We’re around half-way through the summer holidays now, and people are starting to think about uniform shopping, school supplies, and the dreaded first day back at school.
For some people, though, the dreaded first day is enough to make them consider ditching school altogether.
Ever wondered if there’s an alternative? Is homeschooling legal in the UK? Is home education a viable alternative to sending your children to school?
The short answer to that one is ‘yes’.
There’s a little more to it than that, so here’s my guide to the ins and outs of whether homeschooling is legal in the UK.
You Get to Decide What’s Best for Your Child.
Parents are responsible for ensuring that their child receives an appropriate education. Not schools. Not the education authority. Parents.
Section 7 of the Education Act 2006 says that “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education.”
Your job. You need to make it happen whether you choose school or otherwise.
Incidentally, home educating is the default option in the UK. You have to actively choose to enrol your child in a school if that’s what you want to do. Once they’re in school though, you have to make sure that they keep going unless you’re providing an alternative means of education – in which case you need to formally deregister them (more on that later).
Is Homeschooling Legal in the UK? Yes, if…
Home education is legal in the UK. I’m in England, so everything here, unless otherwise stated, refers to England and Wales. Other areas of the UK have different procedures to follow.
- If your child has never been registered in a school, then you’re already home educating. Congratulations, you can skip the rest of this article and read something else
- If your child is at a mainstream school in England or Wales, then you need to send a deregistration letter to the school. Once you’ve done that, you’re free. You can literally send the letter now and not even have to send your child back on the first day of term. (You can even do it mid-term if you want to).
- If your child is at a special school then there’s a different process to follow – I’m not familiar with it, but I can share some links to help you out.
- If there’s an SAO (School Attendance Order) or an ESO (Education Supervision Order) in place, then you will need consent from your local authority.
More on each of those situations in a moment. First though, let’s look at what you don’t need.
5 Things You Don’t Need in Order to Home Educate.
- You don’t need to take SATs or any other exams. It’s perfectly possible to take exams as a home educated student, and plenty of families choose this route, but you don’t have to. Remember – your responsibility to figure out what a suitable education is for your child, and if exams don’t feature in that, then that’s your decision.
- You don’t need permission from anybody (assuming your child is in a mainstream school in England or Wales, and there’s no SAO or ESO in place). You need to write to the school to tell them what you’re doing, yes, but you’re not asking. You don’t need permission from the school, the local authority, or anybody else.
- You don’t need the national curriculum. You can follow it if you like, you can follow bits of it and ignore others, or you can do your own thing completely. Schools are bound by the national curriculum, home educators aren’t.
- You don’t need a teaching qualification – but I bet you’ll be surprised at the number of teachers and ex-teachers you come across in home educating circles. You don’t need any qualifications at all – just a willingness to work hard at this and to keep going until you figure out what works for your child, your family. If you’re reading this then you’re interested enough to make it work.
- You don’t need a timetable. You don’t need to divide what you do into subjects unless you want to. You don’t need to work at set times of day, or on set days of the week. You can if you like though.
How Do I Deregister My Child and Start Home Educating?
Deregistering Your Child from a Mainstream School.
If your child is at a mainstream school in England or Wales, then the process is simple.
- Send a deregistration letter to the school.
- There’s no step two, that’s it.
The process is the same even if your child has a statement of special needs. Providing that he or she is in a mainstream school (and not a special school) then you don’t need permission to deregister.
In short, you’re informing the school that you are now taking personal responsibility for your child’s education and asking for your child’s name to be removed from the school register in accordance with the Education Act 2006. Most people also like to ask for a return letter confirming that the child has been removed from the register.
The Education Otherwise template link has all the information you need to fulfil your part of the arrangement. It also, crucially, has the information you need to make sure that the school does what it’s supposed to do too.
If you’re in Northern Ireland or Scotland, then you can find deregistration information on the Educational Freedom website.
Deregistering Your Child from a Special School
If your child has special needs and has been placed in a special school, then you do need to ask for permission from the local authority to home educate them.
This isn’t something I have personal experience of, but there are plenty of people who have.
Education Otherwise has a template letter for deregistering from a special school.
I’d also recommend that you join some groups on Facebook that are specifically geared towards home educating children with special needs. Whether you love Facebook or loathe it, the support you’ll find there is invaluable when it comes to homeschooling.
School Attendance Orders and Education Supervision Orders
These are both areas where you need to exercise caution. You do need to seek permission from the local authority before beginning to home educate children who fall under SAOs or ESOs.
I’ve got no personal experience of either situation, so my best advice is to seek legal advice before doing anything, and to make contact with home educators who are experienced in dealing with local authorities.
Will I Need Ofsted Inspections?
Nope, no Ofsted inspections.
You can expect some contact from the local authority, but they’re not there to inspect you, or to tell you what you can and can’t do.
You will probably get contact quite early after deregistering. You’re within your rights to ask for more time to settle in to home educating. You can decline any local authority visits, or you can arrange to meet outside of your home, for example in a café or at the local library.
I recommend that you spend time finding out what the local authority’s responsibility is before you get this first contact. The Ed Yourself website is a good resource to start finding this stuff out.
Considering Home Educating Your Child?
Has this made it all sound a little more doable? I hope you can see now that you’re allowed to home educate if you want to, in most cases you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. You’re simply returning to the default position of taking full responsibility for your child’s education.
Here’s a brief list of websites you might find useful when it comes to learning about home ed. If you’ve found a home education site you love, share it in the comments so we can all see.
Ross Mountney’s Notebook – this lovely lady has two beautiful grown-up daughters and her family is a beautiful example of how easy and successful home educating can be. Her books are definitely on my recommended-reading list for new and established home educators alike.
Home Education Advisory Service – HEAS has a good range of publications available to help you with different areas of home educating. Their FAQ section is also worth looking at as it answers lots of commonly-asked questions about homeschooling.
Education Otherwise – perhaps the most common starting point for new home educators. The EO site is full of practical, easily-explained information about the legality of home educating, and the ins and outs of it all. You can choose to pay a membership fee and join up with them – we did this for a while, but in all honesty I haven’t found that it offers anything I can’t find for free in Facebook groups and on blogs.
Home Education UK – a long-established site with a massive collection of resource links that will send you down an Internet rabbit-hole, so leave plenty of time for browsing!
Educational Freedom – the website and the associated Facebook group both offer a wealth of information including a useful printout of information relating to your rights when it comes to home education and accepting visits from the local authority.
By far my most-used source of advice, inspiration, and support when it comes to home educating, is Facebook. I have a love-hate relationship with the platform, but when we started home educating the second time around, it quickly became obvious that all our local homeschooling events are organised through Facebook groups. Putting ‘home education Cornwall’ into Facebook’s search box and then clicking the ‘groups’ tab brings up a wealth of local groups, and it’s more than likely that a similar search for your local area will yield similar results.
Likewise, ‘home education’ will give you plenty of groups to look at. My approach is to join anything that looks interesting, and then leave the groups that don’t resonate with me.
So, the answer to ‘Is homeschooling legal in the UK?’ is a resounding ‘Yes!’ – it’s legal, there are lots of us doing it, and the Internet is full of success stories from families where it’s worked really, really well.
If you’re an established home educator, what were your favourite sites when you were starting out? What advice would you give to people considering homeschooling?
If you’re new to the idea, what would you like to know? What information haven’t you been able to find?