Home education and the law
Here are some quick facts about the law including Government guidelines to local authorities on home education so you know where you stand. (If you find any errors or have any queries please email us)
Education is a human right
Education is a human right protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 2, Protocol 1) which says that the state must recognise parents' right to ensure their children's education is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states that children’s education should be “directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilisations different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.”
Education is compulsory, school is not
Education is compulsory (from age 5-16) school is not. Parents in England have long had the right to home educate their children - it is enshrined in the Education Act 1996. Your legal duty is to provide a full-time education which is efficient (achieves its aims) and suitable to your child’s age, needs (including any special needs) and aptitudes. Once your child is 16 and it's the end of the 'school year' (year 11) your duty to provide a suitable education ends - it is then your child's responsibility to be in some combination of education/training or work until they are 18 but there is no enforcement regime as such.
You don't need to ask permission to home educate your child
To deregister your child from a mainstream school you simply send the Head a standard letter (copies on our Facebook Group) and don’t send your child in any more. The school must take their name off the roll and let the local authority know. (For special schools paid for by the LEA you need to make a request to the LEA but they cannot unreasonably refuse).
If your child has never been to school and you have no intention of sending them you don't have to notify anyone of your decision.
No financial support for home education
You have no right to financial support from Government or your council with regard to the education you want to provide for your child/children at home (don't worry you still get child benefit). Some authorities may provide help with the costs of sitting exams but Somerset (who used to) doesn't. Local authorities have no obligation to provide guidance or other forms of support but guidelines say they should try to.
Who deals with home education at local government level?
Every local authority (that is to say every county council or unitary authority) has an Elective Home Education Team located somewhere in the Education department - often under Education Welfare as in Somerset. Sometimes there are dedicated officers who just work on EHE but most commonly, as in Somerset, it will be Education Welfare Officers (EWOs) who deal with it and their primary role is securing children's full-time attendance at school and prosecuting parents who fall foul of the attendance rules. Whichever managers and officers are involved they should all have regard to the Guidelines discussed below which set out how they should carry out their statutory responsibilities.
Elective Home Education Guidelines
The Government has issued guidance to local authorities "Elective Home Education - Guidelines for Local Authorities' which we urge every home educator to download, print off, read and digest. These clearly outline the duties of home educators and local authorities.
The Guidelines clearly state that local authorities have no legal duties to monitor the quality of home education on a routine basis and no powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education. However they are supposed to intervene if it appears the parents of a child are not providing a suitable education. This is a duty to do something only if information comes to light that causes them concern but in practice most local authorities will routinely contact parents who have recently de-registered their child asking for information about their education provision (see note below) and argue they need information so they can decide whether they should have concerns or not. If they have specific concerns they are supposed to write to the parents outlining those concerns and ask for further information about the education being provided. Parents can just ignore such an enquiry but it's safer not too! If the local authority is still not satisfied a suitable education is being provided they can issue a notice to the parents requiring them to satisfy the LA within a period of 15 days (beginning with the day on which the notice is served) that the child is receiving a suitable education. Only after all reasonable steps have been taken to resolve the situation can a local authority issue a School attendance order requiring the parents to send their child to a named school. You can apply to have the order revoked and it the local authority won't then you can refer the matter to the Secretary of State. If a local authority decides to prosecute a parent who does not comply with the order you can argue in court that the education you are providing is suitable.
According to the Government Guidelines you are not expected to follow the National Curriculum, provide a broad and balanced curriculum, give formal lessons, test your children, mark their work or formally assess their progress, keep school hours, make plans in advance or match school-based age-specific standards. The Guidelines say that LEAs should recognise that there are many approaches to education not just a "school at home" model.
The guidelines urge local authorities to establish positive working relationships with home educators. They state that LEA procedures for dealing with home educating families should be fair, clear, consistent, non-intrusive and timely and they should provide families with useful contacts.
Providing information about your home education provision
Most local authorities contact parents' when the school notifies them a child has been taken off their roll. At that point they need to clarify whether this is now a child 'missing education' (because they are under a duty to identify the missing ones) or whether they are home educated. So they may be in touch with you. Ideally this would be a nicely worded, friendly letter. Sometimes an EWO turns up unannounced on your doorstep - this is not good, it's very bad practice so feel free to send them away with a polite instruction to write to you and make sure any requests for information are within the Government guidelines. If your local authority asks for initial information about your home education provision, good practice - as exemplified by Lancashire County Council's policy - is simply to ask you to confirm your contact details and ask for a brief outline (a few sentences) describing your education provision. You don't have to provide any information about what your home ed looks like but on balance giving a brief outline may be wise but seek advice on how to put it together. In the Government Guidelines it states that local authorities should be aware parents need a reasonable timescale to develop their provision (this timescale isn't specified anywhere but many home education experts think 3-6 months is reasonable) so bear this in mind. Once you have provided an initial outline, having taken the time to 'develop your provision' thereafter good practice - again Lancashire's policy is an example of it - should simply be for you to be contacted every year to confirm you are still home educating. To reiterate they have no duty to monitor what we do.
Some authorities go way beyond this with elaborate forms they want you to fill in asking you why you are home educating, asking for a lot of other details and some also want you to have a 'home visit' where an officer will come to your home to meet you and your child (with your consent) to discuss and look at what you do. They may offer (and indeed you can insist on) meeting in a neutral location or suggest you provide a detailed report instead. Sometimes people are happy to have visits and may even find them helpful (e.g. if a disgruntled ex is not happy about their child being home educated and you are after a report saying the education is satisfactory) but the problem with this is: a) if many parents accept home visits this may be used to pressure other parents into agreeing to them and b) the visiting officer who may have little experience of or understanding of home education may take a dislike to your approach or even your lifestyle and you may find yourself at loggerheads with your council over your provision.
Home education and safeguarding
Government has repeatedly stated in guidance to local authorities that home education is not a safeguarding issue. There has been a lot of media coverage of isolated instances of child abuse where the child was technically home educated - usually welfare concerns had been raised with the relevant authorities and professionals and no action taken. According to recent research home educated children are found to be not at increased safeguarding risk, rather they are shown to be at lower risk than other children! Read the report: http://www.educationotherwise.net/attachments/article/350/home-education-and-the-safeguarding-myth-WCW.pdf
Note about Somerset County Council
Somerset, at one time, invested quite a bit in its Elective Home Education Service providing some funding for trips, exams and activities, working very productively with the Home Education Centre and providing advice and guidance from an educational expert who was really supportive of home education. This was cut a few years ago. Since then there have been recent instances of unnannounced visits and rather unhelpful communications to new home educators. The new manager as of April 2016, however, has put a stop to this which is very welcome and he says he wants to develop good relations with us. At the moment Somerset County Council are revising their home ed procedures and we have been told that home educators will be consulted.
Please do read the Government Guidelines on Elective Home Education:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/elective-home-education