If you are considering home education or have recently started homeschooling, you might be wondering, what do home educated children need to learn? You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that the law doesn’t specify anything in particular that you must teach your homeschooled child. Below we’ll explore what that means in practice.
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.
What Does the Law Say about Home Educating?
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 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.
The Local Authority have a remit to identify any children not receiving the above and in order to do that they will contact home educators to find out about their provision.
Interpreting the Law
There are a few key points to note in the wording of the law. It states that the education must be full time. A full time school education equates to 25 hours a week, 38 weeks a year but nowhere in law does it state a number of hours that full time education means for home educators. The guidance for parents suggests that education should take up a significant proportion of a child’s life. When your child is home educating, they are learning all the time and often on a one to one basis so it would be hard for it not to take up a signifiant proportion of their life.
The word efficient is also relevant. It means that the education should achieve what it sets out to achieve. It can be useful to think about what you want your child to gain from home education in order to know if you are achieving it.
The education needs to be suitable to their age, ability and aptitude. This makes very clear that the eduction should be tailored to the child. While it refers to age, this means age-appropriate, you don’t need to worry about the age related expectations they would have in school. You can work at the ability level they are at and focus on progressing from there. An aptitude is something you are good at, so the law encourages you to focus on and develop your child’s strengths. My son is good at cookery so that’s one of the things we are focusing on.
The law also takes into account special educational needs and states that parents should make sure that provision is suitable for them.
The guidance also clarifies that to be suitable the education should aim to allow the child to function in the UK when they are an adult. It makes that clear that an education that conflicts with fundamental British Values would not be considered suitable.
Literacy and Numeracy in Home Education
The guidance states that Local Authorities may use minimum expectations for literacy and numeracy when assessing suitability. It doesn’t clarify what minimum expectations are but essentially the Local Authority like to see progress in these areas.
It’s important to note that we are talking about literacy and numeracy, not English and Maths which are academic school subjects.
Literacy is about being able to read and write to a level where you can function in society. This can mean things like reading recipes or instructions, writing emails, shopping lists or even text messages.
Numeracy is about being able to use maths in everyday life. Things like measuring a space for a new piece of furniture, weighing ingredients for a cake or working out a discount at the shops. Last week my son and I ended up discussing lines of symmetry while decided where to put the filling in the Cornish pasties we were making.
While literacy and numeracy progress will need to be demonstrated to the local authority, it doesn’t have to look anything like school (unless you and your child want it to).
Do You Have to Follow the National Curriculum When Homeschooling?
The short answer is, no. Home educators are not required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum in the same way that schools are and can instead focus on their child’s aptitudes. Having said that the local authority probably wouldn’t be happy if you provision was too narrow.
Even if you are planning for your child to take GCSEs, most courses are stand alone so there is no need to have studied the National Curriculum at earlier stages. The only real exception is maths where GCSE work builds on Key Stage Three work but even then it would be doable with a good background of Numeracy.
If you are home educating and planning to send your child back to school, perhaps at a particular age or when a place comes available, you might want to consider following the National curriculum for core subjects. You can find it online or many schools have a section on their website showing what they are studying and when.
We started out follow the National Curriculum for the core subjects because we originally expected our son to return to school and to be frank it was a miserable experience but might work better with more academic children.
Do Homeschoolers Have to Take Exams?
Nope, there is no legal requirement for home educated children to take GCSEs or any other exam. In fact if you do want them to take GCSEs, you will have to pay for them. While many homeschooler do take GCSEs, it is totally optional and they can also take them at different times to schooled children, either younger or older, or take alternative qualifications.
If your homeschooler decides to go on to college or an apprenticeship at 16 and they don’t have a level 2 qualification (GCSE at grade 4 or above or its equivalent) in Maths and English they will have to study out alongside their course. This is a requirement for funding and so is usually non negotiable. For this reason we are hoping to get Maths and English GCSEs done at some point over the next few years.
Other Things you Need to Teach Your Homeschooled Child
In order to be providing your child with a suitable education, they Local Authority will also want to see that your child has opportunities to socialise and to keep fit.
This doesn’t mean you need to have them out attending groups everyday. The guidance to Local Authorities states that an education that makes the child excessively isolated won’t be considered suitable however it’s about offering opportunities. Your child may not want to attend activities or meet ups but as a parent you need to make your child aware of these opportunities. Some children prefer to socialise online or spend time with adults and this is fine too.
Physical activity doesn’t need to mean participating in sport. It can be any activity that your child enjoys for example walking, bike riding, swimming or the gym.
All in all, what you really need to teach your homeschooled child is to function in society, using any style you like. Even if you choose not to work towards exams, as long as they have a grounding in literacy and numeracy they will be able to take them in the future if that’s what they decide to do. If you’d like to get some ideas on non traditional ways to learn, have a look at this post about why home education doesn’t have to look like school.