Homeschooling (correctly called home education) in the United Kingdom is a legal option for parents who wish to educate their children outside of traditional school settings. In fact, it’s actually the default option because you have to actively enrol your child in school. The key legislation governing home education is the Education Act 1996, specifically Section 7. In addition to this legislation, the English government has issued guidance to provide further clarification on the rights and responsibilities of parents who choose to home educate. Homeschooling law is complex, we’ll summarise the law and guidance below but also highly recommend you familiarise yourself with the originals.
This post focusses on Home Educating in England. If you are in another UK country the rules will vary because education is a devolved issue, have a look at the Welsh Guidance, the Scottish Guidance or the Northern Irish Guidance.
A note on language: In my posts, I refer to “homeschooling”. In the UK, the correct term for educating your child at home is “home Educating”, with homeschooling referring to a child doing work at home that has been set by school. I use the the term homeschooling in my posts because many people who are new to home educating will use the term homeschooling when searching online and I want to make sure they can find the information.
The Education Act 1996, Section 7
The Education Act 1966, section 7b 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.
Interpreting the Homeschooling Law
Essentially what the homeschooling law covers is:
- Duty of Parents: Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on parents to ensure that their child receives an efficient full-time education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
- Compulsory School Age: A child becomes Compulsory School Age (CSA) at the start of the term after they turn 5 years old and remain so until the last Friday in June of the academic year (Sept-August) in which they turn 16.
- An Efficient Education: An efficient education is one that achieves what it sets out to.
- Full-Time Education: The Act does not define “full-time education,” but it is generally interpreted as education that takes up a significant proportion of a child’s time. It also states that education should be suitable to a child’s age, ability, and aptitude, and to any special educational needs they may have.
- “Otherwise” Option: Section 7(1) of the Act allows parents to fulfil their duty by providing education “otherwise” than at school. This provision forms the legal basis for home education. There is no other law that relates to home education, only the guidance discussed below.
Guidance on Elective Home Education (EHE)
The English government has issued guidance titled “Elective Home Education: Guidance for Parents” to assist parents and local authorities in understanding their rights and responsibilities regarding home education.
Below are key points from the guidance:
- Parental Responsibility: The guidance emphasises that parents have the primary responsibility for their child’s education. This is actually the case whether you choose to home educate or send your child to school.
- A Suitable Education: The law doesn’t define what constitutes a suitable education but it should be age appropriate, allow children to progress their ability and to take account of their particular aptitudes.
- An Appropriate Minimum Standard: The guidance references an appropriate minimum standard. It doesn’t specify an actual standard but says the education should aim at enable the child, when grown-up, to function as an independent citizen in the UK.
- Literacy and Numeracy: The guidance suggests that the Local Authority may use minimum expectations for Literacy and Numeracy when assessing a suitable education but should take into account age, ability and aptitude.
- Place of Education: While there is no requirement to have premises equipped to a particular standard, if an education is being provided in a place where it would be difficult for that education to be received, for example, somewhere very loud, it wouldn’t be considered suitable.
- Assessment and Monitoring: While there is no statutory requirement for standardised testing, the guidance recommends being aware of your child’s progress. This will help demonstrate appropriate provision to the Local Authority.
- Fundamental British Values: An education that goes against the Fundamental British Values will not be deemed suitable.
- Socialisation: The guidance recognises the importance of socialisation and recommends that parents facilitate opportunities for their child to interact with peers. It is clear that home education that leads to excessive isolation won’t be considered suitable. Try not to be too scared by this if you have a child who doesn’t want to socialise, the important thing is that you are offering them opportunities to do so and don’t forget that online socialising counts too.
- Children’s Rights: The rights of the child should be taken into account, it is suggested that parent’s consider the children’s preference when deciding to home educate. Local Authorities may also seek to find out the child’s opinion on the suitability of home education.
- Flexibility: Home education offers flexibility, allowing parents to tailor education to the child’s needs and circumstances. However, it should remain suitable, efficient, and regular. The guidance states that there is no need to do any of the following:
Have a timetable
Set hours during which education will take place
Observe school hours, days or terms
Acquire specific qualifications for the task
Have premises equipped to any particular standard
Aim for the child to acquire any specific qualifications
Teach the National Curriculum
Provide a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum
Make detailed lesson plans in advance
Give formal lessons
Mark work done by the child
Formally assess progress, or set development objectives
Reproduce school type peer group socialisation
Match school-based, age-specific standards
- Local Authority Notification: Parents in England who choose to educate their child at home are not required to seek permission from the local authority. If the child already attends school, while not legally required, it is best for the parent to send a letter deregistering the child and stating that they will be home educated. The School will then notify the Local Authority. If this process isn’t followed, the child will be considered missing in education which can cause issues such as prosecution or fines. If the child has never attended school and you are starting homeschooling from the beginning, there is no need to notify anyone.
- Children in Special Schools: If your child attends a special school you will need to seek permission to withdraw them from the Local Authority. This is consent to withdraw them from the school rather than consent to home educate.
- Local Authority’s Role: Once notified, the local authority has a duty under section 436a of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to make enquiries to satisfy themselves that the child is receiving an efficient and suitable education. However, the Act does not prescribe a specific timeframe or method for these inquiries. The Government has provided guidance for Local Authorities to help them do this.
- Where a Suitable Education is not being provided: If you do not respond to the Local Authority’s informal enquires or do not provide enough information to demonstrate that a suitable education is taking place, they will issue a notice to satisfy which gives the parent 15 days to demonstrate that a suitable education is taking place.
- School Attendance Orders: If the Local Authority is not satisfied that an education is taking place they will issues a School Attendance Order which requites you to cause your child to become enrolled at a specific school. If you do not comply the Local Authority can prosecute you.
It’s very important to make yourself familiar with the homeschooling law and guidance surrounding home education. This will ensure that you are meeting your responsibilities and can protect your rights. You can also have a look at my post about what you need to teach your home educated child.