If you’re in the UK and considering homeschooling (correctly known as home educating here) you might feel at a lost as to where to start. Currently just under 1% of British school aged children are home educated so there’s every chance that you don’t know anyone who does it. This can lead to feeling at a bit of a loss about where to start. Fear not, below I will take you through how to start homeschooling in the UK step by step, based on my own journey with my son, and the extensive research I’ve done since starting.
You might also find out Homeschooling Frequently Asked Questions useful.
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.
Am I allowed to Homeschool my Child?
The most likely answer is yes. When a child is compulsory school age (CSA) the law requires that they be provided with a full time education, either at school or otherwise. Compulsory school age runs from the term after a child turns 5, to the last Friday in June of the school year in which they will be 16 by the end of the summer holidays.
Home education is in fact the default in the UK, you have to actually sign them up to school. If your child has attended a mainstream school in England or Wales, you have the legal right to withdraw them to home educate. If you live in Scotland you need permission from the Local Authority to remove from school.
If your child attends a special school, you would need permission to remove them, this is decided by a panel convened by the Local Authority. It is important to note that it is permission to remove them from the special school that you need, rather than permission to start homeschooling them.
The only other time you wouldn’t be able to home educate is if your child is subject to a school attendance order. A school attendance order is made following a court case and means your child legally has to attend the named school until they cease to be compulsory school age or the order is rescinded.
How to Deregister From School to Start Home Education
If you child attends a mainstream in England and you want to home educate them you simply need to write a deregistration letter to the head teacher stating that you are withdrawing them to home educate. This is a legal instruction and the school should action it immediately unless you specify a date from which you want it to become effective.
The school do not need to reply to you but they do need to inform the Local Authority. When we deregistered the school actioned it immediately (and in fact filled his place within the week!) and eventually sent me a brief email confirmation. I also received a letter a few weeks later from the Local Authority confirming that the school had informed them we were home educating.
My Child has Never Been to School, Do I Need to tell anyone I’m Home Educating?
If your child has never been to school, there is no need to inform anyone that you are starting homeschooling. You will likely get information about applying for a school place for your child once they are 4 years old, but you can simply ignore it.
The Local Authority may become aware of your child and get in touch to ask how they are receiving an education and you can then tell them you are home educating but the onus is on them to get in touch with you, not the other way around.
You might also like this post on how much homeschooling in the UK costs.
How Do I know What to Teach Them?
You might be surprised to hear, there are no real rules about what you have to teach your home educated child. The law states that the education must be appropriate to their age, aptitude and ability and take into account any special needs. Essentially this means you can tailor the education to the child, using any style of homeschooling you prefer.
Subsequent government guidelines for parents have clarified that the education needs to prepare the child to live in their community and not preclude them from living in other communities.
Home education guidelines for local authorities interpret this to mean that literacy and numeracy should be developed but this doesn’t need to look anything like school. Numeracy is about being able to use maths in real life so things managing money, cookery, understanding maps etc. Literacy can means being able to read instructions, write emails and verbally communicate with people.
You can find more information in this post on “What you need to teach your homeschooled child“
Where Can I Find Resources when I Start Homeschooling?
While 20 years ago most home educators sourced resources from the library, bought books or ordered curriculums from the US (where homeschooling is more widespread) the internet has made it much easier for homeschoolers to access resources.
My advice is not to spend too much money when you first start homeschooling. Wait until you know how your child learns and what works for them. I know you will ignore this advice because I received the same advice and ignored it too!
When you start homeschooling it can feel scary and buying resources can make us feel more like we are in control and doing something proactive. If you must buy things, look out for free trials if possible and try and buy books second had to save money (and the environment). You can check out our guide to Homeschooling Resources to get you started.
Here are some Types of Resources you might Consider:
If your child likes to learn by reading or completing workbooks that’s great but be warned, a lot of kids don’t. There are lots of workbooks available cheaply for younger children from places like The Works and these are worth trying to see if your child likes them.
Workbooks for older children are a bit more complicated. You need to be careful to choose textbooks that actually teach the material, a lot of what is available is revision guides, so only useful if your child has already studied the material.
Live Online Courses
There are a huge number of online courses available now from individual tutors teaching their specialist subject over Zoom to private online schools that include all subjects and even assemblies and tutor time.
Lots of these courses are expensive so do your research and look for personal recommendations before committing.
Some children prefer a prerecorded course to a live one and these can often be cheaper. Just be wary if you are buying a recording of a course that was originally delivered live as the teacher talking to students who were on the live can be very distracting. We found this out the hard way, luckily on a fairly cheap course as we gave it up after one lesson.
That are lots of websites that you can learn from and the great things is that most of them offer some kind of free trial or limited free access so you can try before you buy. These can be great for younger children who can use them to learn in a “Gamified” way. They are also useful for older children too but, like the workbooks, many are designed as a revision aid rather than to teach the material so make sure you know what you’re getting.
Your child will also learn loads by just living their life. Before we started home educating I was completely unaware of how much my children were learning when they weren’t in school. I’ve now trained myself to notice and it is incredible. The best thing about it is, because its stuff they want to learn, they actually remember it. My daughter is currently learning loads about Japan simply because reading Manga has given her an interest in it.
Playing, walks outside, trips to the park or zoo, cooking, reading stories, watching TV, YouTube, crafting, drawing, going shopping, having conversations and even gaming, all provide tons of learning.
What about Exams?
If you have older children or are just a bit of planner (guilty as charged), you might be wondering what will happen about GCSEs.
GCSEs are entirely optional for home educators. Some take them, some don’t. The most important thing to be aware of is if your child does want to take them, you have to pay for them yourself. The exams will need to be taken as a private candidate at an exam centre. Fees vary wildly but you will realistically be looking at £200 – £300 per exam.
The good news is that most homeschoolers take many less than the 9 GCSEs taken in school, some just take English and Maths and some do the 5 that is usually asked for to take A-Levels or start a level 3 course at college.
If you want to take exams, you can either pay to do a course or self study using textbooks and other resources. You can find lots more details in my post about homeschoolers taking GCSEs.
There are also other qualifications that home educators can so instead of GCSEs, I’ve written a guide to the alternatives.
How Will They Socialise?
If you’ve discussed your plans to start homeschooling with anyone their first question was probably “How will they socialise without school?”
When I went to the open evening of a local secondary school, I was told that the children only get half an hour for lunch. That sucks, I thought. Then they explained that they only get half an hour for lunch because bullying tended to happen if they were left longer than half an hour. I think this really says all you need to know about socialising in schools.
Thanks to the internet, and Facebook in particular, it’s easy to connect with other home educators in your area. When you first start homeschooling, in fact before you start homeschooling, I suggest you search Facebook for your local home education groups and check out what’s on offer.
In our area there is everything from casual park meet ups to aerial skills. My son attends a football group and a forest school, both of which he loves and they give him the opportunity to spend time with other kids.
You should also be aware of all of the social skills your child develops dealing with people of other ages. Talking to the shopkeeper, asking the librarian for a book and playing with younger or older cousins all help to develop the skills they will need as an adult.
Will Anyone Check Up on Me?
Probably. The Local Authority has a duty to identify “Children Missing in Education”. This means that they need to make sure that home educated children are actually receiving an education that is suitable to their age, aptitude and ability.
They should do this by making informal enquiries about your provision but whether that happens and what form those enquiries take varies greatly from one Local Authority to another.
Responding to the Local Authority enquires is a complex subject. While you certainly should respond, as otherwise they will assume your child not receiving an appropriate education and will seek a School Attendance Order, they often ask for things they aren’t entitled to for example to see written work, to visit your home or talk to your child.
Depending on the age of your child, you might find one of these posts useful:
For the best advice on responding to the Local Authority I recommend joining the Home Education for All Facebook group and reading their comprehensive guides.