Home schooling: how does it practically work?

Overview

Home schooling is a topic where many teachers might not be fully aware of the numbers of children being home educated. Even before coronavirus occurred, around 60,000 children were home educated in England. In the United States, this rises to between 4-5 million students. There are a variety of reasons why parents decide to homeschool, from personal religious/philosophical beliefs, bullying in school to special educational needs.

GOV.UK explains you can teach your child at home, either full or part-time. This is called home education (sometimes ‘elective home education’ or ‘home schooling’).

Parents can get help with home schooling from their local councils.

In this article, we refer to guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) for parents on elective home education, what parents must do before they start home schooling and link to resources to support with education from home.

Home schooling: ‘elective home education’

The DfE explains educating children at home works well when it is a positive choice and carried out with a proper regard for the needs of the child. It has published guidance intended to help parents who choose to educate a child at home understand what their responsibilities are, and how those fit with the role of the local authority.

It explains, elective home education is a term used to describe a choice by parents to provide education for their children at home or in some other way they desire, instead of sending them to school full-time. This is different to education provided by a local authority other than at a school, for example for children who are too ill to attend school.

There are no legal requirements for parents educating a child at home to do any of the following: 

  • 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

The DfE explains that as parents, you – not the state – are responsible for ensuring that your child, if he or she is of compulsory school age, is properly educated.

Despite the term ‘compulsory school age’, education does not have to be undertaken through attendance at school, even though the parents of any child living in England can request a state-funded school place and the local authority is obliged to find one – or make alternative arrangements for education of your child.

There is no legislation that deals with home education as a specific approach. However, Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 provides 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. 

Elective home education is a form of ‘education otherwise than at school’ and this piece of legislation is the basis for the obligations of parents. It is also the starting point for local authorities’ involvement.

What is full-time education? 

There is no legal definition of “full-time” in terms of education at home, or at school. Children attending school normally have about five hours tuition a day for 190 days a year, spread over about 38 weeks. However, home education does not have to mirror this. In any case, in elective home education there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may sometimes take place outside normal “school hours”. 

Home-educating parents are not required to: 

  • Have a timetable 
  • Set hours during which education will take place 
  • Observe school hours, days or terms 

If I want to homeschool my child, what must I do before I start?

If your child has never been enrolled at a school, you are under no legal obligation to inform the local authority that he or she is being home educated, or gain consent for this. However, it is strongly recommended that you do notify your local authority of the fact, in order to facilitate access to any advice and support available. Some local authorities operate voluntary registration schemes which are linked to support arrangements. 

If your child is currently on the roll of a school you are not obliged to inform the school that he or she is being withdrawn for home education or gain consent for this. However, it is sensible to do so, in order to avoid subsequent misunderstandings as to how you intend to fulfil your parental responsibility for your child’s education. 

The school is obliged to inform the local authority of children removed from its admission register and will give home education as the reason, if notified of this by the parent. Parents of children withdrawn from school for home education are not legally obliged to inform the local authority themselves – but again it is sensible to do so, either directly or using any local registration scheme which exists, to facilitate access to advice and support. 

Further support and advice

The Home Education UK Facebook Forum is a supportive closed group of home educating parents with members from across the UK. Meanwhile the Home Education UK and Home Schooling UK communities provide useful information.

Education Otherwise is a registered charity which supports and advises home educating families in England and Wales.

We have published a range of support articles which includes resources to support with remote learning from home.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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