(written by our friend Nicola Haxell from Education Otherwise)
It is a myth that, by law, children have to attend school. They don’t. The 1996 Education Act states that:
“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) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/<wbr></wbr>acts1996/96056–a.htm (Link to the Education Act 1996, scroll down to section 7)
Under (b) there is the specification that education can take place ‘at school or otherwise’ – it is the term ‘otherwise’ that allows for elective home education within the law. Therefore it is the parent who is ultimately responsible for the education of their child (regardless of the child’s place of education).
So if children don’t go to school, what’s the alternative?
The alternative is Home Education, sometimes called 'Elective Home Education' to differentiate this from home-tutoring provided by the Local Authority. Home Education is more commonly known as Homeschooling in the US.
How do I start to home educate my child?
Remember you’ve been home-educating them from birth! From the moment a child becomes aware of their surroundings in their mother’s womb, they are learning about the world around them. All sentient beings on this earth are primed to learn - the rate at which we learn is different, but the ability is there. It is a parent’s duty to try to provide the support and encouragement for their child to learn and this is usually a natural process. It is rare for a parent to not try to do this and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are in the majority, not the minority and that you are interested in supporting your child’s education (and wellbeing).
If your child has previously attended school it is imperative that you formally de-register your child from school. If your child is on a school register and subsequently doesn’t attend school, they are considered to be truanting. Persistent truanting is a concern for Local Authorities and will lead to involvement with Education Social Workers/Education Welfare Offices and can lead to fines and in extreme cases, imprisonment for the parent of the truanting child.
If you are home-educating you are providing an alternative education to school and therefore you need to ensure that your child’s name is taken off the school register.
This is actually a very simple process. The Head must remove a child’s name from the register on request by the parent or be liable for a fine.
Please note that this information is only valid for children attending a mainstream school and that a slightly different procedure will need to be followed for a child attending a Special School
For further information and examples of ‘de-registration letters’ please visit http://www.education-otherwise.org
After de-registering your child, the Head of the school will inform the Local Authority who will very likely contact you at some point. The Local Authority has a duty to be satisfied that your child is receiving an education as per the requirements of the Education Act 1996.
This may sound scary, but really it needn’t be. The Local Authority may make enquiries as to whether a child is being home-educated, however they have no duty to routinely monitor home-educating families.
There are a number of ways that home-educating families may respond to enquiries from the Local Authority, ranging from (but not necessarily needing to be): writing a report; writing an educational philosophy (outlining the family’s approach to education); meeting with the Local Authority; showing examples of educational experience (e.g. photos, essays, etc); gaining endorsement from a third party.
These examples are set out in the DCSF Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities in England and Wales: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities/_documents/content/7373-DCSF-Elective%20Home%20Education.pdf
You do not have to do all of the above, or indeed any of them, but do bear in mind that the Local Authority will need to tick a box somewhere that your children are receiving an education ‘otherwise than at school’ and that that education is ‘suitable’. If you have concerns or are having difficulty with the Local Authority, please contact one of the links listed at the end of this article for further support.
Please note: If your child has never attended school, then you are not legally required to inform your Local Authority (or anyone else) in advance that you will be home-educating.
For further information regarding the law pertaining to Home Education, please visit http://education-otherwise.org or one of the other websites listed at the end of this article.
My child has Special Educational Needs (SEN) - can I still home educate?
Yes you can! There are many families home-educating children with SEN, including a website and various online mailing lists dedicated to HE-ing children with SEN. Children with a Statement of Special Education Needs can also be home-educated.
If your child is attending a mainstream school, then the process is the same as it would be for any child attending mainstream school, however, a slightly different procedure will need to be followed for a child attending a Special School.
For further information, please visit http://education-otherwise.org or one of the other websites listed at the end of this article.
What do I have to teach?
You don’t have to teach, learning does not necessarily mean being taught. Much of what you learn in life is learnt in other ways from one being sat down and physically ‘taught’. However, this is a common concern for many parents and really there is no definitive answer that is legally required, rather the law states that a parent shall ‘cause [a child] to receive efficient full-time education’ with no set rule for what ‘efficient full-time education’ is.
However, case law (Harrison & Harrison v. Stevenson) has established that an ‘efficient education’ is one that prepares the child:
1. for life in modern civilised society, and
2. to enable them to achieve their full potential
This is a rather loose definition and open to differing interpretation. Therefore, it may be interpreted that home-educating families, whilst keeping to the requirements specified in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, do not need:
- To seek permission to home-educate.
- To follow the National Curriculum (or any other particular curriculum) and as a result do not need to give formal lessons, cover specific subjects or match the age-specific standards expected by any curriculum.
- Any particular qualifications to support their child’s education.
- To use specific premises equipped to any specified standard.
- Detailed plans in advance.
- To keep to a timetable.
Essentially, home-education gives families the freedom to offer a child-centred approach to education, following the child’s interests and/or tailoring the education to what the family considers to be necessary for the child.
There are many philosophies of how learning takes place and even whether a child should be ‘taught’ (in the conventional sense of the word) at all.
A child is classed as being of ‘compulsory school age’ the term after their fifth birthday. However, home-educators are not required to follow the National Curriculum (or indeed the Early Years Foundation Stage) and as such, home-educated children are not required to be formally taught to read and write at this age or do anything that might be contrary to the Steiner (Waldorf) approach to education.
Steiner (Waldorf) education lays a good foundation for literacy and numeracy skills through its approach to early years education and is recognised in the UK, with a number of schools, kindergartens and other educational initiatives (such as Camphill) operating across the country. A Local Authority cannot penalise a home-educating family solely because the family are following a Steiner (Waldorf) approach to their children's education.
Do I need qualifications to teach my child?
The most important qualification any person involved with the education of a child needs is to care about that child and want to support them to learn - in this respect, parents are the most qualified of all!
You do not need any ‘formal’ qualifications (i.e. little bits of paper that document that you have passed exams in x, y and z subjects) to home-educate and whether or not you have any such qualifications is entirely your business - you do not have to give anyone this information if you don’t want to!
Education Otherwise: http://www.education-otherwise.org.uk
Home Education Advisory Service: http://www.heas.org.uk/
HE Special (Home Education Children with Special Education Needs): http://www.he-special.org.uk/
Schoolhouse (Scottish Home Education): http://www.schoolhouse.org.uk/