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These questions are those most frequently asked by newcomer's to home education. Each answer has a link to further information, sometimes in my web site and other times to other peoples web sites. These answers are not intended to be definitive legal replies but they are as far as I understand accurate for those living in England and Wales. There are references to alternative sources for those living elsewhere. If you need any further help you can contact me, but please read this before contacting me to answer your questions. Thank you.


Is the law different in various parts of the UK?

Yes, while home education is legal in all parts of the UK and while the law is essentially the same in most details the actual legislation, applicable case law and the procedural application of the law, depends upon where in the UK you live.

This web site is written particularly with reference to the law in England. The laws in Scotland, Northern Ireland Wales, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man are different.

Care, and a degree of caution, should be exercised by families in any of these regions using advice primarily intended for England.

Also, while there are as yet few significant differences between England and Wales, since the creation of the Welsh assembly small differences have begun to develop as politicians stamp their identity upon educational legislation. In particular the pupil registration Regulations in England are those passed in 2005, whilst in Wales the welsh 2010 version is enforced. It is likely that in the future there will be more substantial differences between Wales and England.

One should also be aware that Southern Ireland (Eire) is a separate sovereign nation and UK law does not apply there.

What is home education?

Home Education (HE) is when parents take the full responsibility to provide an education for their children in ways other than by schooling.

Is it legal?

Yes, HE is legal in all parts of the UK and always has been. In England and Wales Home education is given equal status with schools under section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which says:

'The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full time education suitable a) to his age ability and aptitude, and b) any special educational needs he may have, either by attendance at a school or otherwise.'

Where "otherwise" refers to the right to home educate your child. Other parts of the UK have their own similar arrangements. Scotland, Northern Ireland

What about flexi schooling?

Flexi-schooling is where a child attends school part time and is entirely at the discretion of the head teacher. Parents sometimes intend it to be for a short period while a child recovers from an illness, from bullying or other temporary difficulty and sometimes parents intend to continue to home educate for more extended periods. There are some difficulties with arranging flexi schooling. While still relatively rare flexi schooling is a growing area in england particularly in small rural schools.

While flexi schooling involves education at home for part of the time it is not generally considered the same as home education. Flexi schooled children are fully enrolled in a school in the normal way and are therefore subject to the national curriculum, particularly those elements tested in SATs. School head teachers normally (nearly always) stipulate that flexi schooled children under go the SATs along side their regular full time pupils since, should they fail to take the tests, the school scores a zero for that test. where a significant number of pupils score a zero or the school otherwise has a marginal score, this can lead to the school being placed in special measures.

See here or here for more information.

Do I need to have any qualifications?

You do not need to be a teacher or have any other special qualifications. Research shows that children of parents without qualifications do at least as well as those whose parents have them. See my Legal pages for further advice.

How do I start?

England & Wales: If your child is at an ordinary school then the school must delete your child from the register; you do not normally need permission to HE. See my legal and deregistration guides for further information.

England: You must also formally deregister your child if you have asked and been offered a place in a school, even if the child has not attended.

Special schools: If your child has special needs and attends a special school you need permission to deregister. See my Deregistration Guide for further advice.

Scotland and Northern Ireland: You need permission, which they may not unreasonably withhold. See Scotland & NI

You may not deregister a child where an SAO or ESO are in force without the permission of the local authority. If you are considering home education under these circumstances you need specialist legal advice with experience of educational law and specifically how it applies to home education, I may be able to help locate professionals who may be able to help.

If however your child has never attended school and you have never applied for a school place you have no need to do anything. There is no obligation for you to inform the local authority, which in any event would be the responsibility of a school. However, many local authorities have processes whereby they can identify rising 5 children living in their communities. So even if you have had no previous contact with the LA, it is likely that they will contact you to ask what provision you have made for your child.

Divorced and Separated Couples (with shared parental responsibility)

Since December 2003 a father who appears on the birth certificate, regardless of marital status at the time of the birth automatically has parental responsibility, so, both parties have parental responsibility and can exercise it unilaterally providing there are no court orders specifically saying that one or other parent cannot do so.

Therefore either parent can send in a de-registration letter without needing the other parent's consent, in the same way as one parent can consent unilaterally to medical treatment on behalf of their child.

However, the other parent could then seek to challenge the decision in a similar way by re-registering the child. Ultimately should the parents fail to agree one or other could apply for a specific issue order where the courts would make the decision. The parents would then have to follow the instructions of the court.

Clearly if deregistration is likely to be an issue of contention between two people with parental responsibilities it would be advisable to ensure that your ex-partner is agreeable to the decision in advance as fighting court action can be stressful, time consuming and expensive, not to mention, hardly in the best interests of the child. Additionally if you act unilaterally and the matter does later go to court, you are likely to be criticised by the court for acting without consultation or, the agreement of the other parent and in so doing acting against the best interests of the child.

Can I home educate a child with Special Needs ?

Yes, there is no law prohibiting the home education of a statemented child provided s/he is not attending a special school, in which case you need the consent of the LA (which may not be unreasonably be withheld). However, you need to be able to show that you can provide for these special needs should the LA enquire. See my legal and deregistration guides for further information.

What about my child's Statement of Educational Needs?

Parents have no obligation to fulfil the requirements for provision as laid out in section 4 of a statement of special needs. These statements can only place obligations upon the LA. However as a parent you must provide an education suitable to your child's special needs. So you will have to find some way of ensuring that your child's special educational needs are fulfilled.

What about Special Needs NHS services?

If your child requires special medical care, such as hearing tests, speech therapy etc. this should continue as the NHS service follows the child not the school. Contact the service and ask how they intend to continue provision. If there is any difficulty then contact your GP. If this fails then contact the local citizens advice or a charity that supports your child's special need. Alternatively contact the HE UK network.

How does compulsory school age affect home educators?

As a parent you must provide a suitable education for your child during compulsory school age. The law says that this can be at home. See this guide to work out the compulsory school age for your child.

What about post 16, further education?

From 2015 young people up to the age of 18 have have the right to attend some form of education or training even if they have employment. While many LAs talk about this in terms of it being compulsory there is in fact no penalty for not continuing your education. Although LAs must provide education for all who ask and, I understand, employers must allow appropriate training if the employee asked for it. If you want to continue to home educate full time after the end of compulsory education at age 16, you continue to have the right to claim Child Benefit. However if you begin to home educate at this time then the child benefit office interpret the rules as saying that you cannot claim Child Benefit.

Is there any financial help?

There is no financial help from any source. However some LAs will allow you access to local teacher resources and you may be able to arrange extended borrowing facilities from local libraries and discounted access to other council run facilities like sports centres. Other local home educators will be able to inform you of what is available in your area.

Will I be monitored?

In law there is no duty for an LA to monitor a home educated child's provision but in practice they often do.

Some LAs do not routinely monitor home educators, other parents who's children have never been to school or who have moved home since leaving school are unknown to their LA and therefore have no monitoring and others have satisfied their LA to such an extent that the LA never return.

When you withdraw your child from school the LA will almost certainly want to discuss your educational provision. You should be allowed a reasonable length of time to acclimatise (de-school See below) and decide how you intend to proceed. However If you ultimately refuse to respond to their informal questions they are permitted under case law to assume that you are failing to provide any education and issue a School Attendance Order (which will force you to return your child to school or fine you should you refuse.) However you may challenge this in court. See here for further advice.

Will we have time to set ourselves up - deschool?

Lord Wolf in the Perry case said that inspections should be fair:

"Essentially the duty of an education authority in carrying out that function [inspection] is, in my opinion, simply to give the applicant a fair and reasonable opportunity to satisfy it as to the matters set out in the Regulation. Prima facie this opportunity will appropriately be given (as was done in the present case) if the Authority, having first allowed the parents a sufficient time to set in motion their arrangements for home education,"

R v Gwent County Council Court of Appeal (Civil Division) 129 SJ 737, 10 July 1985

Will they continue to monitor?

This is a contentious, and complex issue. There is no legal duty for an LA to continue to monitor your provision once they have accepted that you are providing an adequate education. However, at least one LA has (falsely) asserted its duty to continue to monitor on the grounds that as a child grows older then your provision must change and thus they need to monitor the new provision. Even were this true it would only justify monitoring once a year at most.

In any event if you failed to provide evidence of your provision I believe that the LA would issue an SAO on the grounds that as you have failed to provide evidence of educational provision they assume that there is no education being provided. If this point is an issue for you, you may ultimately need the services of an experienced lawyer.

Will I have to have home visits?

The law is clear, you are not required to allow home visits other than in rare and extreme circumstances. Some HE parents do however allow access at their own discretion. You are entitled to arrange to meet with the LA representative at some other location like a library or even a MacDonald's. See my legal and home visit guides for further advice.

What constitutes a 'full time' education.

Section 7 of the Education act 1996 stipulates that all young people of compulsory educational age must recieve a full time education.

The term 'full time' has never been defined in law. Some LAs try to suggest that home educators should follow the same hours as schools. However, when providing education to sick children unable to attend school, they tend to provide only around 5 to 8 hours tuition a week and call this full time provision.

In fact the term 'full time' has been interpreted not so much in terms of hours as meaning that parents must ensure that the child recieves a full education sufficient to be deemed suitable to satify the rest of section 7 of the Education act.

Therefore, in many respects the term 'full time' is not really very helpful either to LAs assessment of home educational provision or to parents trying to work out what they are obliged in law to provide. Suffice to say that so long as the parents are providing an education suitable to the child's needs, that would be deemed to be sufficient to fulfil their obligations under the law.

In any event most home educators, particularly those who autonomously home educate, tend to hold that education takes place during all waking hours.

So what should I teach?

This is entirely up to you. The law does not prescribe particular subjects. Though you must provide an education suitable to your child's needs.

What about course work and curricula?

There is a wealth of material on the internet which you can find by searching. There are other home education web sites which make suggestions and list resources that home educators have used and of course there are lots of books in good local bookshops covering Key stages used in schools.

One piece of advice would be not to spend a fortune on such materials before you are sure you need them. I suggest that you begin by finding out what your child is interested in and following that for at least a while. This will help you understand better what works for your child and what does not.

Do I have to teach the National Curriculum?

The National Curriculum only applies to state schools as do things like literacy and numeracy hours. As a home educator it is up to you and your child what, how and when you study. However, should you want to follow the national curriculum the DfES web site has details of what it covers which you can download. See my legal guide for further advice.

Some LAs assert that parents have to provide a "broad and balanced" education as in the national curriculum. The legislative basis for this claim arises from section 351 of the Education Act 1996 as amended by the Education act 2002 which only applies to pupils in school. Therefore such insistence is without legal foundation. See the following article for more information.

In fact the legal demand in section 7 of the education act 1996, that home educated children are provided with a tailor made education, means that simply providing broad education would be inadequate. A home educated child's education should specifically address his or her individual needs.

What about tutors?

Most home educators never employ tutors other than occasional music or art teachers. The LA may be willing to suggest tutors on their supply teachers list or those used by their home tutoring service (normally used for children who are sick or who have behaviour problems).

Whoever you use, especially if you intend to leave your child unattended with the tutor, it would be wise to ensure that they can demonstrate to you that they have undertaken CRB checks.

Can my child still take exams?

Yes, you can arrange for children to take exams as external candidates at various exam centres such as colleges of further education. You will need to make enquiries and talk to other home educators in your area to find out where to look. You can use correspondence courses such as the National Extension College and Wolsey Hall Oxford (which offer discounts to home educators). Some home educators enrol children onto Open University courses without using GCEs or GCSEs at all. This strategy can work very well. There is a specialist forum where families can discuss issues relating to examinations. However, there are no grants available to cover the costs.

What about getting a job?

Finding work is a struggle for all young people and home educated young people are no different. Most HE'd young people come out of home education with fewer GCSE's, or their equivalents, than those in school, not because they are any less educated but due to the costs involved in taking the exams and this can be seen by some as a disadvantage of home education. However few home educated young people find themselves unable to take up their choice of employment due to problems with qualifications.

From discussions on support forums several things become clear. Most HE'd young people tend to be employed, at least at first, by smaller employers who tend to be more flexible than large corporate businesses who may well have rigid recruitment policies, employers generally however look for a positive attitude above all other qualities when interviewing a young person. Home educated young people tend to have good social skills and a positive self reliant attitude and are able to adapt well to the world of work, this usually pays dividends when being interviewed. Parents also report that having references from 'saturday' jobs or voluntary work helps in this regard, especially where it relates to the future career choice of the young person. Some types of work however require minimum qualifications that cannot be avoided, so it's probably advisable that young people hold GCSE's or their equivalents in maths and english and care should be taken to include any qualifications necessary for the career the young person is interested in taking up. It's also the case that a significant number of young people set up their own businesses. Few are content to sit and do nothing.

If no other rout is available collage is free for those reaching the age of 16 and many training courses include study for examinations such as National Diplomas (which can have 'A' level equivalence and GCSE's.) Modern Apprenticeships are unlike the traditional apprenticeships some parents may be more familiar with and these are also an excellent way forward for many young people.

Home Educating and Work

Many home educators are also engaged in work. This either works by parents working 'around' each other, sometimes one or both working part time, or one working from home. This can be particularly problematic for single parents. Single parents are expected to be gainfully employed if they intend to claim means tested benefits and home educating your child is not accepted as gainful employment.

Working while home educating is generally acceptable providing it does not have a significant negative impact on your child's:

  • Education.
  • Welfare
  • Safety

You must always be able to show that the education is suitable to the child. It is also important to ensure that your child is safe and unstressed by your employment. And also that you have considered your child's social life. It would not, for example, be acceptable for a child to be isolated for eight hours a day in the home.

There are also legal considerations. The NSPCC guidance says:

  • Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
  • Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time
  • Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight
  • Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them alone at home
  • A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age
  • If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling
  • When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?

In short while there is no legislation for leaving a child alone It would be unwise to consider leaving a child under the age of 12 alone, even for a short period. and at the very least you need a trusted person on call and very close by who could offer assistance where required. In any event leaving a child alone should be considered very carefully regardless of the reasons.

Leaving a child in the care of an older, teenager is also problematic, though there is no specific legislation outlawing the practice at any specific age. There have however, been cases where families have fallen foul of the law. It should be remembered that if the person looking after the child is under the age of 16 then the parents remain legally liable for the child being cared for. Careful consideration should be exercised when leaving a child in the care of another child.

Moving on to University?

As many home educated young people intending to go to university will hold irregular qualifications the 'trick' here appears to be 'good planning'. Writing to the university early on and establishing an interest in a course or field of study asking about their attitude towards an application from a home educated young person will often yield very good results. 'Portfolios' of work and experience is extremely useful, and one cannot begin too soon in building this up. For example, a young person with an interest in history should join local and national historical societies and read up  on his or her periods of interest. In this way they can show a long term, deep interest in the subject area with better than average knowledge. Often schools don't even study the subject so it's possible that a home educated young person with some OU qualification in the subject area would give them a decided advantage over schooled applicants.

Recent changes to University enrolment have made things a little more rigid, so planning far ahead is highly advisable. If your child is hoping to enter university, you should be researching what is required from the age of 13 to ensure you can fulfil all the requirements.

It should be noted however that it's rare that we hear about a home educated young person who has been hampered in their career by home education. The general experience is that most either go to university whether at the normal age or before or do so soon after. There are also significant numbers who move into areas of work that don't require degrees and the general experience is that promotion from the 'bottom' run of their career choice is relatively rapid.

Will I have to arrange for SAT's testing?

SAT's testing is only a requirement at state schools and is therefore not relevant to home education. Your child should not be tested by the LA. See my legal guide for further advice.

What is the likely effect on friends and family?

Most people are poorly informed about both the legality of home education and the day to day practicalities of how home education works. Despite this, for reasons that remain unclear, some people make assumptions about the law and react very negatively to the news that someone close to them intends to home educate.

During the research for The Face of Home Based Education 1 I found a clear pattern to the reactions friends and members of extended families of those who home educate.

Often members of your close extended family will assume that home education is difficult, expensive, legally suspect and unlikely to produce confident well balanced and properly educated young adults. Overall they are likely to be fearful for your children's future.

The reaction of close friends however can sometimes go further than these simple concerns and be surprisingly vehement. This has led many who home educate to conclude that some friends feel that their decision to home educate was seen as a challenge to, or rejection of, their own parenting decisions.

In practice nearly all home educators who have gone through this experience find that as time passes those close to them see the children's progress and tend to view the decision to home educate more favourably. That is not to say that you may not lose some friends or the support of some close family members along the way.

Besides being confident that you have made the right decision, which should be the case anyway, the best way of tackling this seems to be to be to prepare well. Considering the following points may help.

  • visit other local home educators prior to your final decision
  • understand the legal situation well enough to explain it
  • have ready answers on the issue of socialisation, it is always raised.
  • present your decision to friends and family in an unthreatening way, do not suggest that school is of itself inadequate, even if this is how you feel.
  • stress that this decision was your families solution to your own specific circumstances
  • Stress also that home educated children tend to achieve well both academically and in work, there is good research to support these issues.

Will my child be socially isolated?

Among home educators socialisation is known as the S word. It is by far the most frequently raised issue by those who lack knowledge or experience of home education, whilst it is of the least concern to families who have home educated for some time.

There is lots of support around for home educating children and families, and in most parts of the country there are plenty of things happening and plenty of opportunity to socialise. See the following article.

Many families regularly attend local groups which are now available in most parts of the UK. There are also a number of camps in the summer ranging from just a handful of families getting together for a weekend to many hundreds of families gathering for a week long festival of home education. See HESFES.

Local groups often organise events, classes and visits to places of interest. some larger groups organise overnight trips to places of greater interest. these are not just educational opportunities but places where young people can socialise and develop networks and even long term relationships.

Many older children who have home educated for a while develop substantial networks of contacts and use instant messaging facilities of friends they have made both locally and at camps..

Is there any way of contacting other home educating families?

Yes, there are a number of HE support groups and online e-mail mailing lists.

What are the disadvantages?

There are very few real, long term disadvantages to home education and most find it an enriching experience, but there can be some issues you have to consider.

  • Examinations can be expensive. While costs can be minimised, there is still often some cost towards the end of your child's compulsory education.
  • Course work, if you decide to use it, can also be expensive, though many (most) don't use it.
  • Lost income is probably the main cost. If the parent gives up a well paid job the hit the family suffers on income can be considerable.
  • Loss of pension pot. While the parent who gives up work can protect their government pension rights by ensuring child benefit is paid to them (they get basic NI credits), they will not accrue a private or company pension. If the relationship between the parents breaks up, or if the parent responsible is a single parent, this can result in a considerably lower income in retirement.
  • A few parents, especially those on a lower income with little or no transport and especially those living in rural areas report isolation. difficulty reaching local home education events and lower population density meaning fewer home educating families living close by can mean families have to consider social contact for both parents and children.
  • Many home educators report initial tensions with existing friends and family who see their decision to home educate a challenge to their own decisions to send their children to school. These can be mitigated in time by making new friends among the home educating community and family usually come around as the children do well at home. So while in the long run this ceases to be a problem, it can be when the children are younger and you are starting out.
  • You must be prepared for the possibility that you will attract the attentions of the authorities. While the home education community is experienced in dealing with these interventions, it can come as a surprise and some find it stressful.

   
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