Table 1 presents descriptive data, including the number of families with a child with or without a mental health condition for each country. A significant medium-sized effect of child age was found. The children of the Swedish participants were older than the children in the other countries, because in Sweden homeschooling was mainly implemented for children ≥ 15 years. There were also large differences between some countries with regard to the proportion of families with a child with mental health problems. This was a result of the fact that families with mental health problems were over-sampled in all of the included countries, except Germany and Italy. As mental health problems are likely to affect the experiences of homeschooling, we therefore only included families without mental health problems when examining differences between countries.
Differences between countries
Organization of homeschooling
On average, children spent about 50% of their school time on self-studies and about 30% in contact with a parent (Table 2). Thus, the time spent in contact with a teacher or with peers was very limited. When comparing the percentage of time in contact with teachers, a number of medium-to-large effect sizes were found. Percentages were the lowest in UK and Germany (about 5% each), and these percentages differed from Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands (11.83–13.93%), which in turn differed from Italy and Sweden (24.38% and 30.12%, respectively). For peer contact, students in Sweden (12.87%) and Belgium (12.43%) spent more time studying with peers compared to students in the UK (3.06%). Students in Italy (35.16%) spent less time with self-study compared to students in Belgium (54.07%) and Germany (54.53%). Finally, students in Sweden (15.28%) spent less time studying with a parent compared to students in all other countries (30.19–45.18%).
Except for self-study, significant medium-to-large-sized effects of age group were found, F > 225.58, p < 0.001. Time spent in contact with teachers and peers increased with age, whereas the opposite pattern was found for time spent with parents. However, even among teenagers, the average percentage for teacher contact was as low as 4.42% in the UK and 6.90% in Germany, but 34.16% in Sweden and 36.22% in Italy.
With regard to SEN, 7.4% of the parents in the NO-MHC group and 60.3% of the parents in the MHC group reported that their child had SEN. Most children with such needs (78.4%) received extra educational support during homeschooling, with similar percentages across countries (Table 2). However, a majority (65.3%) did not feel this support was sufficient, and many schools (29.0–55.7%) had not been in contact with parents to discuss the need for extra educational support during homeschooling. No significant differences between countries of at least medium effect size were found for special education.
Positive and negative experiences of homeschooling
A significant effect of country was found for all variables related to positive and negative experiences of homeschooling (see Table 3, NO-MHC group). The proportion of parents reporting “the quality of my child’s homeschooling is very poor” was, on average, 19.2%. Significant group differences with a medium effect size were found on this variable between Belgium and Sweden (both about 8%) and Spain (31.3%). A relatively large proportion of parents (18–45%) reported that schools’ support to students during homeschooling had been insufficient, with no medium-sized effects when comparing different countries. On average, 16.7% of the parents reported that “it is impossible to get homeschooling to work well.” This proportion differed between countries with lower percentages in Belgium and Sweden (< 5%) compared to Spain (23.7%) and Italy (26.6%).
Parents frequently reported general negative experiences of homeschooling for both their child (17.4–27.6%) and themselves (11.1–41.3%). In all countries except Sweden, parents reported higher levels of positive experiences for themselves compared to their child (see Fig. 2). Differences between countries were generally small, except that the proportion of parents reporting negative experiences of homeschooling for parents were lower in Sweden (11.1%) compared to all other countries except the Netherlands (33.5–41.3%).
A substantial proportion of parents also reported positive experiences of homeschooling for children (11.1–38.0%) and themselves (6.3–31.1%). As can be seen in Fig. 2, the proportion of parents in the NO-MHC group reporting positive experiences of homeschooling were actually somewhat higher compared to those reporting negative experiences in both Sweden and the Netherlands, but not in the other five countries. With regard to positive experiences for children, differences between countries with medium-sized effects were found between Italy (11.1%) and the Netherlands (38.0%). With regard to positive experiences of homeschooling for parents themselves, there was a difference between Italy (6.3%) and the Netherlands (38.6%).
For parental worry and stress, the proportions exceeded 40% in many countries. Medium-size effects were found for both parental worry and stress when comparing Sweden (18.1% and 14.2%) with Spain and Italy (48.0–56.8%).
Across countries, about one third (33.8%) of parents felt homeschooling put too high demands on children. Some parents (11.6%) also reported that their child was unable to fully participate in homeschooling. More parents in Belgium (31.4%) than in Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy (5.3–8.8%) reported that their child could not fully participate in homeschooling (Fig. 2).
No significant effects of age were found for negative or positive effects on children or positive effects on parents. For all other homeschooling-related variables, parents of younger children reported significantly more problems compared to parents of older children, all F > 20.07, p < 0.001. However, effect sizes were small (all η < 0.06), except for a large effect of age for parental stress.
Changes in daily life functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic
Questions related to daily functioning asked participants to compare their current situation with the situation before the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, these questions were not meant to capture experiences of homeschooling specifically, but rather changes during the COVID-19 pandemic in general. In most countries, a large proportion of parents (most often 50% or above) reported that they and their child felt more isolated and that the child used digital media more often for things besides schoolwork (Table 4, NO-MHC group). Differences between countries were significant, although effect sizes were generally small, except for medium-size effects showing that fewer children in Sweden (35.9%) increased their digital media use compared to children in the UK, Spain and Belgium (68.7–75.8%). Concerning potentially more serious negative aspects, a relatively large proportion of parents reported more conflicts with the child (11.0–41.3%) and between adults (6.8–22.5%). A smaller proportion of parents (on average 5%) also reported increased levels of parental alcohol/drug use, with medium-sized effects when comparing the UK (19.1%) with Sweden, Spain and Italy (> 3%). Finally, a substantial proportion of parents reported changes in work-related problems (10.9–29.9%) or financial problems (7.4–20.0%) during the COVID-19 pandemic. None of the differences between countries reached a medium effect size.
No significant effects of child age were found for parental alcohol/drug use, increased conflicts between adults or financial problems. For all other variables related to effects on daily life functioning, parents of younger children reported significantly more problems compared to parents of older children, all F > 5.24, p < 0.001, though effect sizes were small (η < 0.02).
Differences between families with or without a child with a mental health condition
As seen in Table 3, differences between the MHC and the NO-MHC group were significant for all variables related to parental experience of homeschooling, with the MHC group reporting more negative experiences, but also more positive experiences, compared to the NO-MHC-group. However, the effect sizes for these differences were mostly small. Medium effect sizes were only found between the MHC and the NO-MHC group in the UK and Sweden for the question on parental worry and the two variables related to child participation in homeschooling. In addition, there were differences of medium effect sizes in Sweden for parental stress and negative effects of homeschooling for the parent. Regarding effects on daily life functioning (see Table 4), the proportion of parents reporting negative experiences were very similar in the MHC and NO-MHC group. The only significant difference was that more parents in the MHC reported that their child felt socially isolated compared to parents in the NO-MHC group. However, the effect size was small and no medium-sized effects were found when comparing the MHC group and the NO-MHC groups separately for each country.