writing, and areas that they need to work on before submission. Students can prepare for tutorials effectively and therefore conversations can be targeted and developed.

‘…about half of the participating students who had used (Turnitin) reported that this software helped them improve their referencing skills, and quite a few of them talked about improved writing skills in general. What is interesting about this study was the adoption of (Turnitin) not only as a plagiarism-detection tool but as a teaching tool to help students avoid plagiarism. By sharing originality reports with students and discussing with them ways to avoid plagiarism, students were able to improve their writing in general and referencing skills in particular.’ (Ayon 2017: 2)

With the correct knowledge and training Turnitin can be a positive tool for improved academic success and for staff, Turnitin can improve opportunities for formative assessment and change attitudes towards this outstanding piece of software.



Ayon, N.S. (2017) ‘Students’ and Instructors’ Perceptions of Turnitin: A Plagiarism Deterrent?’. Creative Education 8(13), 2091 -2108

Halgamuge, M.N. (2017) ‘The use and analysis of anti‐plagiarism software: Turnitin tool for formative assessment and feedback’. Computer Applications in Engineering Education 25(6), 895-909

Mphahlele, A. and McKenna, S. (2019) ‘The use of Turnitin in the Higher Education sector: Decoding the myth’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 1-11. DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2019.1573971

Turnitin.com (2019) Higher Education [online] available from <https://www.turnitin.com/divisions/higher-education>%5B1 May 2019]

Turnitin.com (2019) Resources [online] available from <https://www.turnitin.com/resources&gt; [1 May 2019]

Additional resources

Bruton, S. and Childers, D. (2016) ‘The Ethics and Politics of Policing Plagiarism: A Qualitative Study of Faculty Views on Student Plagiarism And Turnitin®’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 41(2), 316-330

Jameson, S. (2016) ‘Leeds Beckett University’s Holistic, Institutional Approach to Academic Integrity’. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 4(2), 71-72

Khoza, S.B. (2015) ‘Can Turnitin Come to the Rescue: From Teachers’ Reflections?’, South African Journal of Education 35(4)

Ransome, J. and Newton, P.M. (2018) ‘Are we Educating Educators about Academic Integrity? A Study of UK Higher Education Textbooks’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 43(1), 126-13

About the author:

Chelle Oldham is a tutor in Early Years, ITE, Education and Childhood Studies. Currently supporting supervision for number of Higher Education Institutions whilst completing a PhD. Before this, she was Head of Department for Teacher Education at Cumbria University. She spent five years at Leeds Met (now Leeds Beckett) University where she was Course Director, Teacher Fellow and one of the first Academic Integrity Officers trained to support faculties across the institution with cases of plagiarism and implementing the university regulatory process. It was whilst in this post that Chelle began to run professional development activities for staff in how, Turnitin could be promoted to students as a positive tool for improved academic success.

Key words: Turnitin, referencing, GradeMark, academic integrity, academic ethics, plagiarism

279 Days & Counting; Im 10yrs old and these are my words

We are not going to lose

We fight you on the streets

We fight you everywhere we go

We have our masks, we have our bleach

We are not afraid of you, unseen enemy

You’re not the only one who can hide

You can hide in plain sight

We can hide in our homes

We have our traitors who party at night

Who have a broken shield

Traitors to the shielding

Murderers to the people you pass on the street

You will be dead

We will be the living!

The Blogging Learning Curve

Hey, if you are reaching this first sentence you must want to learn more about blogging; or you’ve read my writing before and I just spark something you enjoy. It occurred to me this week, people may actually read my material because they absolutely hate the things I write about and/or the way that I write about those things.

Things I learned this month, (1) use a title that tells the readership what your blog is about. It may help to avoid hours of anguish. I often forget to remain in the present rather than being taken back to high school memories I would rather forget existed. (2) People will comment. The good, the bad and the down-right ugly. It can be difficult to send the inner voice out into this very public arena, only to have negative comments added in a relatively short space of time. Prepare oneself mentally and emotionally. A like is a like, and a red heart is love, so I am trying hard to ignore my own insecurities around an anonymous, minority who like to play bash-the-author.

It genuinely never occurred to me that anyone would read an article or blog because they didn’t like it/me. In my evidently rose tinted psyche, my readership is filled with like-minded individuals who click the like/love buttons and write comments that sound very much like “I agree wholeheartedly” and read “I love reading your blog”. I feel a little naive to the blogging world if I’m honest. I mean, back in the day, I wrote prolifically on MySpace about pink planets and metaphorically living like an alien on planet earth; very dramatic I hear you utter. I know. For whatever reason my blogging caught people’s attention and resonated with large sections of society. So why am I failing so significantly as I write about my research topics? That was a rhetorical question by the way.

Still with me? Then I’ll let you hear about my rather steep learning curve some more. This week I learned that (3) there are two (at least) types of blog; the factual, analytical, serious blog and the inflammatory, opinion filled, shock-factor blog. Apparently, never should the two meet. I did not know this. Blogging now has categories of blogging. Yep, I was a little confused too. I had thought that all blogging was opinion (of the author/s) and that any facts or statistics found within would need verification. Grammarly has a light and fluffy article to assist newbie bloggers – everything from how to choose an interesting topic to how to make an impact with your opening paragraph (Hey there is probably weak in the world of Grammarly. OOoops). I didn’t find Grammarly when I started to look into the best way to write a blog, I came across 201digital who told me “The problem with opinions is that sometimes, they can be rude, exclude certain groups, be offensive or just mildly annoying (think UK pro-toll Katie Hopkins)” Eeek!! I really shouldn’t have looked into the technicalities of good blogging on a day when I had deleted almost everything I’d written up to that point; to throw Katie Hopkins into the mix….my blogging days were numbered. I learned (4) don’t post everything on the day that you write it because you may feel differently another day, and editing may help improve your blog, as well as keep the negative comments to a minimum.

I’ve yet to work out if my blogging leans towards the factual and informative style or if I am brave enough to lean towards opinion and debate style of blogging. I do think I am well and truly on the fence with it all. I have to say that one lesson I have securely learned (5) opinion can generate the inflammatory and so I must be ready for the response to whatever it is I may have written that day. I do not feel anything I write is rude (201digital) but I know the questions I ask and the way that I ask them seem to bring up the heckles on my reader’s neck. My questions have never been simple, straight forward or surface level. Like ever. In high school I learned really fast to quietly observe and use the power of deduction to work out the answers. Now I live and work in a purely academic world and so questioning is a given. In that world almost any question you ask is allowed because we are teaching and researching. However, out there, in the real world where society is not predicated on asking philosophical questions – I stand out, lets leave it at that. I’ve learned (6) take notice of the online environment you are posting and sharing your blog because the same question can be framed in a way that suits the group you are part of, or the social media you are engaging with. Academically worded questions, in the groups I am part of, simply generated mistrust and suspicion. I really could have worded them differently. Live and learn!

(7) Do not generalize or state opinion as fact which seems quite obvious when I write it here, but for me this is reliant on not posting the same day as writing. Its clearly a bad habit of mine, and actually something that can really help me when it comes to writing up my thesis. It is relatively easy to remove a couple of words to slightly alter the sentence. For example, “the home education community do not feel they are treated fairly by inexperienced school authorities which leads to suspicion and mistrust” – wait! keep reading, don’t comment yet…this sentence sounds like the author is speaking on behalf of the home education community, or at least that the author assumes (i) that they want to become aligned with state schooling and, (ii) everyone who home educates mistrusts authority. The simple editing of that sentence can reduce the inflammatory reaction to it: “the home education community may not feel they are treated fairly by authorities which leads to poor working relationshipsA small, yet significant change in the choice of wording, and the heat has been removed from the sentence. It no longer reads as though the author is speaking on behalf of the entire home education community.

I have returned to the world of blogging because I can see the benefits to research and the research community. Government’s bring bloggers into policy and news agencies refer to bloggers almost daily to comment on headlines and current affairs. I do see the benefit of blogging. Adding my name and my research to the blogging world, now that hasn’t been such a great experience. Yet. I persevere because I have something to share and I believe that something is important for the world to hear. Education is my world (after my 4 kids obviously) and adding caveats all the way through a piece of writing in case I upset commentators really doesn’t come naturally.

I live and learn. I write and learn. I believe in our motto every experience is a learning experience.

Popcorn popping on the apricot tree: the blossoms during Covid-19

Parents were asked, ‘Does anyone who chose to use schools feel their children have blossomed whilst learning at home?’. Within less than 24hrs there were over 200 responses. Within 48hrs over 400 responses. The question asked parents to reflect upon the last 5 months and identify if anything had changed since lockdown forced education back into their hands. The sheer number of responses in such a short space of time was awe inspiring. The over whelming majority of responses had identified how much “happier” their children had been whilst learning at home. Although comments are still coming in, over 75% of the responses were the positive observations made by parents suggesting that educating at home had improved the wellbeing and mental health of their child(ren). Other polls created by home education groups have looked at the number of parents who have since chosen to home educate permanently (49.5% in the Scottish Home Education Forum survey ). However this question was composed to look specifically at the wellbeing and mental health of children since lockdown began. It is already known that children’s parents are best placed to observe and assess the wellbeing of their children. Parents are gatekeepers and safeguard the mental health of their children. Parents are strategically positioned to notice signs and symptoms, behavioural changes or red flags indicating all is not well; parents are the first line of defence for children.

Covid-19 has unsettled families around the world, however, this is an unprecedented opportunity for home education to shine. Of course there are critics who will say that thousands of children are now ‘behind’ and thousands of children have been ‘let down’ by parents struggling to educate from home . However, can a child actually be behind if we remove the levels, testing and curriculum measures that we use in our antiquated schooling system? Imagine a child walking through the most magical forest ever to have grown; trees as tall as the blue sky above, forest animals scurrying through the undergrowth and butterflies glistening as they dash from leaf to leaf. Can you picture the breeze lifting a million blossoms from their stem as they flower and share their springtime aroma? Feel it; see it; hear it; smell it; that freedom to blossom and fly. It is a safe bet that there is no adult with that child in the picture created within your minds-eye. No adult checking off boxes that sit next to generic statements like, ‘ I know which is left and which is right’ or ‘I Can identify Oak leaves’ and ‘Firm understanding of the life cycle’. Of course not, of course that adult does not feature in our perfectly created forest where our imaginary child is free to roam, dance, collect, touch, taste, smell and explore. That checklist does not objectively reveal all the new sensory or experiential learning that is taking place for our imagined child. Our child cannot be ‘behind’ in their learning if we do not have a checklist in the first place. There is just learning and experience at the pace and rate of each child. Learning that may well be scaffolded (supported) by older children, younger children, parents, teachers or others; remove the testing and a child’s natural abilities, inquisitive mind and desire to learn through exploration can be followed and progress observed.

Did you already start responding to that last paragraph with a ‘but…’? There will always be a counter-argument and a ‘but’. Considering how autonomous learning might look in practice does not mean we have to ignore proven theory. We know scaffolding helps, we know children’s cognitive development, social development and emotional development happens at different ages and stages for each of them. The aim here is not to challenge the well proven theories of development and learning, more to soften the pro-school versus pro-home education argument. Does it have to be so contrasting? There is an enormous difference between the pressure of being tested amongst 29 other children and a parent asking if a fact or concept can be recalled.

Parents responded to the original question with comments such as “Ive noticed huge gaps in their knowledge” and “I immediately noticed gaps so we went back to basics”. An entire book could be dedicated to reasons why children have gaps, a week off school with chicken pox, a hearing concern, boredom, too much teacher-talk, a music lesson during carpet-based teacher-input…to name just a few. Society (and Government) have come to believe everything can and should be learned in schools and that children should never be absent (in mind or body). This leaves some parents wondering what their role actually is beyond feeding, clothing and housing their offspring; “I didn’t realise how little they were learning at school…they are not teaching the life skills I thought that they were”.

Interestingly not many home educating families have a complete dislike of everything that is schooling. Many are teachers themselves , many have been trained to teach in the very schools they choose not to place their own children. What is far more interesting is that there are many teachers who love education, educating and learning but despise the system in which they have to teach. Our teachers are up and coming hero’s during this pandemic, they will be the next front line within days and weeks as each of the UK’s leaders make tentative moves to getting children back into the classrooms. Our teachers and our children are about to participate in the worlds biggest, scariest experiment of all; keeping Covid out of our classrooms.

There are valid reports with reliable data being generated almost daily, as researchers publish in response to this new world, with new opportunities for once in a lifetime access to the human responses towards Covid-19. The DELVE report ‘Balancing the risk of pupils returning to school ’ paints a bleak picture of the future of an entire generation if children should miss any further schooling. Professor Burgess who is the main researcher and author of this report has been quoted saying “we know how damaging it is for children to miss out on school…” and the report argues that the 3-4 months of schooling that children have already missed equates to around a 3% loss in earning potential for each child. However a report that uses education rather than schooling as the subject of the research, is yet to be found. Lets be clear, many reports are based upon a child’s schooling not on their overall education. There is a reason for this, leaving the general confusion between schooling and education aside, there are existing parameters and an existing, measurable framework if researchers use schooling as their subject. There are no such parameters or frameworks to analyse within home education, at least not yet. Simply put, schooling success and failure can be measured because the framework of success and failure is already set out in the Oftsed reports, GCSE data, A-Level data and SATs data. We already know that a child who leaves primary school without a level 4 in literacy and numeracy will go on to struggle to achieve 5 good GCSE’s . We already know that a child who leaves school without a C (4/5) in English and Maths will go on to earn less than the child leaving school with a B (6). There are measurable data sets that can be analysed in order to make justifiable predictions about each child’s future.

There are no such data sets in home education. Does that mean a child cannot learn effectively outside of a classroom? Of course not (listen for the cries of fellow home educators and their long-suffering representatives and group administrators). Parents responded to the question with exclamation marks and bold type, such was the passion behind each of the answers; “IMMEDIATE CHANGES FOR THE BETTER”and “She thrived, Im a teacher and Im considering leaving my job…. It is difficult not to see the upwards trend of parents seriously considering or taking the plunge into home educating full-time when responses read “My sons writing was nearly illegible but he is now working at his brothers level (2yrs older) because I link his work to his special interests. The school refused to do this.”

Home educators are slowly gathering pace and coming together in an organised fashion. Parents who once believed schools to be the only place a child could be educated, were thrown into that teaching role over night. Those same parents responded to my question with passion, eagerness and in some cases anger. Many parents responded to say “I noticed gaps in their learning” and even more responded to say that they had noticed an enormous change in their children’s behaviour, for the better. Children’s wellbeing and mental health has improved in dozens of cases. Over 75% of my 200+ parents expressed that their children’s mental health and wellbeing has improved since learning from home began (“…she’s less tearful and doesn’t wake up feeling sick and crying every morning” and “My 5yr old reception child thrived…it has made me really see the value in Home Schooling”).

By the time the question had been in the public domain for 24hrs, there were over 200 responses:

“ My 6yr old is a highly sensitive child and cried going to school. I see her running, playing and laughing now. That is just the tip of the iceberg.” “My son has flourished, he was disappearing before our eyes…it sounds strange but in a way lockdown was a blessing for us in regards to my lovely boy” “his anxiety has almost vanished and we are learning to love life again” “being able to learn at their own pace…has really helped them rebuild their confidence and redevelop a love of learning”

Not every response was a feather in the cap for home education. Some parents noticed that their children were missing school friends, the structure and some were concerned about missing learning on the run up to their exams:

“ Yes but annoyingly he wants to go back to school.” “Mine cant wait to go back. We will be going back to school as soon as they open the doors” “want to get them back into a bit of a routine worried they will be behind when they go back” “being an only child can be devastating at times like this”

Overall the great majority of parents expressed enthusiasm for the home education option and emphatically expressed their joy at the improvement in mental health of their children. There are consistent themes generated from parents responses including gaps in children’s education, increased mental and emotional wellbeing, a reduction in anxiety and anxious behaviour and an increase in overall happiness and relaxation. Some parents have looked into the legality of deregistering their children while others desperately ask “how do I go about this? What do I need to do?” It is clear from over 300 responses that parents are choosing to deregister children primarily because of a marked improvement in the wellbeing and mental health status of their children and young people.

Clare Haughey MSP was appointed minister for mental health in Scotland in June 2018, her role takes responsibility for child and adolescent mental health. As both the Scottish and UK government take steps towards bringing “all” children back into the classroom, one might ask Clare Haughey MSP, the question “if parents are observing such a marked improvement in their children’s mental health, can we not elevate home education to be a real alternative educational choice for families?”

13 & in Lockdown

The Teenager Living with Covid-19

Living in lockdown as a home-schooled 13yr old.

“Lockdown, a word that, just last year, had a very different meaning. Now, when people hear the word ‘lockdown’ they think of social distancing, they think of the vulnerable who are shielding, and they think of the global pandemic. For me, lockdown meant a change of mindset and added worries. Lockdown meant that I was limited in what I could do and who I could see. Lockdown meant that I had new considerations and needed to remember things that I barely thought about before.

Simple things like going to visit my grandparents or nipping to the shop to get snacks weren’t an option anymore, they were options I may not have taken up in the first place, but not having them felt like I was caged in. It was like being in a room after someone had locked the door; I might not have left the room when the door was open but when the door was locked, I felt trapped. I couldn’t see my dad either because, while we lived in Scotland, he lived in England. As he worked with people outside of his household, he was not allowed to see us because we were shielding. Lockdown brought worries and problems that I couldn’t fix. Both my mother and sister were in the vulnerable category, meaning that we had to be extra careful whenever we dared leave the house, we never left without multiple pairs of gloves and a mask. My two sisters and I would take turns in going to the shop with our live-in nanny, so we could get used to wearing masks and gloves whenever we went out.”

Much has been debated over the last 5 months regarding the mental health decline of the country and how the lockdown has caused a spike in domestic violence, neglect and poor mental health. Ministers may well attempt to ‘raise awareness of children talking about their mental health to others’ but are we really acting on these concerns and is just talking about mental health enough? For some children blogging, diary writing and tweeting has become the go to place for teenagers to express how they are feeling and what they are seeing. Who is taking notice of the words they speak…

“ Lockdown was easier for me than a lot of people; I had space. Space to avoid my family (if I so wanted), space to exercise and have fun without having to leave the property and space to relax. Also, I was not as affected by Lockdown as countless others were; others struggled through lockdown because they were forced to self-isolate alone and couldn’t socialise. I had my family with me, no matter how annoying they could get. Before lockdown, my mother and our nanny would drag me to ‘make new friends’ or when we went Ice-skating they would encourage me to speak to others; after lockdown started, I didn’t have to speak to anyone outside of my family or the safety of my friendship group. One thing that we never had to worry about was unemployment; thousands of people lost their jobs due to Lockdown but, because my mother was a lecturer at a university, she could work from home and do all her work from her laptop. My dad, however, worked in hospitality so he couldn’t work. He immediately got a job working night shifts at a supermarket. Other people were stuck at home, which caused us to take more time and attention when we contacted them. For example, my sisters and I started to face-time our grandparents more often and frequently wrote letters to various people. We wouldn’t have started to do this if Lockdown hadn’t happened. As thousands succumbed to the invisible disease, we were taking our vulnerable 70-year-old grandparents far less for granted. We were lucky that they were knowledgeable and isolated early. We are lucky every day we have them at the end of a video link.”

Listening to this 13 yr old, how can we ignore the worries she has about her parents employment situation or the health of her elderly grandparents? The words have been written, she has expressed her concerns, only an adult is able to make any change or headway with those circumstances, and yet a young teenager spends at least part of the lockdown worrying about adult concerns. On the one hand we might praise her maturity for considering such topics; on the other there has to be some level of adult intervention that allows her to worry more about what she should want to eat for tea rather than how and who will provide the food.

“Many shops and businesses closed because of the pandemic, one of these was the vet. Due to the vet being closed, we had to deliver 6 kittens in the middle of the night by ourselves, with no experience. Mittens, the mother, had been showing signs of being pregnant for about a month before she gave birth to the kittens. Our rabbit also gave birth to 6 kits the morning after, by this time most of us had nearly passed out from exhaustion. Then, to make matters worse, the chicks started to hatch in a bush in front of the house.”

If we set aside the mental health of young people experiencing lockdown just for a few minutes, researchers must take this opportunity to listen to the experiences of children and their personal narrative. The level of education during this period of time is arguably unprecedented. Some teenagers built their own businesses fetching and carrying food for local residents, other teenagers volunteered in an effort to assist those who were shielding or vulnerable. A good number of teens took on the role of tutor in their own home or via video calls to friends and family members. The level of education and experience that Covid-19 afforded our young people may never be repeated again in their lifetime – so we should capture their experiences, their voices and look carefully at the level of education they received. Let’s not cloud this opportunity with a debate around academic capital versus education capital and simply agree that for many young people, even those who were struggling in schools and college, have increased their capital in ways we can only imagine. Capture their narrative and we can start to analyse the benefits to young people rather than just listing the losses.

“Lockdown didn’t change everything, unlike many others, I had to continue my schooling. Whilst my friends, who went to school, effectively had a holiday during lockdown, I was made to carry on with my schoolwork. At first, I was slightly annoyed at the unfairness of it but then I soon realised that it was no different to when my friends had ordinary school holidays; I still did my schoolwork even when they had holidays. My mum also made sure that our sleep patterns remained relatively the same. Many people in lockdown struggled to keep a consistent sleep schedule and this often resulted in them being tired and lethargic during the day. Mum still made me get up at 9 o clock every morning and she still made me do my morning chores. She tried to keep our life as normal as possible, the only major differences in our routine were the trips we usually had to museums, parks, pools and the ice rink.

Social distancing was a concept that, before lockdown, was unheard of in my generation. Many adults were unprepared for this national pandemic; my mum was ready! Every time we went down to London, she would always use ‘The Zombie Apocalypse’ metaphor to teach us not to touch anything, like elevator buttons in the subway, in case of germs from the thousands of people who may have touched it before us. We would always wear gloves outside of our apartment and, if we did have to press buttons on the elevators or open doors, we would use our knuckles instead of our fingers. Just as the first Covid cases were being reported on the news, we went on a short trip to Carlisle and, even though there were no recorded cases in England or Scotland at that time; even though the government had not issued a lockdown, mum still made sure we had our gloves and didn’t touch anything unless we had to. This meant we couldn’t pick up anything in shops unless we were buying it, we didn’t lean on anything outside or inside of any shops and we all had gloves on and stayed away from others. My dad said that she was overreacting; that the percentage of the population who were infected was really low. Mum told him to make sure he and my brother were washing their hands and keeping away from others because they both worked in the hospitality industry. We went into an self-imposed early Lockdown before anyone else at the start of February because as soon as my mum heard about China having a mass outbreak of Covid she knew that it was only a matter of time before the UK started reporting their first cases. She believed that the only way to ensure the safety of me and my sisters would be to put us all into Lockdown. We were prepared for the pandemic even before the WHO declared the outbreak to be a pandemic. I’m grateful for mum’s swift decision; we were able to easily adjust to Lockdown and keep safe.”

#Covid-19 #literacy #childsvoice #narrative #family #teen #education

So, Home Education is okay now?

Home Education is not the same as the Home Learning that parents are attempting to undertake during the Lockdown of 2020. There is some virtue in the numerous online comments from existing Home Educators who repeatedly tried to distinguish themselves from the parents of Lockdown by offering the term ‘Home Learning’ as an alternative to Home Education. In many ways they have a valid point.

Even for existing Home Educators, our world was undeniably altered when Lockdown was imposed upon British society this year. For hundreds of families who made the choice to Home Educate permanently, and whom have fought various systems, authorities and their Government for the privilege to educate their children in places other than a school building, the days are restrictive and out of balance with their usual ideology.

No more day trips to engage in hands-on learning; no more extra curricula activities where 40 children might have an entire ice rink to themselves; no more reading groups or craft days; no more meet-ups with other like-minded families in parks that are otherwise deserted. Yes! We have been affected by Covid-19 too. For many families 1-2 or more of their days are spent immersed in history or engrossed in Geography through our five senses. Research tells us that the intense concentration we get from a child who is entirely self-motivated, only comes when they are given autonomy over the direction of their learning; something that most schools and teachers are unable to provide due to various restrictions such as curriculum and environment. Home Educators might tell us that gaining that level of sensory learning can only be achieved in the Home Education setting.

Every opportunity is a learning opportunity.

We have also done our utmost to ensure that opportunities are available for our children who many may not realise are severely restricted just as school-based children have been. That hands on learning is difficult to achieve within the four walls of the family home, even if you are lucky enough to have a garden. Home Educators are having to adapt too. Online learning only offers a fraction of the experiences most Home Educated children receive. Lets face it, they can watch a science lesson on the screen with a live teacher and in depth video but they cannot feel how cold the ocean is or make a live Daffodil turn purple when it is all on a computer or television screen.

There have been some huge changes for the better though.; BBC Home Learning where have you been all this time?! It is somewhat frustrating that it has taken a worldwide panic and entire Lockdown of a country to increase the quality and quantity of online learning for Home Educated children. It is hard not to feel frustrated as a Home Educator who has spent years researching the USA and AUS Home Education web pages looking for resources to use. According to the ADCS 2019 report on Elective Home Education in England, there were in excess of 78,000 children thought to be home educated; more than the number of children in care. Add those in Scotland, Wales and Ireland and we begin to get a feel for the popularity of Home Education in the UK. With that many children being educated in places other than a school, it would make sense to have resources for parents and families that meet their needs and increase their options for future goals. It would have been nice to feel any of the Governments for whom education is their responsibility, acknowledged the great efforts families go to in order to Home Educate their children;

Even during this unprecedented pandemic where almost every child in the UK is being taught from home, no one has stood up and questioned why the Governments have not acknowledged the amazing work undertaken by families that choose to Home Educate. There seems to be a new article every day looking to support or criticise families for either ‘doing a great job’ or ‘not going far enough in formal teaching from home’. However, there can be found across almost all social media comments from parents acknowledging just how difficult it can be to take full 100% responsibility for the teaching and learning of children from home. When are the Politicians going to acknowledge that Home Education is valuable and that parents in general whom choose this option actually sacrifice significantly in support of their ideology. Instead of arguments between those who believe children should already be back in schools, and those who believe children should stay at home; maybe the discussion could be more clearly around how we support parents and families in their uphill battle to swap traditional schooling for a crash course in Home Education? Maybe those in positions of power (Ministers for Education; Children’s Minister etc) can take a long hard look at how well some families are undertaking education from home. Perhaps it would have been wise to enlist the help advice and support of existing, experienced Home Educators at the start of the Lockdown!

Yes, we understand that there are safeguarding concerns and children for whom school is a lifeline. Absolutely get those children back into school, or find an alternative way to support them. Is this debate really just about those vulnerable children though? There are many thousands of children who do not fall into this cetagory whose parents are now considering Home Education as a permanent option; lets face it, the Government can hardly tell us that the quality isn’t good enough after pushing every child in the UK into instant Home Learning. Its been good enough for 40% of this academic year!

What will happen to all the extra rsources that have found their way onto our screens on a daily basis? Will Home Educators lose those once schools re-open? Surely that’s discriminating between families who choose school and families who choose Home?

Families may well have dropped the unrealistic 6hr day schooling replica from their front room and settled on a more realistic 2-3hr intermittent learning approach (some researchers suggest learning only takes place for 2-3 hrs in any school day) however, that does not mean the children stopped learning before and after those 3 hours; in fact, parents state on social media that children are more relaxed, are learning more and actually enjoy learning from home more than in school.

The statements made by senior leaders in positions of power are terrifying. They show how little they understand education, how little they understand learning from home and how fixated they are on Home Educating being a safeguarding issue – which it is not! If politicians actually based their decisions on contributions from experts in the field (research), trade union representation and contributions from parents and families, they would not be calling children back to the classroom whilst putting their health at risk, or teachers back to their schools without adequate PPE and they certainly wouldn’t be blaming those decisions on the age old excuse that children taught at home pose a safeguarding risk.

In short, it would be more prudent and a better use of Government resources if they invited Home Education Experts to contribute to discussions around improving the education for children who are currently out of school.

It would also be the perfect time to review Home Education and its many nuances, offer improved resources online and off (there is currently no UK curriculum for Home Educators who want one) and consider bringing Home Education into the realm of ‘alternative education’ rather than spear heading the idea that Home Education is a dangerous practice.

Chelle Oldham (chelle.oldham@glasgow.ac.uk) Home Educator; QTS Teacher & Higher Education Professional