Home education law in England is fairly straightforward. Parents currently have a great deal of freedom. However, on the 2 April 2019 the government published a consultation on proposed legislation concerning children not in school. I intend to keep an eye on this and will keep this post up to date.
So, what does the home education law in England actually say?
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 otherwiseSection 7 of the Education Act 1996
It is the ‘or otherwise’ which allows for the freedom to educate. Yay! Now, let’s unpick the law and determine what is required from us as homeschooling parents.
The first thing to notice is that the responsibility for your child’s education lies with you.
Not the local schools, nor the local council, or even the Prime Minister.
Which is both scary and empowering. It needn’t be scary though. If you know what is required of you, home schooling is not scary at all.
Compulsory School Age
The compulsory school age in the UK is 5-16 years old. This means before the age of five you simply need to love your child. There is no need to worry about formal education, especially if your child has no interest in it.
At this age I just wanted to enjoy my children. I read to them book after book after book. And if there were activities we could do which went along with the book then we would explore them. We spent hours out in nature. Seriously, there is no better teacher than mother nature herself. Oh, and we had lots of sticky messy sciency fun. This is the age to ignite a love of learning in your children!
‘Cause the Children’
This is a slightly odd turn of phrase, but in using it the government are reiterating that the parent has the responsibility.
Cause is an active verb. As a parent you must be the one actively seeking an education for your child. This means you can send him to school, to a tutor, to a variety of clubs and learning opportunities or you can cause that education to occur through homeschooling him yourself.
Seriously, we have a lot of freedom in this country. You have the choice of how your child learns. Use it wisely.
An Efficient Education
What is an efficient education? Many would argue that school is possibly the least efficient way of learning when you consider the homework requirements foisted onto each child…
There is not much case law relating to home education but R v Secretary of State for Education and Science ex parts Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (1985) provides some clarification. An ‘efficient education‘ is one that “achieves that which it sets out to do“
So what does this mean for us as homeschoolers?
My own understanding of this is that, as parents, we can choose exactly what we hope our child’s education sets out to do.
Lots of freedom, yes, but, I do think it is important that a parent considers exactly what they hope to achieve by home schooling.
For me, from the start, my goal was to create a hunger for learning, for all my children to love hard work and appreciate its benefits and for them to be active proponents of their own learning experience.
You may see that compared with the long lists of things a child at school must learn on the National Curriculum, my goals were more far reaching and much less specific.
Your goals may be wildly different to mine, and that’s wonderful. But make sure you do have goals. That is how you prove that you are creating an efficient education for your child.
And I am not necessarily talking about proving to the authorities.
There will be people in your life who may have their doubts about homeschooling. Unfortunately, this may negatively impact your own views about your own capabilities.
It is important that you can prove to yourself that you are achieving what you set out to achieve.
And remember, by law, home educators do not need to follow the national curriculum.
A Full Time Education
What is a full time education? If you use schools as your barometer, you would not be blamed for concluding that a full time education is a considerable number of hours, eating into not only your days and evenings but also your weekends.
But learning comes in many forms and, when you have only a few children instead of a class of thirty, it tends to be much more efficient and less time consuming.
There is no legal definition of ‘full time’
My own belief is that most children, if not allowed to spend hours passively watching screens, will naturally be learning for most of the time they spend awake.
Full time work for adults requires forty hours per week, which is eight hours a day, five days a week. Most homeschoolers do not officially educate their children for eight hours a day. However, if they were to carefully observe their children, they would probably easily hit eight hours of learning each day.
‘Eight Hours!’, I hear you cry…
Learning does not have to mean sitting at a table.
It does not have to mean actively taking in information.
Learning does not have to mean writing or reading.
It does not need to be formal.
Learning happens all the time.
We easily hit eight hours a day of learning, if I include the random baking sessions, the hour of reading the children do before going to bed, the chatting about everyone’s day whilst learning table manners at dinner, socialising at a home ed group, drama class, singing in a choir, meeting up with friends, going for a nature walk, ‘putting on a play’, plotting and planning with their friends how they will save the world one plastic bottle at a time…I could go on, and so could you.
A Suitable Education
The home education law in England states that the education must be suitable for their age, ability and aptitude, but what does this mean in real terms?
Using the above court case again, a ‘suitable’ education’ is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life of the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”
Which, of course, makes it much clearer 😏
My own take on this is to make sure that any choice I take for my child, won’t limit them in their future choices. However, I allow my teens almost complete autonomy over their education, because I believe that no educational achievement is set in stone with regards to the age taken, and if they require something more then the option to take GCSEs, A Levels etc remains open regardless of their age.
This has been, at times, difficult to explain to others. Fortunately, I have one teen in a full time job, working for the church, as well as serving his country in a part time capacity; one daughter who has completed her first year at university studying graphic design and is now doing an apprenticeship with the church in Youth Leading and one teen who, although chronically ill, is stoically studying for a part time degree with the Open University. They are all fairly well adjusted, kind, caring adults who I have the pleasure of calling my best friends.
Home school rocks on so many fronts!
Age, Aptitude, Ability and Special Educational Needs
The mention of all four of these means that you must educate with your child in mind.
Not Jo Blogs down the road, who may have a natural aptitude for academia. Or Susie Brown up the road, who may still be struggling to read at thirteen. Neither comparisons are healthy, and both take your focus away from the child who is your responsibility.
The best piece of advice I can offer is that you must resist the urge to compare. It is not helpful in any way. Your child is uniquely and wonderfully made to be themselves, not Jo Blogs or Susie Brown. Meet him where he is at, and help him to be the best version of himself. Celebrate his milestones, even if they happen on a different timescale to his friends. And support him through his struggles.
Be proud of your child, simply because he is your child.
I think the most important thing with regards to the law, is to always be moving forward, regardless of the pace. Ensure that day by day, week by week, your child is receiving the best education you can give him and that he is making some progress.
If you find your child struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Often it is a matter of giving him a bit more time. Children mature at wildly differing rates, and it may be that your child needs a little more time to develop. Or it maybe that he needs some extra support.
I hope this post on UK Home Education Law has been helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments area or email me on: email@example.com
Next week I will be taking a look into the role of the County Council in Home Education.
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