What’s the difference between home education and an online school?

What’s the difference between home education and an online school?
Pearson Online Academy UK Global

Home education in the UK rose by 75% last year, the BBC recently reported. That’s 40,000 pupils taken out of formal school, compared to 23,000 on average over the previous two years. Some parents and councils put the increase down to ‘covid anxiety’ – parents not wanting to risk the health of either their child or vulnerable others in the family, or hoping to ensure an education free from the interruptions of self-isolation and school closures. 

But home education (or ‘home schooling’) is not the only way to educate a child at home. There are several online schools offering a British curriculum which also allow for remote learning. It's easy to understand why these terms are sometimes used interchangeably – both home schooling and online schools involve studying flexibly from home without attending a physical school. 

The Good Schools Guide says: “online schools promise to develop into a potentially brilliant resource.” 

Here we look at the major differences between the two. 

Role of the parent 

In home education, the parent is responsible for all lessons and formal and informal assessments. This might mean joining forces with other home educators, or employing tutors, as well as teaching themselves. 

At an online school, qualified teachers specialise in each subject area, and are responsible for all teaching and assessment. In this scenario, parents play more of a mentoring or coaching role and are involved day-to-day to keep their child motivated and on track.  

For many home schooling parents, it’s preparation for high stakes exams like GCSEs and A Levels that causes them to rethink their approach. 


With home school, parents are free to be as creative as they like in devising their child’s education, and to be led by what interests their child. They source all the texts and materials. 

In an online school, the curriculum has been designed by educational professionals and subject matter experts. This can be particularly important in the years prior to taking GCSEs and A Levels, to ensure children perform well in these exams. 

Social opportunities 

In home education, the parent and child are fully responsible for creating social opportunities – such as sports clubs, societies, and volunteering. A child attending an online school may also want to take up these activities locally, but in addition many online schools weave social opportunities into the curriculum. Pupils may work with others on projects and in competitions, or make friends through online school clubs and societies. There may also be field trips. 


In some countries, such as Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, home education is illegal. Online schools are not. 


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