Homeschooling in the UK; Law Relating to Home Education
What is Homeschooling?
Home education is what we call homeschooling, in the UK. It’s when the parents (or other primary carers) take full responsibility for all aspects of their children’s education; the parents fund, teach, enable, and otherwise privately facilitate all aspects of their children’s education without reliance on the government.
Homeschooling is legal throughout the UK – indeed, throughout the British Isles. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996** says: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
The key phrase is “or otherwise”. This simply means that education is compulsory but school is not mandatory. State (government) schools are free, at the point of access, for any school-aged children but parents must choose to enrol their children. The default education, in the UK, is, therefore, home education – and it is increasingly gaining widespread popularity.
Compulsory School Age
This is actually a misnomer. Compulsory school age refers to compulsory education age: the academic term after the child’s 5th*** birthday. While homeschooling may commence prior to CSA, it is not necessary until that point. (This simply means that nursery school, or pre-kindergarten, is completely optional – whether at home or at school.)
Curriculum & Monitoring
There are no compulsory curricula in the UK; home educators are free to follow any curriculum of their choice – including one they devise themselves. Some homeschoolers opt to follow parts of the English National Curriculum. Personally, I recommend taking just the parts that you like from the NC. Mix in different elements that better suit your students.
There are official guidelines for Elective Home Education, which set out the limits of government interaction with lawful homeschoolers. According to section 2.7: “Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education.” This means that the Local Authority cannot interfere unless they have a valid reason. Moreover, parents must be given the opportunity to refute any erroneous record.
Of course, the LA has a reasonable amount of power to safeguard children and young people. However, they do not have the right to enter private homes or inspect students. Section 2.12 of the EHE guidelines states: “[The law] does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.”
There are many different methods of home education. Some homeschoolers are very structured; some choose to follow a child-led autonomous learning path. You might have a home-based schoolroom if you’re very structured. There will still be plenty of time for field trips, homeschool meets, and social activities! However, some British home educators do not have specific learning areas or any type of formal structure.
Point 3.4 of the EHE guidelines states: “Local authorities should acknowledge that learning takes place in a wide variety of environments and not only in the home.” I find it a wonderful and joyous thing that British homeschoolers enjoy so much freedom in their education choices. I realise that some other countries do offer financial or other government support, to their registered homeschoolers. Forgoing any similar payment is a small price to pay for retaining our freedom and inherent flexibility.
Finally, I refer to point 3.13 of the EHE guidelines. The sole requirement is: “An efficient, full-time education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child.” Full-time education has no legal definition. It is irrelevant to home education due to almost “one-to-one contact” and education occurring outside school hours. Homeschooling may occur in your garden, at a forest, via an online school, in your domestic schoolroom, or anywhere else. It does not have to include predominantly written work or private tutors. However, the point is: it can. One man’s lavish theatre production is another man’s arcane textbook, to paraphrase an adage. We are all individuals with our own natural abilities and aptitudes. Home education allows catering to our children’s unique strengths and fostering their personal talents.
Useful Links for Homeschooling
British home educators or those interested in homeschooling in the UK may find the following organisations useful:
Education Otherwise [UK]
Homeschooling UK Support Group [UK]
HEdNI [Northern Ireland]
**Education is a devolved issue in the UK. The actual laws governing education vary according to the nation-state in which one resides e.g. England, Scotland, etc.
***Compulsory school age is 5 years old in England, Wales, and Scotland; it is 4 years old in Northern Ireland, and 6 years old in the Republic of Ireland.