This page is largely intended for local authority staff, however other
professionals, such as medical staff and journalists, who come into contact with home education will find it
If you have any questions regarding the contents of this page contact
me and I'm sure I'll be able to clarify things.
The following is intended to help you understand the issue of Home education, what
home educators are about as a community and what their views are likely
to be. It should be of use to you when formulating interviews on issues
regarding home education. It is a new resource which will grow as Home
educators inform me more about the information required. It also offers advice on how to relate professionally to home educators.
If you find any part of it unclear or if you consider it to be incorrect please contact me.
What is Home Education
Known as home schooling in the USA, home education (HE) is where home educators chose not to register their children at school. It should not be confused with EOTAS, where children are educated in the home due to illness or some other reason, by tutors provided by the local authorities.
What does home education 'look' like.
Home education can come in one of a variety of 'flavours'. It can look like school at home or children can take responsibility for their own education. A formal, didactic school approach to education is relatively uncommon, most home educators educate their children using some kind of informal approach, mostly typified by a conversational approach supported by research, much as university education does. Typically, children take responsibility for their own education. The parents' role is best described as that of facilitator or guide.
Policies should be written in consultation with local families. Not
doing so is likely to lead to conflict, increased expense for the local
authority and reduced cooperation with local families. Conflict between
the local authorities and the families they serve will ultimately lead
to the local authority failing to meet the needs of children.
Policies should follow the law. Local authorities may not vary the law
or add to it. Most home educators today are well versed in the law and
all are able to freely access support and advice on legal issues.
Transgress local authorities will find that inspectors who overstep
the law will become bogged down in lengthy exchanges of letters with
families and groups objecting to ultra vires demands by their local authority.
There are groups of home educators in most parts of the UK who would
be eager to discuss local policies with their local authority. Many of
these groups have members with extensive knowledge of the law and its
application These volunteers could be viewed by the local authority as
a valuable resource rather than the opposition.
New staff members
Inspectors should know the law and understand about home
education methods, needs and expectations. Offering a meeting between
local home education volunteers and new members of staff is likely to
pay dividends in terms of cooperation from local families. The key to
relationships between home educators and local authority staff is trust.
Is it legal?
Without going into the details of the law (which can be found here)
Home education is a legal choice made by many thousands of home educators
in the UK. You do not need permission to home educate in England and
Wales. It is the duty of every parent to provide an education suitable
to a child's age aptitude and ability and any special needs he or she
may have either in school or otherwise.
Many Home educators are unknown to their LA's as there is no duty to
inform them of the decision (except to deregister a child from school).
LA's will want to satisfy themselves that a parent is discharging their
duty to educate but may not prescribe what that education might be except
insofar as it fulfils the above criteria.
Do home educators receive state funding?
Whilst it is theoretically possible for an LA to give funding to a child
being home educated such funding is rare. While most Home educators would
welcome financial assistance they are for the most part fiercely independent
and would unhappy to lose any rights they have to educate their children
their way in return.
Local authorities can receive back funding from
the DfE for such things as college places for children with SEN's where
this is thought necessary to provide the child with a suitable education and
this is becoming more common. The child need not have a statement to
obtain such funding.
Families of children with special needs may not be denied help for medical
related issues such as mobility, communication, physiotherapy etc, even
where normally those services are usually provided in school settings.
Parents cannot be required to return a child to a school to receive such
Basically parents in England and Wales can de-register
on demand unless
there is a school attendance order in place or if the child is attending
a special school funded by the local authority. A unit catering for children
with special needs at a 'normal' school is not a special school. Children
with statements do not need permission to deregister.
The LA cannot withhold permission to de-register prior to an inspection.
They may not delay de-registration until an inspection or visit with
a family has taken place.
De-registration must be in writing delivered to the school.
The parent need not inform or contact the local
authority at any point in the process and does not need to give a reason
for their decision although there is nothing to prevent the LA
from politely asking.
Further information on de-registration can be found here
What about child welfare?
Home education is not of itself a cause for concern.
Contrary to statements frequently made by local
authority staff, local authorities have no duty to protect the welfare
of all children in their area. If you consider the implications of
such legislating for such a duty it quickly becomes apparent that it would be impossibly
to fulfil. Local authority staff are however required to have
a mind to the welfare of children they encounter when performing any
Local authority staff who do have reason to believe
that a child is
at significant risk of serious immediate harm they should immediately
inform the local child protection team as per local protocols. Child
protection teams have significant powers under section 47 of the Children
There is no duty for a family to inform the local authority
that they are home educating and the discovery of such a family should
not, of itself, be regarded as being a cause for concern. From research
it seems probable that between 1/3 and 2/3 of home educated children
are unknown by their local authority and there is no reason to believe
that such children are at any greater risk than any other child.
Home education of itself is not a welfare concern.
Medical professionals are not education professionals and as such they do not have an educational remit. They rarely understand the realities of home education let alone have training on the subject.
If the child is present, medical professionals should refrain from making comments regarding either home education or the parents decision to home educate. Not only will such comments greatly annoy the parents, they are likely to have a lasting negative impact on the child's confidence, both in her/his self and their parents decision or support in home educating them. Such comments in front of the child may damage the trusting relationship between the professional, the child and the parents.
However, should medical staff become aware of other, perhaps related, significant concerns for the child's welfare they might want to consider contacting the local educational authorities and discussing their concerns with them. If they continue to hold serious concerns staff should contact the local child welfare services.
Deschooling - the bedding in period
When a family first deregister's a child, the family should be allowed
a period of time for their arrangements to 'bed in'. The parents can
take some time to come to terms with their decision to home educate and
the effects it will have upon the rest of their lifestyle which can often
The child will inevitably go through a period of readjustment. Home
educators call this Deschooling after
a famous book by John Holt. The length of time this takes can vary from
just a couple of weeks to many months and is dependent upon a number
of factors which include the temperament of the child and family and
the circumstances surrounding their decision to home educate. In particular,
where trauma is evident (such as when bullying is part of the equation),
the LA should not pressure the family unduly and should consider the
implications of section 175 of the education act 2002 when deciding how
they apply the local authority's policies..
This bedding in period has some legal status. A
senior appeal court judge ruled that families must be given a reasonable
period of time to set up their arrangements following deregistration.
Local authorities are expected to be sensitive to the needs of the
child and family during this period.
Contacting home educators
The nature of any first contact quite often determines how the future
relationship between a family and the local authority will run.
First contact is often undertaken not by a member of the elective home
education team but by a member of the education welfare department. Home
educators report that such contacts are often very damaging. EWO's too
frequently appear to receive little to no training regarding the law
on home education and frequently make inaccurate statements to, and demands
of, the family. Sometimes they attempt to prevent a deregistration from
going ahead, they may even refuse to deregister the child until an assessment
of the education is made under the misapprehension that the LA has the
power to refuse to deregister a child.
While home educators are not opposed to the use
of EWO's for first contact, it is imperative that staff are aware of
their powers and duties laid out in law and do not succumb to the temptation
to misrepresent the law to the family. In most cases the family will already
know their basic rights and an attempt to misrepresent them will be
seen by the family as a denial of their legal rights. This could permanently
damage the working relationship between the family and the local authority.
Even where the family do not yet know their rights, in most cases,
they will soon contact HE support structures or forums where they will
find many hundreds of parents who have extensive knowledge of the law
in this area.
It is far better to present a positive, cooperative relationship
firmly founded on the LA's legal duties right from the very first moment.
This is far more likely to win respect and cooperation from the
specific issues include:
Most families find cold calling highly stressful. Cold calls are probably
the worst possible form of first contact that an inspector can make.
Even experienced home educators view the prospect of an unannounced
visit by a local authority representative with immense apprehension.
A cold call will upset and stress the member
of the family who answers the door and this is likely to result in
a very negative, perhaps even extreme and hostile response from the
family. News that a family has been cold called will travel like wild
fire around, not only, the local home education community but also
the national community. It will lead those who advise families at both
local and national level to treat the whole of the LA with caution.
In consequence, future cooperation between the home education community
and the LA is likely to suffer. Cold calling should only therefore
be undertaken as a last resort when all other methods of contact
Additionally even where a family has welcomed
an inspector into their home on previous occasions, the inspector
should resist the temptation to cold call when 'passing by'. It
may seem unthreatening and even supportive but it may not be received
These are also disliked by families. The authority cannot
know who is likely to pick up the phone and family members often feel
at a loss as to how to deal with such calls. Also, since contact between
a local authority and a family has the potential for leading to legal
action its best for all concerned that all contact leaves a written
record. Appointments and notices etc should therefore be sent in writing.
First contact should be made by writing a letter to the family. Such
a letter should be simple, clear, friendly and supportive. care should
be taken not alarm the family. In particular any legal statements should
be legally accurate, clear, unthreatening and businesslike.
In line with case law, families should be given time to put provision in place
and to adapt to this new lifestyle. This is known as de-schooling and
can take several weeks. So while initial contact may well be made within
days of de-registration, requests for information regarding the families
provision should be delayed. It should be bourn in mind by the LA team
that, at the point of deregistration, families (including perhaps particularly the children) are often stressed by
both the process and what has proceeded the decision. The period of
adjustment therefore can vary greatly depending
upon circumstances from just a few weeks to a few months. Requests
for such delays are normal, supported by case law and should not,
of themselves, be regarded as suspicious.
There should be no expectations regarding home
visits or form filling exercises, neither of which are legally required.
If such forms are included (beyond asking simple details about the
child's name age
etc) it should be made clear that filling them out is optional. families may well prefer to write their own reports or replies in their own way since forms rarely allow for an accurate expression of the families actions, decisions or reasoning.
There should be no expectation that the family follows a formal curriculum
or syllabus. Neither are families required to show a child's work to
the inspector, though some chose to do so.
An offer to meet either at the family home or
a neutral location could be made. A request for information about
the families educational
provision is also acceptable providing it does not unreasonably limit
the form in which such information is offered.
Offers of support may be made and an information sheet
carrying information of where support may be found, both locally and
nationally could also be sent.
The DfE guidance to local authorities on home education produced in
2007 made it quite clear that there is no duty in law for a local authority
to make regular inspections. It also explains, perhaps a little less
clearly, how inspections that are undertaken should be conducted. While
there is no law preventing an authority from asking about education one
year to the next, there is no actually duty for them to do so.
The duty to make informal enquiries (contained in section 437 of the
Education act 1996) only applies where a local authority has a positive,
substantive reason to believe that a child may not be in receipt of a
suitable education. For example if a neighbour were to be told by a parent
that they don't bother educating their child and then the neighbour reports
this to the LA; or where a school has good substantive reason to believe
that a parent would be unable to educate their child at home.
The argument that a child's needs change from one year
to the next does not constitute a positive duty in law to assume that
the parents may no longer be providing a suitable education for the child
one year on from the previous inspection. Unless the local authority
has positive substantive reason for thinking that the parents may no
longer be able to meet those changed needs.
Section 437 of the Education act 1996
The law that covers these issues is entirely contained within section
437 of the Education act, 1996. Section 437 has two parts, the first
and second sentences, the first being a filter for the second.
In the first instance the only duty laid upon an LA is to determine
if a reasonable person might conclude that there is reason to believe
that a child may not be receiving an education. Only when the LA can
say yes to this first part, the filter, should they move to the second
part and ask about the details of the education being provided. There
is no initial duty to assess the suitability of the educational provision.
Therefore an initial contact should not be to assess the
education a child receives but whether there is reason to think that
the child is receiving no such education. The difference may seem subtle
but it is highly significant in law, and would have relevance should
a case be taken on to a court.
When an inspection has been completed the inspector should
send a written report to the family telling them how the local authority
felt the exercise went. If families hear nothing following an inspection
they can feel rather confused. A report, however short, can be reassuring
and offer closure to a family in what may have been a stressful
If the local authority concludes that the provision was unsatisfactory
they must write to the family in a timely manner and explain exactly
what they felt the problems were and perhaps make suggestions as to how
they could be remedied. It is best not to initiate formal proceedings
until it becomes clear that no amount of reasonable negotiation between
the LA and family will resolve these remaining issues. Local authorities
might consider asking the family to contact other prominent home educators
either nationally or locally in assisting the family in this process,
they may themselves offer to help make such contacts.
Home visits, safe and well visits
There is no duty placed upon the local authority
to inspect homes, see
children or to discuss their home education experiences with them or
to enquire whether they are happy being home educated, any more than
a local authority would routinely expect to inspect the homes of children
aged 3 or 4 not attending a nursery or be required to ask school children
if they would be happier being home educated.
There is no legal basis for what is commonly called 'safe and well'
visits. Families are not required to allow such visits and, without some
other substantive cause for concern, local authorities have no reason
to regard a refusal as suspicious.
Legal advice has been given to home educating families to routinely
refuse home visits. While some families are happy to allow such visits,
many others are not. Local authorities should not regard them as mandatory,
nor may they draw any conclusions from a refusal. Many families around
the UK never receive home visits through the entire period of their child's
If the local authority wants to meet with parents, a non confrontational,
sympathetic approach should be followed. The local authority may want
to consider suggesting a neutral, non threatening venue such as a cafe
or room in a library.
If the child is present, a local authority representative should avoid depreciating comments regarding either home education or the parents decisions. Not only will such comments annoy the parents they are likely to have lasting negative impact on the child's confidence, both in her/his self and their parents decision or support in home educating them.
Statements of Special Educational Needs
Statements can only mandate a local authority to make some form of provision.
Parents cannot be made to provide any particular provision in parts 3
or 4 of a statement. Parents will however need to show how they would
otherwise provide for their child's special needs.
Is home education a growing phenomena?
Yes, long term growth appears to be close to 15%, but this has dialled back somewhat since 2007. Currently, the best research done by home educators using FOI's suggest growth is now around 9%. However, since total numbers of home educators are much higher, deregistrations are more noticeable to the public and authorities.
Why do families home educate?
Families home educate for a number of reasons. They can be broadly divided
into two categories.
Many Home educate because they had a problem with a school. Typical
problems include bullying, poor educational standards, a structural problem
with the local school's ethos, or issues concerning special needs provision.
Sometimes the reason for Home education is that the family failed to
get their child into the school of their choice, or has general objections
to the national curriculum or requirements such as the literacy hour.
They may have become concerned over reports of drug abuse in their school
Others home educate because they have some objection to
the very idea of schooling. It might be philosophical, political or religious.
For example they may object to the idea of "caging children up
for 6 hours a day", they may feel that education should be a community
activity rather than an institutional one, perhaps they believe it should
remain a family obligation to educate their children, They may believe
that they as parents can do a better job than the school, they may be
travelers. They may want more control over the content of their children's
education. Indeed it may be any of a number of reasons.
It is frequently the case that a family will begin to
Home educate for the first reason but as a family's experience of Home
education grows they continue to Home educate for the second reason.
Whatever the reason all Home educating families are dedicated to their
children's future and firmly believe that it is in their child's best
What is the day to day routine?
Day to day routines also vary. There is no obligation
in law to follow any particular curricula, syllabus or set hours.
Some families may set aside so many hours a day. Some follow curricula,
perhaps correspondence courses, while others follow their child's lead
using what is known as "purposive
conversation" as a tool for learning. Others (rarely) attempt to copy school
even to the extent of having a timetable and a room set aside where teaching
is done and resources are kept.
There is a tendency for families to become less formal as their experience
and confidence grows. As their trust in their child's thirst for knowledge
develops they tend to follow their child's lead more.
When a child has been recently withdrawn
from school after particularly traumatic events (bullying for example)
there is a period of readjustment to a more natural form of family life.
Sometimes the whole family needs this period of calm and reflection before
they can begin the process of living again as a family. This is often
known as de-schooling, a process where the influence of school is relinquished
by the family psyche.
Do families follow the National Curriculum?
There is no requirement in law to do so as only state
schools need to comply with it. However, while some parents do follow
the national curriculum to some extent I have never encountered a family
that does so completely. Occasionally a family may keep the national
curriculum in mind if they intend to return the child to the system at
some later date.
Broad and Balanced Education
Some local authorities and even legal professionals who do not fully understand legislation believe that all children, including home educated children, are subjected to a broad and balanced education. Failure by families to comply with demands that they provide one can even land them in court. While, if properly represented they easily overcome such cases, it is stressful and expensive for both the family and the public purse.
The reality is that the only legal obligations on families are entirely and exclusively identified in section 7 of the Education Act 1996.
The expectation that parents provide a broad and balanced education comes from a quite different section of the act which refers specifically to pupils. The term pupil, however, is defined in the act as a child of compulsory educational age attending an institution of learning, home is not an institution in the legal sense of the word and so home educated children cannot be pupils. It therefore follows that their parents are not subject to the legal duty to provide a broad education.
Indeed, the education home educating parents are compelled to provide, suitable to the specific needs and aptitudes suitable to that particular child, is, in many ways, much more rigorous.
How do children socialise?
This is often the first question asked of most home
educating families as it is often thought that children are isolated
in their homes meeting no one. In fact Home educating families rarely
see this as a problem. Home educating children often meet up and attend
other groups such as woodcraft folk, girls and boys brigade, scouts
etc. as well as attending classes like dance, climbing, gymnastics,
history and environmental and natural history groups etc. Additionally
Home educators use resources such as libraries and museums. One Home
educating parent put it this way "the only
problem I have with my children's socialisation is how to fit it all
in". The problem is perhaps in the term "Home education",
it is rarely the sole preserve of the home. Some parents prefer to call
it "Home Based Learning".
Many Home educating families and people they encounter
report that Home educated children often relate better on a one to
one basis with adults as they don't have as a dominant experience the
influence of a hierarchical relationship found in schools. This helps
the child become more responsible. The "us and them" attitude
is often totally lacking in their behaviour. There is less peer pressure
as parents have improved relationships with their children. Bullying
is almost totally absent from large gatherings of Home educators.
Do they do all the exams?
Home educators do not do SAT's testing which are the preserve
of state schools. The purpose of SAT's is to audit the quality of schools
which receive state funding. However There are facilities for Home educating
children to take GCSE's and A levels by enrolling as external candidates.
Sometimes Home educating children will take exams early (sometimes as
young as aged 14) and spread the load. Other children enrol in NVQ's
and GNVQ's. Another option for older children is to enrol into individual
adult courses for subjects difficult to supply at home an option usually
possible at the discretion of the head of the collage. Open University
is becoming a popular choice with children as young as 8 taking short
and degree foundation courses.
Can they get into University?
Yes. It is possible to obtain a University place either in the normal
way or sometimes by portfolio entrance depending upon the course. Enrolment
tutors have a growing awareness of home education as a phenomenon and
are often quite keen to have such students at their collages. In the
United States Harvard University has gone as far as reserving places
for home educated students. Also Open University is becoming a popular
choice sometimes as an alternative to GCSEs or GCEs or as complete degrees.